When I was young, Dad used to tell the story of the first time he crossed the International Date Line with the Coast Guard, aboard the U.S.S. Chautauqua. Sailors who had never crossed before were called “pollywogs” and had to go through what amounts to a hazing ritual, though they didn’t call it that.

Pollywogs would have to climb through a bag of ship’s garbage, have their faces pushed into another man’s belly covered in used motor oil from the engine room, get sprayed with fire hoses while trying to retrieve their clothes, and become the slave of a “shellback” for a day (a shellback being a sailor who had crossed the IDL before). Officers were not exempt.

Dad and I recently had hours of old 8mm and Super8 family film digitized, and have been working on a DVD, preserving a bunch of family footage before the film completely rots. Amazingly, he had an 8mm camera on board with him during a 1957 crossing, and shot several minutes of footage. Decided this would be a good opportunity to experiment with YouTube, and loaded up the clip.

Pollywogs from Scot Hacker on Vimeo.

The military has cracked down on hazing rituals quite a bit over the decades; I wonder how much of this kind of thing still goes on.

Note: This clip was hosted on YouTube for more than a year, then was mysteriously removed from the service for “Terms of Service” violation. I was never informed about the removal, and all attempts to reach YouTube for an explanation went unanswered. Since there is positively no copyright violation involved in the clip, I have to assume that it was removed after complaints from one or more viewers. My suspicion is that complaints may have come from military personnel not wanting to see the Coast Guard shown in a bad light; but that’s conjecture. Let’s hope it has better luck on Vimeo.