Category Archives: History

Information about the history of USMA, our graduates, and our libraries.

Soldier Elvis!

Army_Elvis (1)On 24 March 1958, Elvis Presley was admitted into the U.S. Army. He signed up at the induction station in Memphis, TN, and eventually arrived at Fort Hood, TX for training. Presley left Fort Hood September 19, 1958 to join the 3rd Armored Division in Germany, where he completed his required two years of active duty.

Dwight David Eisenhower

President Eisenhower and LTG Garrison Davidson (USMA 1927). who was USMA Superintendent 1956-1960, meeting at West Point.

President Eisenhower and LTG Garrison Davidson (USMA 1927, USMA Superintendent 1956-1960), meeting at West Point in 1960. (image courtesy of USMA Library Special Collections and Archives)

Dwight David Eisenhower was born October 14, 1890. He was nominated for an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy by Senator J.L. Bristow of Kansas, and was admitted on June 14, 1911.

While he was a cadet, Eisenhower became active in sports participating in football, baseball and track. His football career ended when he succumbed to a knee injury during the November 16, 1912 Tuft’s game.   At graduation he was ranked 61st of 164 members in the Class of 1915.

Eisenhower served during World War I in the Tank Corps and was commander of Camp Colt, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (the Tank Corps Camp) from March 1 to November 17, 1918.   In 1935 he went to the Philippines as Assistant to Military Advisor General Douglas MacArthur.

Eisenhower’s World War II service included service as head of the European Theater of Operations and as commander of the forces invading North Africa in November 1942. In December 1943 General Eisenhower, having been appointed Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, moved to England to assemble and coordinate a gigantic invasion force for the cross-channel assault on June 6, 1944 (D-Day).

At war’s end, Eisenhower was ordered to Washington to become Army Chief of Staff; he served in this position until his retirement in February 1948. At that time he accepted the presidency of Columbia University and began a new career. In 1950 he was recalled to active duty to become the first Supreme Allied Commander Europe under the newly established North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

In 1952 General Eisenhower entered politics. He resigned his commission to campaign for the presidency, and in November was elected the thirty-fourth President of the United States. He served two terms.

In 1961 General Eisenhower was reappointed a General of the Army, and in the same year received the Thayer Award from USMA’s Association of Graduates. Eisenhower died March 28, 1969 at the age of 78, and was buried in Abilene, Kansas.

Contents contributed by Alicia Mauldin-Ware, Archives Curator

Stewart Field and West Point


An air cadet receiving training at Stewart Field in the 1940s.

Air Corps activities at the United States Military Academy date from the late 1920’s, when a single hangar and ramp for amphibian-type aircraft were built here. In August 1933, a small USMA Air Corps detachment was established to familiarize cadets with the construction, types and capabilities of airplanes. Throughout the 1930’s, cadets studied Air Corps organization, equipment and training, and received some primary flight instruction during trips to various Army airfields during the summer months. Most actual flight training came after graduation.

By 1940, with the advent of the Second World War, it became evident that cadets needed more than this general aviation training. An embryonic flight school had been established at the partially completed Stewart Field. Stewart Air Field was named in honor of Lachlan Stewart, who skippered schooners, packets and other sailing vessels in the years 1850-1870. The original tract of land was donated by his son, Samuel L. Stewart, to the City of Newburgh in 1930, for use as a municipal airport and is located some 10 miles northwest of the West Point Military Reservation. The city of Newburgh deeded the field to the Federal Government in 1935 and it was accepted for War Department use by an act of May 13, 1936.

Final title to all land acquisitions was secured with the exchange of the city’s deed for a U.S. Treasury Department Check in the amount of one dollar on October 29, 1941, only a few months after the first proposals for extensive flight training at the Academy were introduced. By this time some first classmen were already receiving regular instruction in flight engineering and flight operations at Stewart Field.

