Commissioning Week Traditions, Folklore and Pranks

Below are excerpts from a forthcoming book title:

Pranks: Perfect Crimes at the Naval Academy

Pranks at the Naval Academy have been forever at the Academy. Soon after the Academy was founded in 1845, midshipmen would go downtown for a drink or two -- or three or four. Upon returning (there was no curfew in the beginning) and turn off the gas lamps.

The subject of many pranks has been the Formal Dress Parades. They are not liked by the midshipmen. The dislike all began with Professor Henry Lockwood. Lockwood graduated from West Point in 1836 and from 1851 to 1866 was professor of field artillery and infantry tactics. He was brought to the Academy to instill discipline to the Naval Academy, something very much lacking in the early years. The midshipmen hated him and his drill. During one drill, the midshipmen decided to "prank" him. While marching toward the Severn River, Lockwood, a chronic stutterer, could not get out the word "Halt." Instead, he repeatedly said, "Ha.." Since the order had not been completed, and midshipmen always follow orders, they marched, muskets and all, into the Severn. Lockwood was furious. To add insult to injury, the midshipmen later hung him in effigy. That was the last straw. The midshipmen were brought to trial and accused of insubordination. Their lawyer, quite an astute fellow, argued that there was no insubordination. Lockwood was not an officer, only a professor. The Academy did not know what to say, so they turned around and quickly made him an officer. The incident simmered down. But in the "collective unconscious" of midshipmen there is a disdain for drill.

Several pranks come to mind.

In the late 1950's, a group who called themselves the "Night Crawlers" took it upon themselves to go to Worden Field, dig up all the markers for the companies. These markers are used for the Guideons to form their perfect alignment on the field. They are not noticeable to the crowd. The Night Crawlers then repositioned them so they were not lined up. Needless to say, during the next parade, everyone was aghast.

In the 1960s, several pranks were pulled on the sword bearers. One time the sword was cut off a foot below the holder. When the sword was pulled form the scabbard, what was left was a stub. Another time, the scabbard was filled with red fingernail polish. The sword was drawn and out came what seemed to be blood. A third incident occurred when a small hole was drilled through the scabbard and into the sword. A small screw was inserted, so when the sword bearer could not pull out his sword. Futilely he made many attempts to do so.

Through at least the 1990s, midshipmen would organized what I call a "Shoedown." Before marching off the parade field, they would remove their shoes and leave them on the field.