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Remembering West Point’s Eggnog Riot of 1826

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Today, the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York is thought to have one of the most disciplined student bodies in the nation. It may come as a surprise, then, that the school was once the site of one of the worst examples of eggnog-fueled debauchery in American history.

During West Point’s early years following its founding in 1802, it hardly resembled the highly revered institution that exists today. According to Smithsonian, admission standards were lax, and students could be enrolled at any point during the year. Drinking was also a significant part of the campus culture, especially around the holidays. It was an annual tradition at West Point for cadets to drink eggnog during their Christmas festivities, but in 1826, the school’s superintendent, Colonel Sylvanus Thayer, cut them off.

As a means of whipping the community into shape, Thayer imposed a harsh new rule that prohibited the purchase, storage, and consumption of alcohol on West Point property. Unfortunately for Thayer, a few cadets took these new restrictions as a challenge come Christmas Eve.


Portrait of Sylvanus Thayer via Wikimedia Commons

The cadets (among them class of '28 student Jefferson Davis, a.k.a. the future president of the Confederacy) smuggled in three or four gallons of whiskey from a local tavern. Thayer suspected there might be shenanigans afoot for the holiday party, but he only took the normal precautions that night, assigning two officers to the North Barracks. The officers went to bed around midnight with no trouble to report, but that all changed around four in the morning. One of the officers, Captain Ethan Allen Hitchcock, was awoken by the sounds of partying a few floors above him.

He went to investigate and found six or seven cadets in a drunken state. He ordered them back to their rooms, and as he went to leave, he heard a second party going on in the room next door. There he found two intoxicated cadets hiding beneath a blanket, and a third party who was so drunk he refused to remove the hat he was using to conceal his face. When Hitchcock demanded that he show himself, they argued, and things got so tense that after the officer left, the cadets declared, “Get your dirks and bayonets … and pistols if you have them. Before this night is over, Hitchcock will be dead!”

Soon after, the infamous West Point eggnog riot was underway. Anywhere from 70 to 90 cadets ended up taking part, and while no one was killed that night, the chaos did result in assaults on two officers, several shattered windows, and banisters being ripped away from stairways. By the time morning arrived, the North Barracks had been completely wrecked.

Instead of indicting up to a third of the academy’s 260 students and further reinforcing its reputation as an unruly institution, superintendent Thayer chose to only target the worst offenders. Jefferson Davis was able to evade a charge, and he, along with fellow classmates (including future Confederate General Robert E. Lee) testified in their peers’ defense. Nineteen cadets were eventually expelled, and the buildings that served as the site of the riot were demolished.

When new barracks were constructed in the 1840s, the school took special precautions that would make similar riots more difficult in the future. The buildings were constructed to include short hallways that forced students to exit the building entirely before reaching another floor, which would introduce an added element of crowd control in case it was ever needed. Today, the story of the West Point eggnog riot is largely unknown to its current students, the school's historian told Smithsonian. Their debased holiday parties are a thing of the past, and when the school does throw parties, any alcohol that’s present is available in limited quantities. Perhaps the administration doesn’t want their cadets getting any ideas from the academy’s rowdy history.

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15 Dad Facts for Father's Day
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Gather 'round the grill and toast Dad for Father's Day—the national holiday so awesome that Americans have celebrated it for more than a century. Here are 15 Dad facts you can wow him with today.

1. Halsey Taylor invented the drinking fountain in 1912 as a tribute to his father, who succumbed to typhoid fever after drinking from a contaminated public water supply in 1896.

2. George Washington, the celebrated father of our country, had no children of his own. A 2004 study suggested that a type of tuberculosis that Washington contracted in childhood may have rendered him sterile. He did adopt the two children from Martha Custis's first marriage.

3. In Thailand, the king's birthday also serves as National Father's Day. The celebration includes fireworks, speeches, and acts of charity and honor—the most distinct being the donation of blood and the liberation of captive animals.

4. In 1950, after a Washington Post music critic gave Harry Truman's daughter Margaret's concert a negative review, the president came out swinging: "Some day I hope to meet you," he wrote. "When that happens you'll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below!"

5. A.A. Milne created Winnie the Pooh for his son, Christopher Robin. Pooh was based on Robin's teddy bear, Edward, a gift Christopher had received for his first birthday, and on their father/son visits to the London Zoo, where the bear named Winnie was Christopher's favorite. Pooh comes from the name of Christopher's pet swan.

6. Kurt Vonnegut was (for a short time) Geraldo Rivera's father-in-law. Rivera's marriage to Edith Vonnegut ended in 1974 because of his womanizing. Her ever-protective father was quoted as saying, "If I see Gerry again, I'll spit in his face." He also included an unflattering character named Jerry Rivers (a chauffeur) in a few of his books.

7. Andre Agassi's father represented Iran in the 1948 and 1952 Olympics as a boxer.

8. Charlemagne, the 8th-century king of the Franks, united much of Western Europe through military campaigns and has been called the "king and father of Europe" [PDF]. Charlemagne was also a devoted dad to about 18 children, and today, most Europeans may be able to claim Charlemagne as their ancestor.

