Nebraska (BB-14), ex-Pennsylvania, was laid down by Moran Brothers, Seattle,
Washington, 4 July 1902, launched 7 October, 1904, sponsored by Miss Mary N.
Mickey, daughter of Governor John H. Mickey of Nebraska, and commissioned
The horizontal and vertical lines represent the Equator and the International
Date Line, respectively. The map indicates that the USS Virginia (along with the
rest of the ships in the fleet including the Nebraska) crossed the Equator on July
28, 1908 and the International date Line on August 5, 1908.
However, according to the itinerary of the fleet, as shown at
http://mars.ark.com/~camorris/gwfleet/fleet_log2.html, the fleet crossed the
Equator on August 1, 1908.
A note from Mary South with some calculations:
Here is the itinerary of the Great White Fleet:
So the average miles sailed per day was 249. It is approximately 1508 miles from
Honolulu to the equator by Jarvis Island. Using those figures it would take them
roughly 6.05 days to reach the equator. They left Honolulu on 22 July 1908...that
means they crossed the equator on 28 July 1908. Unless they stopped for 4 days in
the middle of the Pacific.
I vote for the 28th!
I tend to believe the map and Mary's calculations!
The ceremony of Crossing the Line is an initiation rite in the Royal Navy, U.S. Navy,
U.S. Coast Guard, and other navies which commemorates a sailor's first crossing of
the equator. Originally the tradition was created as a test for seasoned sailors to ensure
their new shipmates were capable of handling long rough times at sea. Sailors who have
already crossed the equator are nicknamed (Trusty) Shellbacks, often referred to as
Sons of Neptune; those who have not are nicknamed (Slimy) Pollywogs.
The two-day event (evening and day) is a ritual of reversal in which the older and
experienced enlisted crew essentially takes over the ship from the officers. Physical
assaults in keeping with the 'spirit' of the initiation are tolerated, and even the
inexperienced crew is given the opportunity to 'take over'. The
transition flows from established order to the controlled 'chaos' of the Pollywog Revolt,
the beginnings of re-order in the initiation rite as the fewer but experienced enlisted
crew converts the 'Wogs' through physical tests, then back to, and thereby affirming,
the pre-established order of officers and enlisted. Like the old physically- and
emotionally-intensive boot camp, the "Crossing the Line" ritual deconstructs then
reconstructs the initiates' experience from newbie outsider into the experienced military
The eve of the equatorial crossing is called Wog Up-Rising and, as with many other
night-before rituals, is a mild type of reversal of the day to come. 'Wogs' - all of the
uninitiated - are allowed to capture and 'interrogate' any shellbacks they can find (eg,
tying them up, cracking eggs or pouring aftershave lotion on their heads).
After crossing the line, Pollywogs receive subpoenas to appear before King Neptune
and his court (usually including his first assistant Davy Jones and her Highness
Amphitrite and often various dignitaries, who are all represented by the highest ranking
seamen), who officiate at the ceremony, which is often preceded by a Beauty Contest
of men dressing up as women, each department of the ship being required to introduce
one contestant in swimsuit drag. Afterwards, some wogs may be "interrogated" by
King Nepture and his entourage, and the use of 'truth serum' (hot sauce + after shave +
?) and whole uncooked eggs put in the mouth. During the ceremony, the Pollywogs
undergo a number of increasingly disgusting ordeals (wearing clothing inside out and
backwards; crawling on hands and knees on nonskid-coated decks; being swatted with
short lengths of firehose; being locked in stocks and pillories and pelted with mushy
fruit; being locked in a water coffin of salt-water and bright green sea dye (fluorescent
sodium salt); crawling through chutes or large tubs of rotting garbage; kissing the
Royal Baby's belly coated with axle grease, hair chopping, etc), largely for the
entertainment of the Shellbacks.
Once the ceremony is complete, a Pollywog receives a certificate declaring his new
status. Another rare status is the Golden Shellback, a person who has crossed the
equator at the 180th meridian (international date line). When a ship must cross these
lines, the ship's captain will usually intentionally plot a course across the Golden X so
that the ship's crew can be initiated into the Golden Shellbacks.
The rarest Shellback status is that of the Emerald Shellback, which is received after
crossing the equator at the prime meridian.
A watered-down version of the ceremony, typically featuring King Neptune, is also
sometimes carried out for passengers' entertainment on civilian ocean liners and cruise
|If you have a picture you'd like us to feature a picture in a future quiz, please
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|Answer to Quiz #182 - November 2, 2008
|We won't give you any latitude on this one.
What are these men doing?
|If you enjoy our quizzes, don't forget to order our books!
|Congratulations to Our Winners!
