Navy Prizes Spokane Trophy City Donated Silver Cup In 1908
Some mistake it for hockey’s Stanley Cup, but it’s worth 40 times more.
It’s 400 ounces of sterling silver, so pure and clear it looks as if it might melt if touched. But if thieves tried, armed Navy SEALs would put the heat on them instead.
The Navy estimates the trophy’s value to be as high as $4 million.
It’s the “Spokane Naval Trophy,” paid for and donated by citizens here. It’s a coveted cup given annually to the finest ship in the Pacific Fleet.
But don’t worry about property taxes going up. The trophy was paid for in 1908.
Never heard of it? Neither had six Spokane members of the Navy League, a military booster organization, who visited the USS Chancellorsville in late July.
They boarded the guided missile cruiser in San Diego, preparing for a voyage to Seattle. The captain told the guests he had to attend a ceremony first - he and his crew had won the Spokane Naval Trophy.
John Berry’s jaw nearly dropped anchor.
“I was amazed,” the World War II veteran said. “We called the trophy ‘Spokane Lost’ because no one knew about it.”
Even the league’s historian, Bill Aller, hadn’t heard of the trophy.
The Navy Leaguers attended the ceremony, which featured a three-star admiral congratulating the ship’s crew. The Spokane vets even got their picture taken beside the prestigious prize.
“I feel awfully proud,” said Berry, 70.
He was shocked no one from the Spokane Chamber of Commerce was there. The chamber donated the trophy all those years ago.
“Spokane is missing a big bit by not being part of this,” Berry said. “The Navy goes after this Spokane trophy like it’s the only thing to get.”
No one at chamber offices had heard of the award.
Mike Archer, manager of the chamber’s Armed Services Committee, said no one there had been invited to anything. He was ecstatic when filled in about the multimillion-dollar cup.
“All right, I like it!” the Air Force vet exclaimed.
If invited next year, Archer said, someone from the chamber would fly down there faster than a Tomahawk missile. He was ready to volunteer for duty himself.
“I’d love to be on a battleship, man.”
Well, all aboard. Capt. Ed Hebert of the Chancellorsville thinks it’s a great idea.
“I think it would be wonderful … if a representative from the city of Spokane could be connected with the awarding of the trophy,” the captain said via ship-to-shore telephone.
How did the trophy get from Spokane to its current home at Pacific surface force headquarters in San Diego? It was a long cruise, but military documents chronicle the trip.
In June 1907, the Spokane chamber sent a letter to Victor Metcalf, then secretary of the Navy. The chamber wanted to donate an annual award for Atlantic Fleet turret marksmanship.
“While Spokane is an inland city,” the letter read, “several of her sons are in the Navy and public sentiment here is very strong in its endorsement of President Roosevelt’s policy of encouragement to the ‘man behind the guns.”’
Metcalf replied later that month. He suggested the award be given annually to the “battleship or armored cruiser of either fleet that makes the highest final merit with all of her turret guns.”
The chamber agreed, and the $1,500 trophy was completed in 1908 by Leo M. Dornberg & Co., a Spokane jewelry maker. It stood more than 2 feet high, solid silver trimmed in gold.
Two of its eight panels depict Roosevelt and Metcalf. Another is a replica of the downtown monument to Ensign John Monaghan, a Spokane Navy hero killed during a Samoan conflict in 1899. He died in the jungle, outgunned, defending a wounded officer when all others retreated.
Monaghan was the first Washington state graduate of the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. He also attended Gonzaga University (then Gonzaga College) during its first year, 1887.
The other scenes on the trophy: Fort Wright, Spokane Falls, Mount Spokane, the Spokane Federal Building (now the downtown post office) and the Spokane Tribe’s Chief Garry.
On the front, a woman representing Spokane offers a laurel leaf to a gunner. On either side of the base is a sailor, stripped to the waist, manning a 10-inch gun.
After being displayed here, the trophy was awarded to the armored cruiser USS Tennessee in 1908.
After 32 years of service, the trophy was retired.
The Navy had its hands full with World War II. Spokane’s gleaming gift was displayed for many years at the Truxton-Decatur Naval Museum in Washington, D.C. It was moved to the Naval Historical Center in the Washington Navy Yard in 1977.
“This is one of the oldest objects in our collection,” said Mark Wertheimer, an assistant curator with the center. The trophy is still considered its property.
In 1979, the fleet commander-inchief at Pearl Harbor suggested the trophy be restored to active duty.
Five years later, the historical center placed the trophy on “indefinite loan” to the Pacific Fleet. It was awarded that same year - the first time in nearly half a century - to the battleship USS New Jersey.
The Spokane trophy is now given to the crew of the Pacific Fleet ship rated most combat-ready, said Doug Gorham, a Navy spokesman in San Diego. The award may be forgotten here, but it’s treasured by the crew of the Chancellorsville.
“Very few people can say they’ve won it while on a ship,” said Ensign Scott Fairbank.
“It’s a trophy that’s been around for 90 years now, and it has its roots and is continuing on into the future,” Capt. Hebert said.
“The crew is delighted.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo