You may have seen the iconic Triton Light on the Academy seawall, flashing green against the choppy waters where the Severn River meets Spa Creek and the Annapolis Harbor. It’s a beautiful (and beautifully useful) monument. But do you know the full story behind this intriguing piece?
Bringing the Waters of the World Together: A Globe with All the Seas
Erected in 1959 through the generous donations of the class of 1945, the Triton Light was built as a navigational light to physically guide ships to safety and also symbolically foster the safe return of all of those who go out to sea on ships. It is the only navigational light at the Naval Academy, and it has an interesting secret. About a year after its creation, the USS Triton (SSR(N)-586) completed its famous circumnavigation of the Earth. To celebrate the coincidence of the Triton name that honors the Greek God, the crew of this submarine provided samples of water from all 22 seas they had traversed. The monument designers created a globe to hold these special waters.
The USS Triton: Around the World in Sixty Days
The USS Triton has a fascinating story. Captain Edward L. “Ned” Beach Jr. and his crew left Groton, CT on February 15, 1960 with a mission. They reached the middle Atlantic on February 24th and then remained submerged - rounding Cape Horn, heading west across the Pacific, and finally skirting the Cape of Good Hope to arrive back where they started on April 25, 1960 - with 26,723 nautical miles (30,752 miles) under their belt. The 60-day, 21-hour voyage marked the first official submerged circumnavigation of the planet, and also showcased the U.S.’s first-generation nuclear-powered subs’ prowess and endurance at the height of the Cold War.
Additionally, this crew was able to amass an unprecedented amount of oceanographic data. For its heroic efforts, the USS Triton was presented with the “Presidential Unit Citation” in 1960, and its commander earned the Legion of Merit from President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
USS Triton (SSR(N)-586) underway in the Atlantic. National Archives photograph, USN 1122245
Triton Light Naval Academy: Dedicated to the Safety of Sailors
The Triton Light is also impressive. This beacon stands 25 feet tall and features two plaques that tell its story. An upper marker notes, “The globe within this monument contains water collected by the USS Triton (SSR(N)-586), from the twenty-two seas transited during the first submerged circumnavigation of the world in 1960,” and the lower marker says, “This light is dedicated to the safe return of all those who go down to the sea in ships.” Together, the two dedications make a powerful statement to protect all sailors who brave the vast oceans.
So Much More Than Meets the Eye: Decipher the Symbols
The Triton Light itself is full of meaningful symbolism. Every design element was carefully thought out; the three sides represent the three facets of a sailor’s life: God, Country and Ship. The landfill, or “new soil” underneath the monument, portends the future growth of the Navy. The bronze shaft echoes the permanence of long-held naval traditions and the delicate Art-Deco lattice shows how technology can adapt these traditions over time. Finally, the bottom features a rough base married to a smooth pedestal - representing the challenges of life at sea that give way to the overall satisfaction of the career. It is a study in symbolism.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the Triton Light is the message it sends. As the donating class notes, the pattern of flashing has meaning, too. “Our Triton Light, a charted navigational beacon on the most seaward point of the Naval Academy, will flash forever ’4-5. ’4-5, the numbers of our Class - a reminder to all who observe it, from land or sea, of our Class of 1945.” To further memorialize their contribution, the class also left their mark in the form of a “Class of 1945” crest on one side. The Naval Academy Crest dominates the other two, giving the Triton Light a true sense of place and history.
Just the Beginning: Nearby Markers Tell More Stories
While the monument guides sailors safely to port, it’s also a point of great reflection. Situated by the water, it’s the perfect place for quiet introspection and good old-fashioned boat watching. If you have some time to stroll, it also sits conveniently close to other important markers, including Still on Patrol (just a few steps away), The Paddle Bell (a bit further but still very close), The Sea Gate (also very close), Foremast of the U.S.S. Maine (within shouting distance of this marker), Vice Admiral William Porter Lawrence, USN (approx. ¼ mile away), Vice Admiral James Bond Stockdale (approx. ¼ mile away), Admiral Ben Moreell (approx. ¼ mile away) and the Norman Scott Natatorium (approx. ¼ mile away).
Triton Light (lower) Marker by Kevin W., March 15, 2008
In addition to the Triton Light, and these other important markers, there are many fascinating discoveries to be made at the Yard. We welcome you to join us on any number of tours that we offer, including both public and private, walking and driving. Many lifetimes have been spent building the stories of the Yard, and it can take a lifetime to truly explore and enjoy it all. Come spend some time walking in history today!