Marjorie Wilser Fred Stuart
Tamura Jones Diane Burkett
John Chulick Beth Long
Carolyn Cornelius Joshua Kreitzer
Gary Sterne Gina Hudson
Kathy Storm Brian Kemp
Lois Carr Carl Blessing
Evan Hindman Tom Tollefsen
Teresa Yu Anna Farris
Audrey Speelman Mary South
Dave Doucette Harold Clupper
Tim Brixius Marilyn Hamill
Sheri Fenley Cornelius
Barbara Battles Leslie Shapard
Judy Pfaff Frank P. Nollette
Stan Read Sandy Thompson Jeff Blessing
|How Marjorie Solved the Puzzle
|At first I thought they might be mummers
from Philadelphia or Louisiana. But the SS
Nebraska was an actual ship. Three, in
fact-- a 19th century one, an early 20th
century, and a submarine!
The eBay thing is the best I can find; could
this be the official ship band from the SS
Nebraska? It doesn't appear to be the
famous Buffalo Bill wild west show. . .
unless they also had pirate costumes for
the show. They're obviously entertainers of
some stripe (pun intended!). Or IS that a
buffalo head in the background, left? Oddly
I do remember something about a "line
crossing" on shipboard, so maybe this is
that. When I checked Wikipedia, this was
So, my best guess is that it's the _first_ SS
Nebraska (from the apparent age of the
photo), with crew dressed for the line
crossing ceremony (the helpful title of the
.jpg gives me "ceremony" for a clue).
The Order of the Blue Nose for sailors who have crossed the Arctic Circle.
The Order of the Polar Bear for U.S. sailors who have crossed the Arctic Circle.
The Order of the Red Nose for sailors who have crossed the Antarctic Circle.
The Order of the Golden Dragon for sailors who have crossed the Int'l Date Line.
The Order of the Ditch for sailors who have passed through the Panama Canal.
The Order of the Rock for sailors who have transited the Strait of Gibraltar.
The Safari to Suez for sailors who have passed through the Suez Canal.
The Royal Diamond Shellback for sailors who cross at 0 0 degrees off the coast of
West Africa (where the equator crosses the Prime Meridian)
The Realm of the Czars for sailors who crossed into the Black Sea.
The Order of Magellan for sailors who circumnavigated the Earth.
|Comments from Our Readers
|Nice pun on the 0 degrees lattitude. As Navy veteran the answer was obvious, although
I was a Naval Aircrewman on P-3 aircraft we heard about the wild parties onboard ship
for the "shellbacks". I think that was the fastest I ever did a quiz. I literally open it saw
the picture and Nebraska ship sign and recognized the celebration for the new
“shellbacks” crossing the Equator. Then I look at you clue and thought nice pun and
good clue. Fred Stuart
What a wonderful picture. It looks like Blackbeard meets the Ku Klux Klan.
Enjoyed this one. And if I had not been reviewing my dads Navy records, it may not
have occurred to me so quickly. Actually it was the outfits the men were wearing and
the sign USS Nebraska. I remember hearing or reading of the way the Navy 'celebrated'
the crossing of the Equator and in my dad's Navy papers was his 'certificate' from his
crossing signed by King Neptune. So I did a search of "USS NEBRASKA" and the
article I saw had this exact photo in it. After all, even with the costumes, I didn't think
they were celebrating Mardi Gras. Kathy Storm
I was shocked to read that people died during these ceremonies. Gina Hudson
I am a bit stuck on this one: with ss nebraska I hit upon nebrasksa huskers football
team who do have skull cross bones on black shirts. The picture appears to before
team was founded.
The Photo is not all that clear. There appears to be what is the stand for a surveyors
sextant in lower right hand corner. Latitude and longitude lines are part of their
measurements. All survey measurements start from an established point. The sixth
meridian line goes through Nebraska. These men are dressed up in clothing with skull
and cross bones decorations.The man on the left appears to be a dark complected
sailor. At one time the term Nebraska sailor referred to an ensign or enlistee, who was
from an area of the US far from the ocean.
I did come up with Pirates of Penzance or HMS Pinafore play. All in all, I have yet to
hit upon a weblink that provides an answer. Could this a reunion of civil war vets in
jest? Mike Dalton
I didn't think I'd figure this one out, but had to pursue it due to the S.S. Nebraska link.
Until this quiz I was not aware of this ceremony. Dan Schlesinger
Your hint and the S.S. gave it away. Must be a "crossing the line" ceremony.
