During parts of the pandemic, the Yard was quiet. The Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy, Vice Admiral Sean Buck and his wife, Joanne, would take long, lonely walks to warm up those darker days. The midshipmen weren’t filling the Yard with their usual bustle, and the uncertainty of that time weighed heavily on them. The two would walk by the Zimmerman Bandstand Gazebo, which was the scene of so many happy celebrations since it was built in 1922—until it hosted its last concert before the world shut down.
Bringing the Light Back
Joanne had an idea. “We imagined that the Zimmerman Bandstand had seen some better and more fun times. As I am a Hallmark Christmas Channel fan, most of the movies had holiday trees in the town gazebos and it was always a cheerful sight. I know it all sounds cheesy, but I decided one day with my husband, walking by that lonely bandstand, that I would change that. He was able to give me the permission to decorate it for the holidays. So the first tree popped up in December, 2020.”
The Story Behind the Bandstand
The Zimmerman Bandstand Gazebo was named for Charles Zimmerman, one of USNA’s longest serving band directors and also the revered author of their fight song, “Anchors Aweigh.” He built the stunning Queen Anne style Zimmerman House on Conduit Street not far from the Naval Academy, and lived there from 1887 until his death in 1916.
To keep the tree and its decorations cost effective, the Bucks creatively repurposed almost everything they needed. Instead of spending money to light the large pine tree in their carriage entrance where most people couldn’t enjoy it, they diverted those funds toward the new tree. They were able to find a tree on sale at a local hardware store. They also found a large red tablecloth at the Buchanan House (their home) and fashioned it into a tree skirt. Then they gathered ornaments that had been stored in the house over the years. To liven up the space further, the Naval Academy Garden Club, a 90-year Yard institution, created bows and garland to festoon the bandstand; they also crafted a beautiful gold star for the top of the tree. That first year, Admiral Buck asked the house staff decorate the tree.
Once everything was in place, she looked for a way to have the midshipmen participate. They had been on lock down for weeks and their presence was sorely missed. So Buck devised a contest wherein each of the 30 companies could submit a decorated cardboard circle to hang on the tree. The winner would get a bag of holiday cookies for the company—a highly coveted prize. Of course the Brigade took this challenge up with their signature gusto, submitting impressively artistic ornament designs. “I must say we have some very talented midshipmen,” says Buck. Their efforts lit up the tree before the lights were even turned on.
The Night of the Lighting
On December 2, 2020, a small crowd gathered around the tree to watch it sparkle. Due to COVID restrictions, only one representative from each company could attend the lighting. Yet what they lacked in numbers they made up for in cheer. The Naval Academy Band played festive music, and the holiday spirit filled the air as the lights came to life. “It was a lot of fun,” says Buck. This continued all season. “We watched many midshipmen and families taking holiday photos in front of that tree the first year and witnessed at least one marriage proposal. It just seemed to make the Yard shine brightly; it was very gratifying,” she remembers.
Come See the Tree
This year, everyone is welcome to attend the Christmas Tree Lighting, which will illuminate the Zimmerman Bandstand and the entire Yard on November 30th at 7:00
p.m. The Garden Club has worked their magic and decorated the tree and gazebo. The Midshipmen Tree Ornament contest is in full swing, and the winners will be selected the night of November 30th and awards will be given. The Naval Academy Band will again liven up the quadrangle with their trademark holiday tunes. And again, the tree will warm the darker days of winter. “It is an opportunity for family, mids, sports teams and those leaving church to take time to enjoy it and take a look at the ornaments hung around the bandstand all holiday season, showing off some of our talented midshipmen’s work,” Buck notes.
Come see the tree and experience an Annapolis Christmas. Our USNA tours can take you to the Zimmerman Bandstand Gazebo and the surrounding areas, and you are welcome to wander around and see the other treasures on the Yard. While you’re here you can also take in the beautiful USNA Giving Tree in Bancroft Hall, where paper angel ornaments hold wishes waiting to be fulfilled for Annapolis area children in need. When you visit the Yard, you’re supporting the midshipmen who support our freedom. All profits go right back to the Brigade, whether you’re taking a USNA tour, dining in our restaurants, shopping in our shops, or spending time on the Yard.
A Hallmark Movie Moment
It is indeed a Hallmark Channel movie, right here on the Yard. Just as important as the symbol of the tree itself is the bandstand—a place of so much celebration and joy throughout the years—now serving as a beacon of hope and love through the difficult days of the pandemic and beyond. The holiday spirit is also echoed in the repurposing of so many of the decorations—and in the midshipmen and other groups’ eagerness to help. It is efforts like the Bucks’ that really capture the spirit of the season and bring a bit of magic to the Yard. We wish you and yours a very special holiday season, and we hope you can enjoy a little Hallmark Channel magic yourself!