Since the U.S. Naval Academy, like most government installations, limits vehicular traffic on the Yard, several sites go practically unnoticed by visitors taking a walking tour. If you’re game for a relatively short, level stroll up Turner Joy Road, making an immediate starboard (right) turn as you exit the Armel Leftwich Visitor Center just inside the main gate, you’re in for a naval history lesson that spans more than a century.
The walk itself along the seawall bordering the road is reward enough, first offering views from park benches of the waterborne vessels that cruise in an out of Annapolis’ aptly named Ego Alley. It’s also a popular spot for the annual holiday boat parade in December, the July 4 fireworks display, as well as storm-driven waves that crash when the wind picks up against the large boulders called rip-rap on the banks of Spa Creek. Depending on the season, you may even catch a glimpse of the Navy football and lacrosse teams practicing to your port (left) side on Rip Miller and Farragut fields.
Just before the confluence of the Severn River and Spa Creek, you’ll notice a group of memorials to starboard, starting with the vertical white-washed foremast of a ship. It’s from the USS Maine, the battleship that sank in Havana Harbor in February 1898, an incident blamed on Spain and bolstered by newspaper reports, thus fomenting the Spanish-American War, which began in earnest that April. Various studies, including one ordered by Admiral Hyman Rickover, have reached differing conclusions over what actually sank the ship, and it could be a mystery that may never be solved.
Just yards from the Maine mast is the “Sea Gate,” a collection of flat granite slabs that literally go down to the sea (Spa Creek, in this case). The structure, with waves constantly lapping over it, was presented by the Academy Class of 1945 on June 7, 1989, dedicated “to all those who have left these shores to serve our Country.”
Next up is the mounted ship’s bell from the USS Paddle, a World War II submarine named for the paddlefish (nearly all submarines brought into service during that war were named after fish), a native species from Mississippi. The bell is a memorial not only to all the sailors who died on submarines from 1941-45, but also to those lost in the mysterious 1960s sinkings of the USS Thresher and Scorpion, the only U.S. nuclear-powered submarines ever lost.
Continuing with the lost submarines theme, the sobering “Still on Patrol” memorial pays tribute to the 53 submarines (alphabetically from USS Albacore to USS Wahoo), 374 officers, and 3,131 men lost in submarines during World War II. An actual torpedo on top quietly testifies to the erratic torpedo performance during the war, illustrated vividly by the story of the wildly successful USS Tang, which was sunk in October 1944 by her own torpedo, killing many of the officers and crew. (For those interested in the harrowing and comprehensive Tang story, pick up Clear the Bridge!, by Tang skipper Richard H. O’Kane, who survived the explosion, was picked up by the Japanese, and tortured in a prisoner-of-war camp.)
Fittingly, this short walking tour concludes at Triton Light, described by the Academy as “a navigational beacon located on the Academy seawall where the Severn River meets the waters of Spa Creek and the Annapolis city harbor.” The light’s flash sequence is the only beacon of its kind in the world. Named for the submarine USS Triton, which collected water from the 22 seas through which she traveled during the first-ever submerged circumnavigation of the earth in early 1960, the structure includes a globe containing the specimens the Triton collected.
Besides its function as a remembrance of the submarine’s feat, the Triton Light, donated by the Academy Class of 1945, is also known as “a trusted navigational point in Annapolis Harbor.” It’s flashing green light, which shines in sequences of four flashes, followed by five flashes (four, then five) every 30 seconds, is an inside homage to the class of ’45.
Touring the Naval Academy? If history is your forte, take this short hike for a journey back in time. Learn more about Naval Academy tours at VisitAnnapolis.org