ANNAPOLIS – Renovation of Bancroft Hall has uncovered some more personal — and less glorious — bits of history for the dorm and the generations of midshipmen who have lived there.
Construction crews tearing down the old walls have found, for example, an old steel beer can and a Coke bottle with a midshipmen’s note inside from 1962.
“There were always hidden voids and spaces behind the walls,” recalls David Church, a graduate of the class of ’67 and president of the Academy’s Alumni Association. He said the spaces were often used by midshipmen to store items they didn’t want found by the commandant.
“In my day, the hall was a beehive of non-regulated business enterprises,” Church said. “Everybody had their own franchise territories.”
Though private enterprise was strictly forbidden by the commandant, Church remembers how ambitious mids supplemented their incomes by selling everything from sandwiches and hot dogs to haircuts — mids have to get one every week — and even women’s panties with “BEAT ARMY” emblazoned on the rear.
“There’s always been one universal theme at Bancroft Hall,” Church said. “Times may change, but mids will always be mids.”
It’s clear that Bancroft Hall — “Mother B” as its occupants call it — is more than just a dormitory. It’s the place where young people learn how to be soldiers.
Cleanliness and military lines are diligently followed and life in the hall is constantly regulated. Midshipmen live by strict rules that are enforced by officers and fellow mids. Rooms are kept in pristine condition for inspection and only Navy- regulation clothing can be worn in the hall.
But just because Bancroft Hall is a military barracks, doesn’t mean young people won’t cut loose.
And finding ways to entertain themselves has always been a practice that midshipmen excel in, from the early days of the academy to the present.
“Over 3-1/2 years, I had a hell of a lot of fun,” said retired Capt. Roy Smith III, who lived in Bancroft from 1930- 1933.
Smith remembers when one of his roommates, “a marvelous electrical engineer,” hooked up a phone connection to the duty officers’ phone line. At that time, in 1933, phones were not allowed in the rooms.
“He kept it under the leg of his table,” Smith said. “If someone came in, he’d hide it under there.”
That is, until one night when the duty officer picked up the phone and found Smith’s roommate making a long-distance call to California.
“We were a hell of a lot more careful after that.”