On The Yard


    Winter on the Yard: See the Sights

    By Bill the Goat on January 10, 2022

    Winter on the Yard: See the Sights

    The Yard is stunning in all seasons. The fall ushers in crisp air and the sounds of parades. Spring displays bursts of buds on the trees and prompts the cheers of spring sports. Summer brings new plebes (and, unfortunately, mosquitoes). But the winter is still and quiet. It’s my favorite season of all. As a mountain goat used to high altitudes and cold temperatures, I’m in my element when winter comes.

    The Academy takes on a breathtaking quality in winter. The crowds have dissipated, the leaves have blown away, and the trees are cutting silhouettes in the sky. Days shorten and nights lengthen. The lights of the buildings beckon, and when you are outside taking it all in, there’s a magical beauty to the place. For me and the midshipmen, it’s home.


    Take a Winter Walk

    If you’re looking for things to do in Annapolis, MD, try a winter getaway—there are so many wonderful Annapolis attractions to see, and you must visit the Naval Academy. Bundle up and join one of the regular public walking tours that leaves from the Armel-Leftwich Visitor Center, or schedule a private walking tour of your own. There are many to choose from, featuring history, music, leadership strategies, kids tours, and more. I love trotting along for all of them!


    Take a Winter Ride

    If you’d like to see even more, you can charter your own land cruise ahead of time with a GEM tour, where you’ll ride aboard a comfortable five-passenger electric vehicle. These tours take two to ten people on a 75-minute excursion, hitting all the “gems” of the Naval Academy. With wheels, you can cover more ground in a short amount of time and really get a feel for the Yard.


    GEM USNA Tour Highlights

    GEM tours begin at the Armel-Leftwich Visitor Center. The Visitor Center is especially nice in the winter, when there are fewer people and you can really spend time taking in the “Day in the Life of a Midshipmen” videos, The Call to Serve movie, colorful football posters (with many of my grand-goats) from throughout the years, iconic photographs, historic Navy paraphernalia, and much more. The USNA Gift Shop has souvenirs and gifts for everyone in your group. You’ll also meet your GEM driver here and begin your ride.


    First Stop: The Triton Light and Sea Wall

    tritonWhile each tour may be different, you’ll likely head to the Triton Light, which sits at the point where the Severn River meets Spa Creek. It was donated by the class of 1945 and erected in 1959 to help welcome those returning from sea. Among the many special elements of this still working beacon is a globe containing waters from the 22 seas from around the world. People gravitate here. Many wedding parties like to take photos with the light, midshipmen like to spend time here contemplating their future service, and everyone agrees that it’s a great place to watch the ships go by with its expansive views of the water.


    Second Stop: Bancroft Hall, Tecumseh 2.0, and the Perry Bell:

    Welcome to Bancroft Hall, where you’ll have time to explore Tecumseh Court and the gargantuan “Mother B,” as she’s affectionately known. Bancroft Hall is a dormitory (and small city) that houses all 4,400 of us midshipmen and ranks among the largest in the world. It is the highlight of many Annapolis tours. If you have time, make sure to visit Memorial Hall inside and pay your respects to those that have lost their lives in service to our country.

    Some of the monuments in that area are among the most famous on the Yard, including Tecumseh 2.0, a replica of the original wooden USS Delaware figurehead that was modeled after Chief Tamanend of the Delaware tribe. It arrived at the Academy in 1868, and was cast in bronze after 1920, when the original wooden one was moved indoors. The midshipmen called it by several names before landing on Tecumseh, and this icon now plays a role granting luck to midshipmen studying for exams or hoping to win on the gridiron. I often swing by there for some mascot luck before I head to the games.

    Wander over to the large Perry Bell, a Japanese bell gifted to USNA by Commodore Perry’s widow in 1858. The original is over 500 years old, and on V-J Day it received joyous clanging with bowling pins from the old Bancroft Hall bowling alley. In 1987, the Academy returned that original to the people of Okinawa and placed a replica there. Find the Japanese inscription, which reminds Japanese leaders to act justly lest barbarians invade. It’s advice that’s stood the test of centuries.

    Another gem you’ll discover is in the middle of Tecumseh Court, where a small brass marker proclaims the spot where CDR Franklin Buchanan established the original “Naval School” in Annapolis at 11am on October 10, 1845. I love placing my hoof on that spot. You can’t help but be transported in time to see and feel the vision of yesteryear that has become a lasting tradition of today.


    Third Stop: The USNA Chapel, the Crypt of John Paul Jones, and the Zimmerman Bandstand

    This incredible architectural gem is not to be missed. Your tour guide will take you inside the chapel where you are certain to be awestruck as you absorb the stained glass, pipe organ, and brilliant blue aisle, culminating with the famous Tiffany windows behind the altar. The organ features over 15,688 pipes that fill the space with glorious, goosebump-inducing music. Venture to the belly of the building and you’ll find the heart of the Naval Academy—the final resting place of the Navy’s father, John Paul Jones. His crypt is stunningly beautiful in Beaux-Arts black marble donated by the French. Outside, across from the chapel, you can enjoy the famous Zimmerman Bandstand that was named for Charles Zimmerman, the bandmaster who composed the USNA fight song “Anchors Aweigh.” Outdoor concerts still fill the air with music, and it’s hard not to tap your hooves along with the beat!


    Fourth Stop: The USNA Cemetery

    Since you are driving, you can make it to places that are difficult to get to on the walking tours. The cemetery is one of those notable places. It’s also one of the few active cemeteries at a college. Its modest nature makes it very intimate for the families who have loved ones here. You’ll find the final resting places of notable Navy graduates and others affiliated with the Academy. Charles Zimmerman is buried here, as are John S. McCain III, five chiefs of naval operations, one commandant of the Marine Corps, nineteen superintendents, and eight Medal of Honor recipients. The cemetery sits on a hill overlooking the water and offers remarkable views and memories.

    You’ll likely fit in even more stops on your 75-minute tour. There is so much to explore at the Naval Academy. It boasts over thirteen miles of roads and fifteen miles of walkways. It enjoys over 175 years of history. Winter is the perfect time to experience all of it. Come see us on the Yard. I’ll grab my Navy blanket and join you for the ride!

    Bill the Goat
    Written by Bill the Goat | January 10, 2022


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