By CBS Baltimore Staff

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Prior to the lively Herndon Climb this year, a ceremony was held to dedicate the bell from a legendary ship led by Cmdr. William Lewis Herndon. The 268-pound bronze bell was donated to the institution by a California man.

The SS Central America encountered a three-day hurricane off the coast of North Carolina in 1857. The academy said after Cmdr. Herndon gave the order to abandon ship, he remained at the controls to facilitate passenger evacuation and went down with the ship. His efforts saved the lives of 152 people, the academy said.

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The ship sank with 15 tons of California Gold Rush gold, earning it the name “Ship of Gold.” The bell was discovered in 1988, 131 years after the ship sank.

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The Class of 1860 dedicated a 21-foot tall obelisk to Herndon in honor of his sacrifice. The monument is now the centerpiece of the annual Herndon Climb, a plebe rite of passage in which the class struggles to place an upperclassman’s hat atop the statue, which is covered in lard.

“Commander Herndon’s story reminds us of our responsibility and obligation as naval officers to keep fighting for our ship and our shipmates all the way to the end,” said Vice Adm. Sean Buck, Superintendent of the Naval Academy.

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The academy said Adm. Buck’s classmates from the Class of 1983 will be donating a granite bell carrier at a later date.

CBS Baltimore Staff