Early in 1942, the War Department directed Air Corps Branch instruction to commence at West Point. The expanding USMA Air Corps Detachment, which had been stationed at Stewart Field, was redesignated the 570th School Squadron (SP) by USMA General Order 7, February 5, 1942. Several more squadrons were added shortly thereafter. A War Department letter of May 22, 1942, implemented by USMA General Order 31, July 13, 1942, formally established the Army Air Forces Basic-Advanced Flying School (AAFB-AFS) at the field for the purpose of giving flight training to qualified cadets in the first and second classes. Pilot training was introduced into the curriculum so that those cadets wishing to enter the Air Corps could receive their wings with their commissions at graduation and be assigned immediately to combat organizations. These air cadets received their basic and advanced flight training at Stewart Field concurrently with their academic and tactical training at West Point.

Stewart Field was officially dedicated on August 25, 1942 and the rapidly developing subpost became an integral part of the Military Academy. It contained shops, school buildings and other facilities for the training of up to 500 air cadets, and at its peak during the war years housed approximately 2,000 officers and enlisted personnel. Although Stewart Field was under the administrative control and responsibility of the Superintendent of USMA, it had its own commandant. Technical control was placed under the Army Air Forces Flying Training Command in July 1943; other changes in the command channel occurred during and immediately after the Second World War.

The last class of air cadets graduated in June 1946, after which flight training for cadets was discontinued. The AAFB-AFS was redesignated the 2002d Army Air Forces Base Unit (Base Services) in January 1947, and Stewart Field was later turned over to the newly established Department of the Air Force. When the Air Force closed the facility in December 1969, part of it was returned to the Academy for use as a housing area.

When Stewart Field was deactivated in 1970 due to the drawdown of the Aerospace Defense Command, the Air Force released most of Stewart AFB back to civilian control.

Stewart Air Force Base transitioned back to active military control in 1983. Today, the former Stewart Air Force Base is home to both Stewart International Airport and Stewart Air National Guard Base, and has undergone several renovations.

Contents contributed by Alicia Mauldin-Ware, Archives Curator

The Potawatomi Chief in the Front Yard: An Intersection with History

The USMA Library is a wonderful resource for the community of scholars located at West Point. In recent weeks, what was once a footnote in my family history has come alive for me like never before, just by “getting lost” in the stacks in Jefferson Hall. Once I found out this “footnote” tied in with a major watershed event in American history, I was able to flesh out the life of a Potawatomi chief known to my forebears, who, it turns out, played a significant role in the Black Hawk War of 1832. Perusing over a dozen books in our collection, and augmenting what the library has by using our excellent Interlibrary Loan service, I was able to get a handle on someone almost lost to history, who, in reality, changed the course of history. And with the help of the library’s collections and services, I have been enriched with a new appreciation of my own history and heritage.

Rock 1

Shabbona’s Rock in 1977 – note the patch of original Illinois prairie

My mother, Jeanne Westgate Arden, was very close to my great aunt, Waneta Westgate Beardsley, who donated a big rock in 1969 to the LaSalle County Historical Museum in the town of Utica in northern Illinois. The significance of the rock is that it was located on the site of a log cabin near the town of Mendota belonging to the patriarch of my mom’s side of the family, Abner Westgate. Abner used to palaver with a Potawatomi chief by the name of Shabbona (pronounced shah-buh-naw), who would come around to visit during the mid-1850s. Abner sat in a wooden chair and Shabbona would always sit on the big rock in the front yard. My brother, Tom, took a picture of me sitting on Shabbona’s Rock around 120 years later, and that’s about all I knew about Shabbona at the time.

Last summer, I revisited Shabbona’s rock with family members including Aunt Waneta’s son, Craig. My cousin is fascinated by his own Native American ancestry, which he has on both his father’s side (Montauk) and his mother’s side (Mohawk). Craig even danced at powwows with the Ojibwas at Lac du Flambeau while he served as a National Forest Ranger in northern Wisconsin. Since my grandfather, Walter Westgate, who died earlier the year I was born, was nicknamed “Indian” by clients whom he guided on hunting and fishing trips into the North Woods, I have always been attuned to the Westgate family’s Mohawk lineage. Looking at old family photos, I could easily see where the nickname came from, given my grandfather’s swarthy, Native American features. Recently, I asked Craig if Shabbona might have felt especially comfortable talking with Abner, given the Westgate family’s Native American connection. It turns out I was wrong. Abner’s son, David Westgate, married Martha Anne Gibbs, and it was one of Martha’s male forebears who had married a Mohawk woman back East. Unfortunately, that woman’s name has been lost to our family history.

