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The secrets of the Academy

By Rick Koster

Publication: The Day

Published June 06. 2010 4:00AM   Updated June 07. 2010 2:13PM

Perhaps the strangest thing about the latest episode in our Behind the Scenes series is that the subject, the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London, is open to the public.

Admittedly, the idea of Behind the Scenes isn't that folks don't have partial access to these places - often, they do - but what surprised us is that, in this post-9/11 era, any citizen can visit the academy.

That was our perspective, then. It's a gorgeous campus, and we enjoyed getting to know and see the grounds and facilities - after which, yes, we did venture into the private areas and investigated some of the unknown nooks and crannies of the place.

Besides, it's the 100th birthday of the academy, and it seems a particularly appropriate time to do this project.

Some of what we explored and captured on the video:

• Why does the Coast Guard Museum have a pair of women's shoes fashioned out of exotic animal hooves?

• What's it like to climb to the top of the chapel's spire and is there an arcane code significance to that blinking light? (Oh, and am I physically capable of actually climbing that high up?)

• In the Henriques Room, there's a curious handprint smeared in the middle of a gorgeous mural that depicts the iconic moments in the Coast Guard History. Is this a ghostly image or merely the work of a disgruntled artist?

• What midnight ritual takes place at the crypt of Hopley Yeaton - commissioned by George Washington to head up the Revenue Cutter Service (the outfit that would become the Coast Guard) - and why would it be a lot spookier if the sacrament didn't involve desperate math students.

• How has the Coast Guard's astonishing and beyond-heroic work during Hurricane Katrina - when Coasties saved more than 33,000 lives - impacted the profile of the academy and affected the number of students trying to gain acceptance to the school?

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