ANNAPOLIS, Md. — As they have for 70 years, students at the U.S. Naval Academy celebrated the end of their grueling first year by scaling a 21-foot obelisk on Monday. But this time, without a lard coating on the monument, students completed the task in minutes.
For years, the Herndon Monument was slathered in the grease to make the event as challenging as possible. It often took hours for a group of first-year students, or plebes, to hoist a peer on their shoulders to place an officer’s hat atop the obelisk.
On Monday, Midshipman Keegan Albi managed to grip the sides of the monument and shimmy his way to the top in just over two minutes after a human pyramid of classmates boosted him up. As the ritual dictates, he snatched a first-year student’s cap from the top and replaced it with the officer’s hat.
“They should grease it, though, make it a lot harder,” Albi, of Eugene, Ore., said.
Spectators, including alumni and current students who dealt with the lard coating, could be heard grumbling about how easy it is without the grease.
First-year students began the yearly ritual in 1940, and added the symbolic placement of an officer’s cap on its tip seven years later, according James Cheevers, senior curator at the U.S. Naval Academy Museum. In 1949, upperclassmen began smearing on as much as 200 pounds of lard on the monument to increase difficulty.
The longest time is believed to be the span of more than four hours in 1995, a year when upperclassmen glued down the hat that must be removed from the top.
The shortest on record is 1 1/2 minutes in 1969, a year that the monument wasn’t greased.