Midshipman Memories
Painting the Smokestack

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Al Breen, Don White, Bob VanNice, and Mike Shelley
USNA Class of 1963
Photo taken July 1959

  Zimm Zimmerman finally tells how "63 SEZ BEAT ARMY" got painted on the smokestack

OK - you've inspired me to tell the Pride and Tradition story of painting the Laundry Smokestack!.

Seems the diggers and fillers had a slack day, and decided to spruce up the laundry smokestack with a fresh coat of gleaming, silver paint at the start of the football season of our Youngster year. Man, did that beatiful, silver Stack stand out on the Severn skyline! The Bancroft Administration issued a warning to all Classes not to ruin the new paint job with any Class signs.

That's the kind of challenge we needed at the time. JJ Hogan, Steve Leisge and I were coming back from intramural football at Hospital Point one evening, and stopped into the Laundry boiler room. An ancient attendent was alone there, and we asked him, " If you were going to break into this building at night and gain access to the smokestack, how would you do it?" He says, "Now that would be a criminal offense - breaking and entering - so I would never advise anyone to do it, but if I were going to do it, here's what I'd do. With that, he takes us up the fire escape to the roof, shows us a set of windows with the hinges on the outside, then says, " See, if you back out the pins from the hinges, you can lift out the locked windows; thereby, gaining access to the ladder that takes you to the base of the smokestack." We thanked him and laid plans for the assault - spray paint and black outfits and a hammer to back out the hinge pins. At 2:00AM, the alarm went off, we dressed in black, snuck out of Bancroft, and started running for the laundry. I remember a Jimmylegs in a patrol car forcing us to roll into a ditch until he passed - we felt like the James Bond SWAT team!. The hinges came off, just like the ancient one predicted, and we started up the smokestack ladder. But the ancient one hadn't warned us that the wind that night would cause the stack to sway about three feet in both directions, so holding the ladder with one hand and spray painting, "63' Sez BEAT ARMY!" with the other hand, was exciting in the dark!

Well, we get back to bed without detection, but are so excited to see the brigade's reaction at formation, that we couldn't sleep. Especially since the Administration had warned the brigade not to touch their new paint job! We were feeling pround of ourselves for one day, until the next morning, when we saw that someone from 62' had gone up the following night, painted out the "3" and replaced it with a "2", so that the stack now read: "62' sez BEAT ARMY!" They stole our paint job! This could not stand! JJ Hogan had an idea. We went out in town and bought three, giant sized jars of 100% Pure Petroleum Jelly. (JJ had had previous experience with this product with the numerous drags he dated, so he knew right where to find it on the shelf.) The next night, we repeated the assault on the stack, painted out the "2", replaced it with the "3", but this time, as we came down the stack ladder, we coated each rung and rail with Petroleum Jelly! At the base of the stack we painted a Warning Sign, to the effect that climbing the ladder would be dangerous to your health!

We were amazed we never were caught, and the Petrolleum Jelly worked, because "63' sez BEAT ARMY" remained as the Stack sign for that football season!


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15 August 2001
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