As a result of last year’s visit to LaSalle County, I decided to do some library research on Shabbona to find out just who he was. Again, that research utilizing the excellent collections and services of the USMA Library was invaluable. First of all, I discovered that Shabbona was quite well-known in his day, although he has since been far eclipsed in fame by his nemesis, Black Hawk, a Sauk warrior who led Sauk and Mesquakie (Fox) forces dubbed the “British Band,” making a stand in the face of white encroachment on his lands. Badly in need of the support of the Potawatomis, Black Hawk had initially approached Shabbona, who had taken over the leadership of the tribe in northern Illinois. The Sauk warrior asked Shabbona, an old comrade-in-arms from the War of 1812 when both men fought on the side of the British, to throw in the support of the Potawatomis for what was to become a bloody conflict with white settlers and the U.S. Army. Shabbona refused outright, having no desire to go to war with the whites, with whom he had friendly relations. From that point on, he became a critically important ally of the forces opposing the British Band. Ironically, Black Hawk is commemorated today throughout the upper Midwest with statues in many locations, and Chicago’s National Hockey League franchise, an Army helicopter, and four Navy vessels were named after him, as well. It seems that history tends to commemorate great warriors more than venerable peacemakers.

Chief Shabbona

Chief Shabbona

The name Shabbona is loosely translated as “built like a bear” and is likely a corruption of Shabni, meaning “he has pawed through.” He was born around 1775 of the Odawa (Ottawa) tribe, either in Ohio, Ontario or northern Illinois, possibly a grandnephew of the great chief, Pontiac. After the Algonquin-speaking tribe was driven out of Ontario by the Iroquois, they moved west into Michigan and aligned with the Council of Three Fires (Ojibwa, Ottawa and Potawatomi) and then moved further south across Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. At that time the Ottawas and Potawatomis were very closely intermixed. With his heavy frame, considerable fighting skill, great strength and courage, Shabbona was a formidable warrior, yet a firm believer in fair play, even in the heat of battle. The son of an Ottawa warrior who had fought next to Pontiac in Pontiac’s War, Shabbona bravely fought alongside his friend, Tecumseh, during the War of 1812, while allied with the British against the Americans. He was by the great chief’s side when Tecumseh was killed at the Battle of Thames in 1813. After that, Shabbona decided that it was useless and counterproductive to fight against the Americans, given their overwhelming numbers. Instead, he became a devoted and loyal friend of the whites, believing that peaceful coexistence would be most beneficial to his people. Although an Ottawa by birth, he eventually became a prominent Potawatomi chief.

When the Black Hawk War broke out in May of 1832, Shabbona and his fellow chief, Wabaunsee, had already refused the Sauk warrior’s overtures, instead allying the Potawatomis with the Americans. Other tribes allied with the Potawatomis and the Americans included the Menominee, Ojibwa (Chippewa), Ottawa, and Ho-Chunk (Winnebago), although a minority of the latter tribe supported the British Band. Had Shabbona tipped the alliance towards the British Band, the war to follow would indubitably been much longer and bloodier, given the considerable numbers and strength of the Potawatomis and their close allies.

Black Hawk Ptg

Black Hawk

Black Hawk’s grievance with the whites began on a long hunting expedition west of the Mississippi River in what is today Iowa and Minnesota. In his band’s absence, white settlers moved into their houses located on prime farmland in northern Illinois, consuming their crops and spending considerable time drunk on corn whiskey. While on a subsequent trip, the bad news reached Black Hawk that the federal government forbade him to return to his ancestral lands east of the Mississippi. Highly angered, he was determined to make a stand. Although the Black Hawk War is remembered today as the conflict that gave young Abraham Lincoln his brief military service, and also involved the participation of other soon to be famous Americans including Winfield Scott, Zachary Taylor, and Jefferson Davis, its greater significance is that it gave impetus to the federal government’s policy of Indian removal, in which Native American tribes were pressured to give up their lands and move west of the Mississippi.

