Memorial Hall

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Second Renaissance

The article below is a portion of what appeared in the September 2003 edition of Shipmate. The author is Ginger Doyel, "a fourth generation Annapolitan. History, particularly naval history, has always been of great interest to her. Her grandfathers, father, and uncle are Naval Academy graduates representing the Classes of 1943, 1945, 1968, and 1972. After receiving a degree in leadership studies from the University of Richmond ('01) she lived in Charlottesville, VA. While there she served as a research fellow for the Pew Partnership for Civic Change, illustrated and published a children's book, and began a successful golf art business. Since June of 2002, she has resided in Annapolis, MD, and is a weekly history columnist for The Capital newspaper."

Part II: Bancroft Hall's Center Section, Then and Now

Imagine being one of the first to see Bancroft Hall upon its completion in 1906. Gazing up at the dome you stand in awe of Ernest Flagg's design. From the Rotunda you descend to Recreation Hall where ornate chandeliers command your attention. Next you climb the stairs to Memorial Hall, pause to remove your hat then enter. Its limestone is pristine, its floor brilliant, and the smell of fresh paint permeates the air. It is a sacred space, a reverent space. Those who visit the Academy today are fortunate to have a similar experience. After one year of construction, Bancroft Hall's Center Section has been restored to its initial grandeur. The section, including Memorial Hall, Smoke Hall, and the Rotunda, was re-opened on 15 May 2003 and is stunning.

Memorial Hall, Then

Memorial Hall was initially designed, as its name suggests, as a place for quiet, respectful remembering. Yet by 1907, it had already become the site for less appropriate activities. A drawing by a member of that year's class shows midshipmen there playing the piano, socializing, and reading. As an interesting side note, outside of Memorial Hall one brave soul is even fishing for hats worn by unsuspecting visitors!"

Fifteen years later, Academy Superintendent Rear Admiral Henry B. Wilson 1881 took a step to curb such activities in Memorial Hall. Naval Academy Order No. 49-23 was issued on 31 July 1923, which reads: (1) Memorial Hall has long been one of the honored spots at the Naval Academy and has served as a source of inspiration to all officers, midshipmen, and others who have visited it; particularly on account of the many memorials placed there honoring those officers and men of our Navy who have lent distinction by their service to country and flag. (2) In order that Memorial Hall will be restricted only to such gatherings as its atmosphere suggests its use as a reading room will be discontinued. Recreation Hall is designated for this purpose...

Still, however, Memorial Hall continued to be used in an inappropriate manner in the coming years. By the '30s it had become the site for midshipmen's club meetings such as the Naval Academy Christian Association and the Quarterdeck Society in 1935. That year Memorial Hall also featured a display of the Art Club's creations during June Week.

June was a particularly busy month for Memorial Hall in the '30s and for much of the 20th century. For it was there that Plebes took their oaths of office. As a member of the Class of 1943 recalls, "We came in at different times and were sworn in in Memorial Hall in small groups of twenty or so..." He and his Classmates stood facing the timeless message "Don't Give up the Ship" on the Battle of Lake Erie Flag. Commodore Oliver Perry hoisted the flag aboard Lawrence one hundred days after Captain James Lawrence spoke the words as he lay dying aboard Chesapeake on 1 June 1813.

However, the flag has not always been located in Memorial Hall. It was transferred from Mahan Hall's auditorium in 1924 and initially hung above Memorial Hall's central door. The flag was lowered to its present location in 1960 when Mrs. Webb Jay donated the memorial beneath it to honor her son, Lieutenant Commander John Louis Mehlig '37.

The door that the memorial and flag cover opened onto the balcony and overlooked Smoke Park. Lost when the Mess Hall was expanded. Smoke Park once served as the site for many midshipmen's social events—as did Memorial Hall.

Members of the Class of 1941 enjoyed being "Kings for a Day" in Memorial Hall on "Second Class Day." There, on about 1 August, they enjoyed a grand dance after a day of recreation in Annapolis."

At that point, Memorial Hall was also a popular rendezvous for midshipmen and their drags—especially for underclassmen on Sundays since Smoke Hall was a "First Class rate." Those who gathered there, however, would not have seen many of Memorial Hall's current murals.

