Thomas Jefferson Memorial
The Maryland/Jersey/Pennsylvania road trip began as a spontaneous road trip based around the Naval Academy Graduation Ball in Annapolis, MD. The event, held Wednesday the 23rd, became the second day in my journey. The previous day, described here, consisted of a lovely journey through Skyline Drive and along Dark Hollow Falls in Shenandoah National Park. While Annapolis is only a six hour drive away, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to check out a park that I’ve been meaning to visit for quite some time. And so, I found myself in the wee hours of the morning camped out in a tent in the backcountry of Shenandoah National Park in the pouring rain.
Normally, I may have been able to sleep soundly – I know few sounds more relaxing than rain falling through trees. However, I wasn’t a fan of the thunder. And I already had planned on getting moving around 4 a.m. in order to make it to the Naval Academy for the Color Parade that morning. A quick dash to the car (luckily I hadn’t ventured too far down the trail before losing motivation the night before) produced a jumble of sleeping bag and wet tent in the trunk of my car, and a very early 3 a.m. start to the day’s adventures.
Although without cell phone service the night before, I had been able to estimate the driving distance to Washington, D.C. to justify my ridiculously early start. By leaving Shenandoah at that early hour, I was able to watch the sunrise in Washington D.C. (and then quickly flee the city to avoid rush hour traffic!) I have had the opportunity to visit the monuments of D.C. twice before, even on Independence Day for the spectacular fireworks show, but even so, the sunrise was a breathtaking experience. The sunrise painted the sky around the Washington Monument in bright pinks and yellows, and made me wonder how every early riser rushing by on the highway didn’t take notice. Normally I’m a big fan of clouds accompanying the rising sun, but I had little reason to complain.
Beginning the trek to D.C. in the wee hours of the morning brought me to Annapolis much earlier than the 10 a.m. start of the Color Parade at the Naval Academy. Luckily, it turned out that I had to meet up with my midshipman date in order to get a hole of a ticket for bleacher seating at the parade.
I had more success parking in the Navy-Marine Corps Stadium and taking the shuttle over to the Naval Academy than I had expected (despite a bit of floundering to figure out where the heck I was and where I needed to go, of course). Once I met up with Alex, we had a quick breakfast at Sofi’s Crepes, a delicious restaurant located just outside of the Naval Academy Gate 1 and specializing in every kind of crepe imaginable. Since he had to rush off to don his uniform, I even got a chance before crowds began arriving to straighten out some business back home.
The Color Parade is the oldest parade held at the Academy, started over a century ago in, approximately, 1870. This ceremony originates from the five-year tour of Commodore John Worden as Superintendent of the Naval Academy, who placed emphasis on military drill and dress parades. The Color Parade features a lengthy awards ceremony honoring the selected color company, the victors of the year-long Color Competition. Throughout the year, all thirty companies compete to earn points “for academic, professional and intramural excellence” (USNA). Find more of the history of the Naval Academy Band on the USNA website, or check out a neat black and white photo of the USNA band standing in formation at the original Color Parade. During the extended ceremony and transferring of colors, the midshipmen had to stand at attention. For quite a few, the humidity proved to be too great and more than a handful of midshipmen passed out over the course of the parade. While I can’t pretend that I would have fared much better wearing those uniforms in the heat for such an extended period of time, it was nonetheless a bit entertaining to spot the luckless individuals being pulled off the field.
Since my wonderful date to the Graduation Ball also happened to be a Midshipman Lieutenant Commander (Midn LCDR), I actually had a chance of picking him out during the Color Parade. Although part of the 30th Company, he was right up front leading the Sixth Batallion (composed of Companies 26 to 30). This made for great photo opportunities, especially since I had been cued in as to where to sit for the best view!
After the ceremony, tradition dictated that the Company Commanders were grabbed and thrown into the pool (kicking all the way in, if need be). Luckily, Alex was spared that fate and before too long, I was privy to a personalized tour of the Naval Academy. While I’m not prepared to describe the entire campus, mostly because of the rich history that seemingly every building boasts, a number of virtual tours of the chapel spaces and a brief history of the Naval Academy are available on the USNA website.
The one part of the tour that I do want to touch on, partly because the story stuck out in my recollections, is the Triton Light. This structure links to the tradition of the Ring Dance, an important right-of-passage event for the Second Class, in its incorporation of the mixing of water samples from seas throughout the world. The Ring Dance dates back to 1925, when the accidental drowning of Midshipman Leicester Smith caused the Naval Academy to replace the original custom of throwing the Second Classmen (who had just passed their final navigation exams and thus put on their rings) into the Severn River. Midshipmen now receive their rings at the Ring Dance, during which the rings are blessed by dipping them into the water of the seven seas. The ceremony symbolizes the midshipmen being ‘wedded’ to the Navy (read more here, on the USNA website). Similar to how Navy chaplains mix water from each of the seven seas for the blessing of rings at the Ring Dance, a globe built into Triton Light contains water from the 22 seas through which the USS Triton passed during its historic submerged circumnavigation. Used as a navigation point, Triton Light flashes green light four times, then five times every thirty seconds to commemorate the Class of 1945 who donated the structure.
I had some time on my own to explore Annapolis on my own before the Graduation Ball that evening, and was pleasantly surprised to find Annapolis to be drastically different than Baltimore. After living in Baltimore the past two summers, I’m not quite sure what I expected from another Maryland city, but it wasn’t the charming downtown area that I had the pleasure to wander. With all the small shops and historic buildings nearby the Naval Academy, I had no trouble keeping myself entertained. (As a frequent sender of postcards, I’m always looking for an opportunity to run off and find some that are worth the postage! Being a photographer has definitely made me more critical and picky in the postcard selection process.)
That day’s adventures concluded, of course, with the Graduation Ball. Without publicizing the details of my personal life too much, I just have to say that it was fabulous. I’ve never been to a real dance before, and I couldn’t have asked for a better date or a better event. It was undoubtedly one of the best nights I can remember.