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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.