Charles Robert Patterson completed its first mural in 1932. Presented to the Academy by Mr. Edward Berwind 1869, it features Constitution and Java Engagement. Patterson finished other murals in 1936 and 1958 but died before completing the Battle of Lake Erie. Artist Howard French finished this and other murals in 1959, 1960, and 1961.

Graduates from the '60s through the present recall several other ways Memorial Hall has been used. While some remember attending post-graduation Alumni diruiers and retirement ceremonies there, others recall taking ballroom dancing classes and playing its piano.

Memorial Hall, Now

Those who visit Memorial Hall today will not find midshipmen taking ballroom dancing classes there, nor will they find its former piano. Yet they will discover that its structural integrity has been improved and that its dignity and decorum have been restored.

Like Smoke Hall and the Rotunda, Memorial Hall's limestone has been cleaned and re-pointed, its ceiling has undergone extensive plaster repair and it has been repainted. Its historic light fixtures have also been restored and brought up to code. The light fixtures and new skylights give added notice to the room's murals, which appear brilliant after careful cleaning as does its wooden floor.

The space's more subtle changes are also noteworthy. Memorial Hall has been upgraded to comply with fire and safety codes and standards. Furthermore speakers, designed to match their surroundings, provide higher quality acoustics.

While contractors improved Memorial Hall's structural integrity, others restored its dignity and decorum. Crucial to this accomphshment was the Special Memorials Committee chaired by Colonel John Ripley '62, USMC (Ret.).

Comprised of graduates from the '30s through the '80s, the committee identified three categories for memorialization: Service, Sacrifice, and Valor. It was determined that Memorial Hall, as its name indicates, should solely memorialize Naval Academy alumni. As a result, only the categories of Sacrifice and Valor will be represented there in the future. Those recognized for Service will continue to be honored on The Yard in locations such as Alumni Hall.

Valor is exemplified in Memorial Hall by a plaque bearing the names of those awarded Medals of Honor. Nearby, the Killed in Action scroll is a sobering, powerful example of Sacrifice. This scroll, however, does not convey the full breadth of sacrifices made by Naval Academy graduates for their country. Non-hostile "Line of Duty" Operational Losses are equally worthy of memorialization. For this reason, an Operational Losses panel is being erected in Memorial Hall.

The panel will contain the crest of each Class, followed by the Class's Operational Losses. It will bear approximately 3,800 names, each individual's rank and service, and has been designed to allow for about one century of expansion.

While an Operational Losses panel has been added to Memorial Hall, other items have been removed. The Committee's Plaques, Painting, and Memorials Subcommittee inventoried every item in Memorial Hall and the Yard. It categorized each as representing Sacrifice, Service, or Valor. Based on the current clause, the full committee then decided which items should remain, be removed from, or relocated to Memorial Hall.

A plaque recognizing the heroism of Commander Wade McClusky '26 at Midway, for example, was relocated from Dahlgren Hall. Those that remain, yet do not fall into the categories of Sacrifice or Valor were "grandfathered" in because of their antiquity and beauty.

Private funding has enabled the restoration of Memorial Hall's dignity and decorum, specifically the Classes of 1954, 1986, and 1995. The Class of '54 supported the refinishing of Memorial Hall's plaques, flags, and paintings. The original Battle of Lake Erie Flag, for instance, is currently being preserved in New York and will most likely be displayed in Preble Hall upon return. Those who graduated in '54 also enabled the development and production of the Operational Losses panels. Members of the Class of 1986 sponsored and supported the Special Memorials Committee. They also made possible the Rotunda level's computer kiosk, which will provide further information about those memorialized by the Operational Losses panels. Furthermore, '86 graduates supported a video for Memorial Hall's visitors. In addition to providing a brief history of the space, the video will inform visitors of the proper protocol to be observed there.

Lastly, the Class of 1995 made possible the Current Operational Losses panel, which will be replaced and updated annually.

Looking Ahead

In the future, the only functions to take place in Memorial Hall will be those that meet the standards of decorum for the space, which Colonel Ripley rightly refers to as the Naval Academy's "Sistine Chapel." Those who attend such functions will surely be delighted by its renovations and restorations.

Like Memorial Hall, Bancroft Hall's Center Section as a whole has been restored to its initial grandeur. One feature, however, still appears quite differently than it originally did: the stairs leading from the Rotunda level to Smoke and Memorial Halls. After being thoroughly cleaned, they still bear the indentations made by all who have entered Bancroft Hall since its completion, nearly one century ago.