Naval Academy in Annapolis

Bill the Goat greets you as you enter the Military Academy. He’s the mascot in Army-Navy games and hearkens back to when sheep were kept aboard ships for food.

The United States Naval Academy is located in Annapolis, Maryland, and the entrance is a short walk from the heart of the town. Will and I spent one afternoon touring the Naval Academy. I brought my military ID to get us onto the base, but I believe the facilities are open to the general public for touring. Established in 1845, the base is absolutely beautiful and worth seeing. Back in the olden days, I worked as meteorology support for Cadet Flight Training at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. That base was also  beautiful. The military takes great pride in showing itself off when it can.

Houses on base for officers. Their name and rank on a plate at each entryway.
Dome of the Academy Chapel – currently still green.

We were eager to get to the museum with enough time to see it before it closed. We took our time at the sights along the way. We spotted the iconic green dome over the trees as we approached. The scaffolding around the dome is big news for the Academy right now. The copper dome of the Academy Chapel has a green patina and is a famous landmark in the area. The structure is in such poor shape right now that it cannot be repaired, and will instead be replaced with a new copper roof. This will be a rare opportunity in history to photograph the copper dome before it turns green again, which will probably take 20 years. The chapel was one place we wanted to visit, so we headed toward it.

The Navy Academy Chapel
Grand Chapel entrance
Detail above the door of the Chapel entrance.

We walked into the chapel and saw multiple tour groups inside. For a weekday afternoon in November, I was surprised to see how many tourists were there. Will and I took our time and avoided the people and explored at our own pace. The Chapel is lovely inside and distinctly military. Apparently they will be able to keep it open for all functions during renovations.

Inside the Naval Academy Chapel
Stained glass shows a man in uniform on the right.
The Eagle and the flags remind you where you are.

Below the chapel we knew was the crypt of John Paul Jones. I knew nothing of the man so I was eager to read the placards and learn. Jones was born in Scotland, and gained experience on British merchant ships till he moved to the American colonies after running a shipmate through with a sword. He joined the Navy there and immediately engaged in the Revolutionary War, where he had some successes while commanding ships in the 1770s. According to the placards, his “dedication to independence and freedom for the United States and the world, and his fighting spirit, gave to the US Navy its earliest traditions of courage, honor, and victory.” Jones died in France, but in 1906 his body was exhumed and embalmed, and in 1913 re-interred beneath the newly completed Navy Chapel.

The sarcophagus of John Paul Jones, father of the US Navy.
The sarcophagus is elaborate, with gorgeous black marble and bronze dolphins at the base and garlands of pine cones at the top.
Larson Hall next to the Chapel.

From there we walked to Preble Hall to find the museum. On the first floor, the US Naval Academy Museum contains historic treasures, including paintings and artifacts, such as silver service from various ships. History of the Navy is addressed, as well as specific history and traditions of the Naval Academy. Historical displays began from days before there was a USA, and continued into the space era.

Will may have been more interested in the first floor of the museum than I was, as evidenced by this photo.
I liked the silver service displays (didn’t get any photos though), the swords, the ship-specific dishware, brass bells, and the like.
I also loved the elaborate medals on display. After reviewing my photos, I see that I was apparently not interested in the stories of ships, battles, or their commanders because I have no photos at all.
The medals were artistic and colourful.
But then I do have several photos of the space section of the museum. How fascinating to learn about myself through my photos, ha ha.

On the second floor is the Rogers Collection of antique ship models. I was more fascinated with the second floor than the first, and took better photos there. The place seemed abandoned, but at 5pm there was a call by a docent along the lines of “If anyone is in here, we are getting ready to lock the doors!” and then, “Oh, there ARE people in here!” And we took the opportunity to ask a couple questions about the displays that we had been examining. We guessed that dockyard models were created before the actual ship, and used as a guide, but this was completely wrong. The models were built at the same time as the ship, sometimes taking longer to complete than the ship itself. They were often presented as gifts to sponsors of the construction of the ship, or to important dignitaries. Today, some of these models are the only surviving remnant of the ship itself.

From the website, “The Rogers Ship Model Collection includes 108 ship and boat models of the sailing ship era dating from 1650 to 1850. It contains scale models built for the British Admiralty and original display cabinets from the 17th century. The collection, bequeathed to the Naval Academy in 1935 by Colonel Henry Huddleston Rogers, is one of the most valuable of its type in the world.” This entire collection of wooden ships belonged to one man – isn’t that remarkable?!

