One downside to being a journalist is that sometimes one has to ask questions to which the world would arguably be better off not knowing the answers. That is arguably the case with this story, detailing how one excessively critical Wall Street Journal reporter managed to spoil a running joke that had been going on among Navy top brass for months. And it starts with this painting:

Prank Painting of Lost Naval Officer Ensign Chuck Hord, Allegedly From 1982, Busted by Wall Street JournalUntil recently, this painting was hanging in a hall of the Pentagon, supposedly depicting one “Ensign Chuck Hord” who was “lost at sea” in 1908. So far, so good – it sure looks like a late 19th-century painting, right?

Well, apparently one Wall Street Journal reporter noticed something a bit off about the painting – namely, that Ensign Hord’s hair was far too immaculately blow-dried for him to have lived in a time period before the blow-dryer was invented. This led, inadvertently, to a discovery about the gag painting, as chronicled by BoingBoing:

In 1982, at the urging of his parents, Ensign Eldridge Hord sat for a formal photograph commemorating his graduation from the Naval Academy.

It was the sort of portrait that looks a bit silly as you get older, especially as this particular portrait was used in the photographer’s advertising. Many prints were made. Some with paint texture added for classy effect. In 2003, Hord’s sister brought a 3-foot-tall version to a party at his house as a joke. Some of then-Captain Hord’s Navy colleagues were also at the party. Naturally, they swiped the portrait, beginning a years-long running gag of smuggling the giant photo into various Navy offices and events.

The culmination of this story is that one Lieutenant Colonel in the Navy decided to hang the embarrassing portrait in the halls of the Pentagon as an alleged casualty from 1908. And it might still be hanging there, if the Journal hadn’t caught it.

To be fair, the Wall Street Journal’s story, to its credit, is similarly entertained by the story:

A Pentagon official explained by email why Capt. Hord’s picture was removed from the public hallway. “There’s an approval process for Pentagon portraits and this beautiful picture has not been approved for display :)”

Capt. Hord makes no apologies.

“A little bit of alcohol and a whole big dose of irreverence plays into it,” he said. “Plus you feel like you’re getting one over on somebody.”

Let it never be said the military has no sense of humor.