9. The voice of Papa Smurf, Don Messick, also provided the voice of Scooby-Doo, Ranger Smith on Yogi Bear, and Astro and RUDI on The Jetsons.

10. In 2001, Yuri Usachev, cosmonaut and commander of the International Space Station, received a talking picture frame from his 12-year-old daughter while in orbit. The gift was made possible by RadioShack, which filmed the presentation of the gift for a TV commercial.

11. The only father-daughter collaboration to hit the top spot on the Billboard pop music chart was the 1967 hit single "Something Stupid" by Frank & Nancy Sinatra.

12. In the underwater world of the seahorse, it's the male that gets to carry the eggs and birth the babies.

13. If show creator/producer Sherwood Schwartz had gotten his way, Gene Hackman would have portrayed the role of father Mike Brady on The Brady Bunch.

14. The Stevie Wonder song "Isn't She Lovely" is about his newborn daughter, Aisha. If you listen closely, you can hear Aisha crying during the song.

15. Dick Hoyt has pushed and pulled his son Rick, who has cerebral palsy, through hundreds of marathons and triathlons. Rick cannot speak, but using a custom-designed computer he has been able to communicate. They ran their first five-mile race together when Rick was in high school. When they were done, Rick sent his father this message: "Dad, when we were running, it felt like I wasn't disabled anymore!"

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13 Rules for Displaying the American Flag
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With Memorial Day, Independence Day, and a few others, there's no lack of patriotic holidays in the United States. But one in particular is all about the star spangled banner that flies o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave. Flag Day—June 14—is the official commemoration of the stars and stripes as the country's standard.

The flag was officially adopted on June 14, 1777 at the Second Continental Congress, and since then, Americans have flown it at their homes, written songs about it and a pledge to it, and emblazoned it on everything from sunglasses to swim trunks. An estimated 150 million American flags are sold every year, with 76 percent of Americans 65 years and older saying they or their family owns a flag. Even 62 percent of 18-24 year olds say they or their family owns one, according to the National Retail Federation [PDF].

Such an important emblem of American ideals brings with it strict decorum. In 1923, a group of organizations headed by the American Legion outlined the National Flag Code as a set of rules on how to correctly display the flag, which were then turned into law during World War II as the United States Flag Code [PDF]. There are some obvious stipulations, like making sure the flag never hits the ground. But there are some out-of-left-field requirements as well. For instance, per the code, the flag is to be considered a living thing.

Just in case you need a quick rundown of the flag dos-and-don'ts, here are some lesser-known rules for displaying the flag this Flag Day.

1. YOU CAN FLY THE FLAG UPSIDE DOWN.

A protester marches with an upside-down American flag.
A protester marches with an upside-down American flag.
Edward Linsmier, Getty Images

The code goes to extreme lengths to define the rules of the flag, especially with regard to the position of the "union," or the blue field with the 50 state stars, being in certain positions. Obviously the best way to fly the flag is on a pole with the union up, but you can also fly it upside down—with one catch: you have to be in some serious trouble to do so.

Fly the flag upside down only "as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property."

2. NO FLAG CAN HOLD PROMINENCE OVER THE AMERICAN FLAG—THOUGH THERE ARE TWO EXCEPTIONS.

American flag over white flag
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For Americans, Old Glory is tops when it comes to the flag-flying game. But despite the general rule that it should always be the most prominent, it's not always the most important.

Section 7 of the flag code decrees that no flag should be placed above the flag of the United States, but one exception is that the flag of the United Nations can be flown in a superior position, although only at the U.N. headquarters in New York.

One other exception involves a church's pennant being allowed to fly above the American flag during services performed by naval chaplains while at sea. As for your house? It looks like you should definitely make sure the American flag is up top.

3. YOU CAN FLY MULTIPLE COUNTRY FLAGS, BUT OLD GLORY GETS DIBS.

The American, Mexican, and Arizona flags hanging on poles.
Ken Bosma, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

If, say, Mexican-Americans want to display their heritage with the stars and stripes and the bandera nacional together, both are to be flown from separate staffs of the same height, and they should be equal in size.

But on U.S. soil the American flag should always be placed in a position of honor, meaning fly the flag to its own right (the viewer's left). If you have a few different country flags, the flags should be raised and lowered at the same time.

4. OTHER FLAGS GET SIMILAR TREATMENT.

American flag and Texas flag
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Fly your gay pride flag, your Chicago Cubs "W" banner, a ceremonial POW flag, your state standard, or any other kind of banner all you want. But pair it with the American flag, and a few different rules must take effect.

The flag of the United States should be at the center and at the highest point when grouped together. If you put multiple flags on a halyard of your boat, the U.S. flag should always be at the top.

