In one of the more unusual cornerstone traditions out there, first-year students at the Naval Academy undertook the “plebes-no-more” ceremony on Monday, which consisted of them collectively attempting to climb a 21-foot obelisk greased over with lard.
The entire, sloppy two-plus hour endeavor was streamed live on Facebook, a new high-water mark for live streaming and, really, the entire internet.
The obelisk is the Herndon Monument. The goal was for the first-years — or “plebes” as they’re semi-affectionately known — to reach the top of and place there a peaked cap, which signifies a higher rank within the Navy. It’s a yearly right of passage tradition, one undertaken by each class year that passes through the Naval Academy — and one that must be completed before their first year there is “officially” concluded.
The first recorded time for the climb was in 1959 when it was done in 12 minutes. The all-time record, of 1 minute and 30 seconds, was set in 1966 by a student named Larry Fanning — but greasing the monument wasn’t yet part of the tradition. Another impressive time of 3 minutes was recorded before that, in 1962, when a cargo net was used to help reach the top. Aids like that have since been banned.
Since the banning of cargo nets and other aids and the start of the greasing practice, the best recorded time is 20 minutes. It was recorded in 1972.
A live stream of the undertaking was hosted by The Washington Post. The video garnered well over 30,000 live viewers, reaching over 35,000 in moments of highest traffic. In the end, The Washington Post’s timer had the time at 2 hours, 21 minutes, and 22 seconds. It was far from the best outing, and the Naval Academy knew it, too. The institution’s Twitter page gave the plebes a hard time throughout their efforts.
For the viewer, the ceremony is a harrowing, team-focused endeavor, with the first-years scrambling over one another, hoisting each other up multiple stories on one another’s shoulders, and repeatedly falling as they lose their grip on the impossibly slippery gray stone.
Check out a video from the 2011 climb below.