At the onset of hostilities, Shabbona saved the lives of numerous settlers by playing the role of a Native American Paul Revere, fearlessly riding a hundred mile swath of bog, prairie and clearings in northern Illinois with his son and his nephew, to warn settlers of Sauk, Mesquakie and Kickapoo warriors on the war path. There were a minority of renegade Potawatomis as well, who had grievances against the whites. Shabbona feared their hostility would create major problems for the whole tribe, the majority of whom desired peaceful relations with the whites. While most isolated settlers heeded the warning and moved to larger settlements like the town of Ottawa for protection, a group of families at Big Indian Creek led by William Davis, a settler known to be an “Indian hater,” considered they had sufficient safety in numbers to stay put. Unfortunately, this decision resulted in a massacre by renegade Potawatomis, joined by three Sauk British Band warriors. They were outraged that a dam on the creek at the settlement disrupted their fishing upstream, leading to an earlier ugly incident when the settler took a hickory stick and beat a brave severely who tried to tear an outlet in the dam. Some boys and adult men slipped away during the attack, but out of twenty-three settlers, fifteen men, women and children were killed and their bodies badly mutilated. Additionally, two teenage sisters were taken captive by the renegades, led by the enraged Potawatomi brave who had been flogged (both survived).

Gustavus Loomis

Gustavus Loomis

Leafing through the books I checked out of the library, I came across the exploits of an 1811 USMA graduate, Captain Gustavus Loomis, an exemplary military officer in all respects. A devout Christian, Loomis was the commander at Fort Crawford, located in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, where he ministered to the starving and half-naked women and children of the defeated British Band who surrendered to his garrison. Giving them food, covering their nakedness, and trying to restore their strength and health, Loomis stated, “We war not with women and children.”1 Loomis’ military career spanned from the War of 1812 to the Civil War, at which time he retired as a brevet brigadier general, after 52 years of faithful service to his country.

Shabbona, who dodged several assassination attempts by his enemies after hostilities ended, had been ceded some land in DeKalb County, Illinois, for him and his band to settle on some years beforehand. This was in response to his help quelling an earlier conflict, the Red Bird Winnebago uprising of 1827. Sadly, like so many Native Americans, he was ultimately disenfranchised of the land ceded to him, although it was finally restored to the Potawatomis by the Department of the Interior in 2001. Happily, influential white friends and neighbors generously contributed money so a fine piece of land, high over the Illinois River, could be purchased for the chief in his old age.

Never fluent in English, Shabbona enjoyed visiting white settlers nevertheless, always preferring to stay outdoors whenever possible, as he did when visiting Abner’s cabin. Although there is no record of my forebear’s conversations with the renowned chief, author James Dowd offers the following tidbit. Referring to Abner and the rock in his front yard he states, “Shabbona would, under no circumstances, enter this man’s cabin, but would sit on this stone to eat his victuals. Whatever the reason for Shabbona’s action is unexplained, but it can easily be conjectured that the spot was either some burial place, or else was believed to have been the abode of some spirit.”2 One anecdote has it that a family had invited the old chief to have Saturday breakfast at table with them, only to discover that there was not a crumb of bread left from what had been baked that morning. Seeing that Shabbona was somewhat out of sorts, the lady of the house quickly cooked him pancakes, which he found to be delicious!3

Shabbona died in 1859, a beloved figure to the many settlers whom he had befriended, leaving many descendants from his two marriages. Numerous markers around northern Illinois commemorate him, including his grave site in Morris. The Chief Shabbona Historical Trail was established by a Joliet Boy Scout troop in the 1950s. The popular walking trail winds through 20 miles of picturesque woodlands and prairie in northern Illinois, and is perhaps the most fitting legacy of this stalwart yet gentle-spirited and nature-loving man.

