The Story of a Mysterious Portrait at the Pentagon

Posted filed underPhotography, Portraits, USA.


For almost a year, a portrait hung on the Pentagon wall commemorating Ensign Chuck Hord, “lost at sea” in 1908. Seems that no one noticed that the turn-of-the-century sailor had blow-dried hair, or that what appeared to be an oil painting was actually a stylized photograph. Indeed, “Chuck Hord” never even existed. Following a story from The Wall Street Journal, the Pentagon pulled Captain’s Prank Portrait today.

The Wall Street Journal has the whole story about the “painting” and a prank: “In a Pentagon hallway hung an austere portrait of a Navy man lost at sea in 1908, with his brass buttons, blue-knit uniform and what looks like meticulously blow-dried hair.

Wait. Blow-dried hair?

The portrait of “Ensign Chuck Hord,” framed in the heavy gilt typical of government offices, may be the greatest—or perhaps only—prank in Pentagon art history. “Chuck Hord” can’t be found in Navy records of the day. It isn’t even a real painting. The textured, 30-year-old photo is actually of Capt. Eldridge Hord III, 53 years old, known to friends as “Tuck,” a military retiree with a beer belly and graying hair who lives in Burke, Va.

Most military officers who climb the ranks or command daring battles only dream of having a portrait hang in a corridor of power at the Pentagon alongside the likes of Patton, Nimitz and Eisenhower. Capt. Hord’s made its way to the Pentagon’s C-ring hallway via several parties, an alliance of British and Canadian military officers and a clandestine, predawn operation later dubbed “THE PROJECT.”

The picture came into existence after Capt. Hord graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1982. During a visit to then-Ensign Hord’s hometown of Kingsport, Tenn., his proud parents suggested he sit for a formal portrait. Wearing midshipman’s garb and an Annapolis class ring, he posed for the town’s best-known photographer in front of a cloth screen with his arms resting on an antique-looking chair.

The photographer liked the photo so much he framed several copies and hung them in stores around Kingsport to advertise his business, Capt. Hord says. Some were textured and signed to resemble oil paintings.

Colleagues say Capt. Hord has always been something of a prankster. His 1982 Naval Academy yearbook says he “never let academic problems interfere with his two favorite pastimes, drinking beer in dives and playing the ponies.”

After his graduation, he went to sea, captained a guided-missile frigate in the Pacific hunting for drug runners and studied at the National War College.

In his first stint at the Pentagon starting in 1997, his slapstick sense of humor earned him the title of the “George Costanza” of the Joint Staff, a reference to a character from the sitcom “Seinfeld.”

Over the next 20 years, some of the portraits found their way back to the Hord family. In 2004, Capt. Hord says his sister surprised him by bringing the largest one—3 feet tall—to a party at his Virginia house. She left it by the front door.”

Read on at the The Wall Street Journal