History and Traditions of the Herndon Monument Climb
The Herndon Monument Climb is the traditional culmination of plebe year at the Naval Academy. Demonstrating the teamwork and perseverance they have learned during their first year at the academy, the plebes build a human pyramid to remove the “dixie cup” hat at the top of the vegetable shortening-covered monument and replace it with an upperclassman’s hat. After successfully completing the Herndon climb, the freshmen are no longer called plebes but “fourth class midshipmen.”
- Height: 21 feet
- Covered with approximately 200 pounds of vegetable shortening applied to the monument by midshipmen of the 1st Company.
- First recorded time: Class of 1962 - 12 minutes
- Fastest time: Class of 1972 - 1 minute, 30 seconds (no grease)
- Longest time: Class of 1998 - 4:05:17 (dixie cup glued and taped)
- The “Iron Company” at Sea Trials has the privilege of leading the plebes as they rush the monument. The “Iron Company” is the top company finishing Sea Trials demonstrating stellar unit performance by showing endurance and spirit during the fourteen-hour event.
The Herndon Monument is named for Commander William Lewis Herndon, 1813-1857, who possessed the qualities of discipline, teamwork and courage. In command of the SS Central America and home-bound with gold-seekers from California, the ship encountered a three-day hurricane off the coast of North Carolina. Herndon went down with his ship after a gallant effort to save it, its sailors and passengers. A monument was erected on the Yard in his honor shortly after his death.
On the day of the Herndon Climb plebes are required to remove their shoes prior to the starting the climb. Over the years, thousands of these athletic shoes have been donated by the plebe classes to various charities through the Midshipman Action Group.