For further reading, the following books were very helpful:

Bowes, John P. Black Hawk and the War of 1832: Removal in the North. New York: Chelsea    House, 2007.

Dowd, James. Built Like a Bear: Which is a descriptive name for one of the last great Chiefs of  the “Three Fires” in Illinois… Fairfield, WA: Ye Galleon Press, 1979.

Eby, Cecil. “That Disgraceful Affair”: The Black Hawk War. New York: W.W. Norton, 1973.

Edmunds, R. David. The Potawatomis: Keepers of the Fire. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993.

Hall, John W. Uncommon Defense: Indian Allies in the Black Hawk War. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009.

Jung, Patrick J. The Black Hawk War of 1832. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008.

Lawson, Kenneth E. For Christ and Country: A Biography of Brigadier General Gustavus Loomis. Greenville, SC: Ambassador International, 2011.

McLaughlin, Benjamin. In Black Hawk’s Footsteps: A Trail Guide to Monuments, Museums, and Battlefields of the Black Hawk War of 1832. 3rd ed. Santa Fe: B. McLaughlin, 2005.

Trask, Kerry A. Black Hawk: The Battle for the Heart of America. New York: Henry Holt, 2006.

Except for the Dowd and McLaughlin books, all are located in the USMA Library. Many thanks to the Department of History, for contacting John W. Hall, who provided me a PDF copy of his master’s thesis submitted to the University of North Carolina in 2002, “Everything to Lose: Potawatomi Auxiliaries to the U.S. Army in the Black Hawk War, 1832.”

1Kerry A. Trask, Black Hawk: The Battle for the Heart of America (New York: Henry Holt, 2006), 292.

2James Dowd, Built Like a Bear: Which is a descriptive name for one of the last great Chiefs of the “Three Fires” in Illinois… (Fairfield, WA: Ye Galleon Press, 1979), 102.

3Ibid., 101-102.

Content contributed by Michael G. Arden, Audiovisual Librarian

Edgar Allan Poe Court-Martial

Prior to entering the Academy in 1830, Edgar Allan Poe had attended the University of Virginia (1826-1827); from 1827-29 he was in the Army where he served in Boston and Virginia.

He set foot on Academy grounds on July 1, 1830, aged nineteen years and five months. His roommate Timothy Pickering Jones later wrote, “I entered West Point July 1, 1830, at the same time with Edgar Allan Poe, and were buddies, as the boys say now….I realized, even in my young years, that he was an exceptionally brilliant fellow, studying but little, but always perfect in recitations, save in mathematics which he boldly declared had no place in the brain of an intellectual man-too dull and commonplace. The strict discipline, the mathematical requirements of the military school, kept my friend in an unhappy frame of mind,. …”

Poe struggled with life at the Academy. Six months into his tenure he would find himself court -martialed for gross neglect of duty and disobedience of orders, and dismissed effective March 6, 1831.

Jones’ recollection concerning Poe’s court-martial is that “…The sentence of dismissal did not take effect until the 6th of March, and the major portion of this intervening time was utilized by Poe in writing poetry, the greater portion of which was printed in book form, dedicated to the United States Corps of Cadets.”

A transcribed copy of the court- martial is below the images.




poe_7-5Military Academy                                                                             Engineer Department

Order No. 7.                                                                                     Washington, February 8, 1831.

The Court next proceeded to the trial of Cadet E.A. Poe of the U.S. Military Academy on the following charges and specifications: –

Charge 1st: – Gross neglect of duty.

Specifications 1st – In this, that he, the said Cadet Poe, did absent himself from the following parades and roll-calls between the 7th January and the 27th January, 1831, Viz., absent from evening parade on the 8th, 9th, 15th, 20th, 24th, and 25th January 1831; absent from reveille call on the 8th, 16th, 17th, 19th, 21st, 25th and 26th January 1831; absent from reveille call on the 8th, 16th, 17th, 19th, 21st, 25th, and 26th January 1831; absent from class parade on the 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th, 24th and 25th January 1831; absent from guard mounting on the 16th January, and absent from church parade on 23rd January 1831; all of which at West Point, New York.

