Yesterday we played tourists and walked over the bridge to the United States Naval Academy. In all the years we’ve been coming to Annapolis we never visited.
We started out at Tecumseh Court as the Middies streamed in for the noon formation. Jack is checking out the bronze replica of the figurehead of the USS Delaware.
The tourists milled around, the midshipmen milled around, the dignitaries milled around, and suddenly, without any signal we could recognize there was complete silence and the Brigade of Midshipmen was in tight formation. It was thrilling to watch each unit report readiness for duty and I welled up that so many bright young people want to serve our country.
One thing that struck both Jack and me independently was the height of the middies. I guess we were expecting tall strapping lads, but they were mostly average and below average height. I was taller than many of the men and women we passed on the sidewalks.
We wandered over to the chapel — which by all accounts is a must-see — but unfortunately it was closed in preparation for the annual Halloween concert. That meant no Tiffany windows and no crypt of John Paul Jones in the basement. We decided to sneak in past a Do Not Enter sign anyway and as we pushed the heavy door open we heard an organ rendition of Dance of the Marionettes, the unmistakeable theme of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. We followed the sound to a side chapel where Monte Maxwell, music director of the chapel was practicing for the concert.
We talked to him for a while about pipe organs. He has played the Wanamaker organ, the largest in the world, which my sister and I heard many times growing up. He said if we emailed him after the concerts were over he’d give us a personal tour of the organ.
The campus was beautiful and there were interesting memorabilia at every turn.
We spent most of the rest of our time on the yard at the Naval Academy Museum. The first floor has exhibits telling the history of the US Navy from the Quasi and Barbary Wars to the present. The second floor was amazing, with a collection of ships models that would appeal to anyone with obsessive compulsive tendencies.
There was a exhibit in the back that particularly appealed to me. These are models made largely of bones and found objects by French prisoners of the Napoleonic Wars held in Britain.
Apparently the prisoners were encouraged to use their artisan skills and sell their wares in craft markets. The intricate ship models they built brought a good price, and the prisoners could buy food and clothing with the proceeds.
The reason these caught my interest is that my ancestor, Charles Riou de Lagesse, was captain of the brig Jeune Henry when he was captured by the British ship Tartar.
(IX, Guernsey, March 18, 1804.
We have the honour to inform you, that on the 9th instant, our lugger Tartar, Letter of Marque, Francis Pironet master, being in the latitude of 45 deg. 14 min. n. longitude 6 deg. 46 min. w. fell in with and captured, after an engagement of two hours, the French brig Jeune Henri, of Bourdeaux, Rio (sic) Delagesse master, two days out of Viverro in Spain, had taken nothing: she is a fine vessel, British built, and coppered ; mounts twelve guns twelve-pounders, and two four-pounders, had fifty men on board at the time of capture, had two wounded; the Tartar mounts ten four-pounders, had fifty men on board.
We have the honour to be, &c.
PETER MAINGY and Sons.
He was held captive by the British for years, and may well have occupied himself making ship models. I have no way of knowing, but this display made those times and circumstances real to me in ways that researching documents does not.
We ended our visit with a late lunch at the Drydock Restaurant in Dahlgren Hall.
Later we had Alan and Jim aboard for lasagna and spent the warm evening telling sailors’ tales in the cockpit.