I’m a Navy veteran. And Annapolis has been part of my life since, well, all of it, and let’s just say that’s a long time. So, what I’m about to tell you is kind of embarrassing. I’d never been on a walking tour of the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA), nor had I ever seen the crypt of John Paul Jones, the founder of the modern Navy. Of course, I’ve walked the Yard before, visited the USNA Museum at Preble Hall (which is fantastic), dropped my kid off for sports camps, attended performances and lots of games. But until recently, I’ve never taken a real tour of the Academy—until one beautiful spring day in April. I’m so glad I finally did it.
A group of about twenty of us, from all over the world, were led from the USNA’s Armel-Leftwich Visitor Center to our first stop of many. Here we learned the history of the Naval Academy. For instance, our tour guide explained, prior to the founding of the USNA, boys as young as 14 were sent out on ships where they were assigned to the middle part of the ship (or midship/amidship) to learn it all. Hence, the term, ‘midshipmen.’ Moving on, the next stop on the tour was the statue for the USNA’s mascot (Bill the Goat), with all sorts of information on its history and the Army-Navy tradition of mascot-stealing (all in good fun). From there, we headed into Lejeune Hall, which houses swimming pools and wrestling areas, as well as the USNA Sports Hall of Fame, which I had no idea existed, but found very interesting and informative.
We crossed the street to Dahlgren Hall, a building I’ve always admired for its arched ceiling, and which formerly housed an ice skating rink before the bigger, more modern Brigade Sports Complex was built across the Severn River. Here we learned about model ships and airplane housed within Dahlgren, along with Drydock Restaurant, which is open to the public. As we walked, our tour guide would offer information about the buildings we passed, which in some cases were houses where faculty members live. Throughout the tour, our guide fed us tidbits about traditions, architecture, art, student life, admissions and naval history.
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We then headed towards Bancroft Hall, the behemoth of a dormitory that houses all the Mids – it’s the world’s largest single dormitory. Its exterior, along with the Rotunda and Memorial Hall (the only areas of the dormitory open to the public), are architecturally stunning. The dorm rooms, which we did see an example of, not quite as stunning – utilitarian all the way.
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From there, it was out to the Tecumseh statue, which on this day was not decorated, but quite often is. By the way, I never knew about the penny tradition. From there, we stopped at Herndon Monument, where every plebe takes part in a very greasy rite of passage. Along the way, we also stopped at the Submarine and Battle of Midway memorials and learned the history and details about each. The final stop was a tour of the astoundingly beautiful Chapel, followed by the crypt of John Paul Jones.
I learned quite a lot on the tour. Looking for something to do with visiting family members? Never been yourself? Kids bored? Take the tour; it’s well worth it. And if you want USNA merchandise, the Visitor’s Center gift store is well-stocked.
Learn more information about touring the USNA here.
Photos by Donna Cole.