The museum also contains one of the largest bone model displays in the world. French prisoners of war (held in England) built these ships from the bones of beef rations they were allowed. Laws at that time allowed them to be paid for their work. It wasn’t much pay, but better than nothing. Sadly I didn’t get any photos of the bone models. They are meticulously detailed as the wooden ships, but ivory coloured.

Dockside ship models, many in the original cases designed for them.
There are life-sized mannequins to help visitors understand how different tools were used.
And other mannequins illustrated the creation of the wooden ships.

After our questions were answered by the enthusiastic docent, who allowed us to stay well past 5pm as he answered our questions, we were escorted out the door and we continued our exploration of the base. We stood outside and remarked about how huge Bancroft Hall is. Indeed, it is the largest dormitory in the United States. As we watched midshipmen go in and out, we wondered whether or not we were allowed to go inside. Will thought we were, so we went up the steps and were astonished as its magnificence. Can you imagine living in this dormitory while you attended school? I’m not sure I can.

Looking up the steps into Bancroft Hall. A flag is visible through the doorway that says, “Don’t give up the ship.”
Standing atop the staircase in the last photo, looking back down toward the door.
Close up of the front door and the mural.
At the top of the steps we walked into Memorial Hall and I walked around with my mouth agape, marveling at the murals and chandeliers.

The place was extraordinary, and no one paid us the slightest attention so we explored to our hearts content. There is a section on the lower level with a mock dormitory set up, so visitors can see exactly what the rooms look like for the people who live here. They were larger than Tara’s dorm room as a Freshman at college, and all in marble.

We made one last stop at Dahlgren Hall on our way out. It is a gorgeous old building. The last time I was in here in September, there was a swing dancing class in session. This time there were three groups: the cheering squad and the complimentary jumping-twirling team that assists the cheerleaders. What are they called? And finally a fencing team at practice. We admired the architecture and antiques, Will got his photo beneath the Rhode Island flag, and then we walked back off base.

Will beneath the white Rhode Island flag.

12 thoughts on “Naval Academy in Annapolis

    1. Thank you! I am intrigued as well. If I continue to teach for Veterans of Foreign Wars, as I did in November when these photos were taken, then I will surely be able to see the new copper dome when it is constructed.

    1. Darn. Of all people I want you to be able to see the print. Is it just the photo captions? With my new blog design I was pleased that the print was larger in general, and I was hoping that would help. I wonder if there’s any way to modify the font on captions. Thank you for pointing that out, Marlene, I will work on it.

      1. I think because the text seems tone on tone and it’s quite small. Also, I’m losing vision so blogging may have to stop. It’s getting harder and harder but your old posts were easier to read. Not driving much anymore either.

    1. Ha ha! Good call; the rules for rules’ sake were the hardest thing for me to deal with (not just because I’m a free spirit, but because I’m a constant innovator always looking for a streamlined way to do things, or eliminate steps). The discipline was not at all hard for me though, stuff like making my hair and uniform perfect, marching in perfect unison, ironing my socks or hanging my shirts exactly 1 3/4″ inches from each other. It was sort of a game, and I was good at it even if I hated it. I developed a deep and abiding distrust of authority figures, because they were the ones making me do all this silly stuff designed to show their control, but in my opinion not assisting the mission of national security.

      As for career choice, I was raised poor, in a rural working-class community, in a family in which no one had received higher education. I’m not sure what generalizations can be made about young adults in other countries, but in the U.S. people with this background often have no other choice to break free of that life but to join the military. The only other path I can think of is to go to school and get buried in college loans which easily run to $100,000 and poor kids are reluctant to take on the debt. The population within the military enlisted ranks is (at least it was when I was serving) primarily people with the same exact background as me – patriotic kids with financial limits and few options.

      Once you get in, you are almost instantly transformed into an expert at some job, and within a year or two generally have some level of supervision thrust upon you and you find out you can handle it. And you’re asked to manage a program, and then another, and you get sent to a specialist school…and before you know it you are damned proud of yourself and your team and you can already envision many other opportunities if you stay within military service. So…. it’s tempting to stay in. Me, however, I was frothing at the mouth to get out of there. I got lucky and it truly was a stepping stone for me to get on my feet out in the world and change the path my life was on when I started out.

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