Well, my reading of the entire Tom Swift series has been worthwhile again. This is a
ceremony performed every time a new sailor crosses the equator. Note "Equator" on
one man's back. Marilyn Hamill
This was a tough one; thanks for the hint about "latitude" although it took me a while to
get the significance of the remark. I learned a lot about naval history (probably more
than I ever wanted to know) and found a huge amount of information on "Talk like a
Pirate Day," pirates and “piratey” things while following an incorrect guess.
http://www.talklikeapirate.com/tlapd05.html Barbara Battles
I really don't know wat to make of this photo. My best guess is that they represent
some secret society, (possibly the Yale University skull and bones society) and they are
conducting an initiation ceremony.I have also read about compass rituals (no latitude?)
and they may be engaging in that ceremony. Then again they may be a group of old
cronies dressed up as pirates for a Hallowe'en party.I see that symbols - pentagram
stars, anchors skull and cross bones, sleave stripes but can't put them all together to
make certain sense. And where does the U?S.S. Nebraska come into the picture (It
looks like a picture!) It likely is the battleship, not the submarine, which sets the time as
late 1800's or early 1900's. Don Draper
Good quiz. I probably would not have got it without that hint. Gary Sterne
I immediately knew what it was. I saw this bizarre movie not to long ago on the indy
movie channel. Couldn't tell you the name of it to save my life, came in about 1/2 way
through. Anyway, there were a bunch of men dressed similar to the photo and
performing a pretty brutal ritual on a few hapless souls. Sheri Fenley
Well, to be completely honest, I missed that clue. It was the combination of the ship's
name and the costumes. I just retired from the navy last year and have been through
that ceremony twice...once as a Wog and the second time as a Shellback.
In my father's possessions there was a dollar bill that he had saved from his time in
WWII. He was an Army Officer, whose unit was being transported on a Navy ship.
On it, he wrote that he was initiated into the Order of the Cueball Shellbacks, which
must have meant all the polliwogs had their heads shaved to become a shellback.
|Crossing the Line Ceremony
1933 or 1934
|For a more readable version of the map
For pdf version of the map
|Controversy about the Date the USS Nebraska
(and the Rest of the Great White Fleet)
Crossed the Equator
|Expanded view of the route of the fleet
near the Equator and the International
Date Line showing the dates the fleet
1 July 1907, Captain Reginald F.
Nicholson in command.
After shakedown and alterations, the new
battleship joined the "Great White Fleet" at
San Francisco after 6 May 1908, replacing
Alabama (BB-8). Departing San Francisco
7 July 1908, the Fleet visited Honolulu,
Hawaii; Auckland, New Zealand; Sydney
and Melbourne, Australia; Manila,
Philippine Islands; Yokohama, Japan; and
Colombo, Ceylon, arriving Suez, Egypt
3 January 1909. Departing Messina, Italy, on the 9th, the Fleet visited Naples, Italy,
then Gibraltar, arriving Hampton Roads 22 February where President Theodore
Roosevelt reviewed the fleet as it passed into the roadstead.
|I just retired from the navy last year and have
been through that ceremony twice...once as a
Wog and the second time as a Shellback.
|The Rarest Kind of Shellback
-- The Quizmaster Shellback --
After the arrival of the fleet off the west coast, the USS Glacier was detached and later
became the supply ship of the Pacific Fleet. At this time also, the USS Nebraska,
Captain Reginald F. Nicholson, and the USS Wisconsin, Captain Frank E. Beatty, were
substituted for the USS Maine and USS Alabama.
At San Francisco, Rear Admiral Charles S. Sperry assumed command of the Fleet,
owing to the poor health of Admiral Evans. Leaving that port on 7 July, 1908, the U.S.
Atlantic Fleet visited Honolulu, Hawaii; Auckland, New Zealand; Sydney, Melbourne
and Albany, Australia; Manila, Philippine Islands; Yokohama, Japan; Colombo, Ceylon;
arriving at Suez, Egypt, on 3 January 1909.
In Egypt, word was received of an earthquake in Sicily, thus affording an opportunity
for the United States to show it's friendship to Italy by offering aid to the sufferers. The
Connecticut, Illinois, Culgoa and Yankton were dispatched to Messina at once. The
crew of the Illinois recovered the bodies of the American consul and his wife,
entombed in the ruins.
The Scorpion, the Fleet's station ship at
Constantinople, and the Celtic, a
refrigerator ship fitted out in New York,
were hurried to Messina, relieving the
Connecticut and Illinois, so that they
could continue on the cruise.
Leaving Messina on 9 January 1909, the Fleet stopped at Naples, Italy, thence to
Gibraltar, arriving at Hampton Roads, Virginia, on 22 February 1909. There President
Roosevelt reviewed the Fleet.
|Route of the Great White Fleet during Its Round-the-World Cruise
|Note what this man has
written down his back.