5. YOU CAN PUT THE FLAG ON YOUR VEHICLE, BUT ONLY IN A CERTAIN WAY.

The presidential motorcade shows the proper flag placement for the front of a car.
The presidential motorcade shows the proper flag placement for the front of a car.
TIM SLOAN, AFP/Getty Images

When you want to get patriotic on the go, the code specifies that the flag shouldn't be draped over any sort of means of transportation, be it car, motorcycle, train, boat, subway, dune buggy, or whatever. Instead, it should be either fixed on a pole to the chassis or clamped on the right fender.

6. DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT LAYING YOUR FLAG ON A PARADE FLOAT.

Participants on horseback hold U.S. flags during the annual Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena
Frederic J. Brown, AFP/Getty Images

Parades are a big part of American celebrations, and you'd better believe there are floats in those parades. These snail-paced, often extravagantly decorated vehicles might take ages to go a few blocks, but just because the flag might not catch wind doesn't mean it should be draped either. Treat a float like any other means of transportation and fly the flag vertically from a securely fastened staff.

If you're in a parade and carrying the flag in procession with other flags, the U.S. flag should be either on the marching right (like stage right) or in the front and center of the line.

7. YOU CAN FLY THE FLAG ALL YEAR ROUND IF IT'S NYLON.

Two flags hanging from houses on a quiet street.
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If a storm's coming, take down your flag. It's as easy as that. Despite the fact that the code says "the flag should not be displayed on days when the weather is inclement," it does make an exception for "when an all weather flag is displayed."

An all-weather flag is one made from nylon, polyester, or other non-absorbent materials, which shouldn't be hard to find—most flags nowadays are meant to be flown outdoors and are made of all-weather materials. Best to leave that old cotton flag properly stored indoors.

8. GET THE UNION SIDE RIGHT WHEN HANGING THE FLAG FROM A WINDOW.

American flag hanging in the window of a Banana Republic
Mario Tama, Getty Images

When you don't have a flag pole at your disposal, you can just hang the flag—but make sure it's the right positioning. When displayed either horizontally against a wall or vertically hanging in a window, the union portion of the flag should be the uppermost part and to the flag's own right—that is, to the observer's left.

9. YOU CAN STILL FLY YOUR FLAG IN THE DARK.

American flag at night
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Lowering or taking down the flag at sunset isn't strictly enforced by the code, it's just a "universal custom." Yet when "a patriotic effect is desired," you can let that thing soar at all hours of the day and night so long as it's "properly illuminated" during the evening and hours of darkness.

10. YOU NEED TO BE GEOGRAPHICALLY INCLINED WITH YOUR STREET FLAG.

American flag on city street
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Cities and towns across the country might want to adorn their fair streets with the stars and stripes, but even that has a strict set of rules.

When a city wants to fly the flag over the middle of the street, it needs to be suspended vertically with the union side of the flag pointing north on an east/west street or to the east on a north/south street.

11. MISSING SOME STARS ON YOUR FLAG? NO PROBLEM.

American Revolutionary Flag
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Say you dig up a flag from before Hawaii and Alaska joined the United States. What's a person to do if they want to fly their throwback flag with only 48 stars? Unless you are an official curator of a museum of American history, you will be fined. Just kidding—display your historical flag with pride.

The 50-star flag is the official flag, designated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1959 (although the design wouldn't be official until July 4, 1960). But any personal flags lacking the full 50 stars may be displayed as long as they are in good condition, and they should be treated with the same respect and rules as the official flag.

12. MAKE SURE TO DISPLAY IT DURING PARTICULAR DAYS.

house with Americana
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You don't necessarily have to mark your calendars since the code specifies how the flag "should be displayed on all days," but it does call out some highlights—so maybe mark your calendar after all.

Make sure to fly that flag on New Year's Day; Inauguration Day; Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday; Lincoln's birthday; Washington's birthday; National Vietnam War Veterans Day; Easter; Mother's Day; Armed Forces Day; Memorial Day; Flag Day; Father's Day; Independence Day; National Korean War Veterans Armistice Day; Labor Day; Constitution Day; Columbus Day; Navy Day; Veterans Day; Thanksgiving; Christmas; state holidays; states' dates of admission, and "such other days as may be proclaimed by the President of the United States."

13. YOUR RIGHTS TO FLY THE FLAG IN AN APARTMENT BUILDING ARE UNCERTAIN.

American flag on apartment building
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Sometimes it might seem a bit difficult to fly your flag when you live in a building with other tenants. The people in 3C could complain that the flag whipping in the wind is too loud or that it is obstructing their view. Most rental tenants and owners of co-ops and condominiums have to adhere to a certain set of ground rules that restricts flag-flying.

In general, your right to display the United States flag is protected by federal law via the Freedom to Display the American Flag Act of 2005. But it's not a complete protection. The law specifies that a condominium association, cooperative association, or residential real estate management association can put in "any reasonable restriction pertaining to the time, place, or manner of displaying the flag of the United States necessary to protect a substantial interest." So if the flag is a potential hazard or excessively restricts neighbors' views, you might be out of luck. It's also generally agreed that the law doesn't protect renters, adding an entirely different set of complications. You'll just have to figure out how to work around any confines your home happens to have.

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