Specification 2nd. –In this, that he, the said Cadet E.A. Poe, did absent himself from all his academic duties between the 15th and 27th January 1831.

Charge 2nd – Disobedience of orders.

Specification 1st. – In this, that he, the said Cadet E.A. Poe, after having been directed by the officer of the day to attend church on the 23rd January 1831, did fail to obey such order; this at West Point, New York.

Specification 2nd.-In this, that he, the said Cadet E.A. Poe, did fail to attend the Academy on the 25th January 1831, after having been directed to do so by the Officer of the day; that at West Point, New York.

To which specifications and charges the prisoner pleaded as follows:

The 1st Specification of the 1st Charge: Not Guilty.

To the 2nd Specification of the 1st Charge: Guilty, and Guilty to the 2nd Charge and its specifications.

The court, after mature deliberation on the testimony adducted, find the prisoner guilty of the 1st Specification of the 1st Charge, and confirm his plea to the remainder of the charges and specifications, and adjudge that he, Cadet E.A. Poe, be dismissed the service of the United States.

The Proceedings of the general court-martial in the cases of _______, E.A. Poe _________ have been laid before the Secretary of War and are approved.

Cadet Edgar A. Poe will be dismissed the service of the United States, and cease to be considered a member of the Military Academy after the 6th March 1831.

By Order of the Secretary of War:


(Signed) C. Gratiot,

Brigadier General, Chief of Engrs.



Four days later Poe wrote Colonel Thayer the letter below; unfortunately we do not know if there was a reply. A transcribed copy appears below image.


10 March 1831


Having no longer any ties which can bind me to my native country- no prospects – nor any friends – I intend by the first opportunity to proceed to Paris with the view of obtaining thro’ the interest of the Marquis de La Fayette, an appointed (if possible) in the Polish Army. In the event of the interference of France in behalf of Poland this may easily be effected – at all events it will be my only feasible plan of procedure.

The object of this letter is respectfully to request that you will give me such assistance as may lie in your power in furtherance of my views.

A certificate of “standing” in my class is all that I have any right to expect.

Anything further – a letter to a friend in Paris – or to the Marquis – would be a kindness which I should never forget.

Most respectfully,


Col: S. Thayer                                                                     Yr. Obt St

Supt U.S.M.A                                                                     Edgar A. Poe

Contents contributed by Susan Lintelmann, Manuscripts Curator and Alicia Mauldin-Ware, Archives Curator. Images courtesy of USMA Library Special Collections and Archives.


Alexander Nininger, 1st WW II Medal of Honor Recipient

NiningerAlexander Ramsey (Sandy) Nininger, USMA 1941, is a name known to many at the Military Academy. Alexander Nininger became the first World War II Medal of Honor recipient, as well as the first casualty in his class, dying on January 12th 1942 just seven months after graduating from the Academy.

Nininger’s Medal of Honor Award reads in part: [He] voluntarily attached himself to Company K, same regiment, while that unit was being attacked by enemy force superior in fire power. Enemy snipers in trees and fox holes had stopped a counter-attack to regain part of [the] position. In hand-to-hand fighting which followed, Lieutenant Nininger repeatedly forced his way to and into the hostile position. Though exposed to heavy enemy fire, he continued to attack with rifle and hand grenades and succeeded in destroying several enemy groups in fox holes and enemy snipers. Although wounded three times, he continued his attacks until he was killed after pushing alone far within the enemy position. When his body was found after recapture of the position, one enemy officer and two enemy soldiers lay dead around him.

Nininger Hall, which houses the Simon Center for the Professional Military Ethic in the center of the Cadet Area, provides a daily reminder to cadets and faculty of the core values of the Academy and its graduates.  In addition to Nininger Hall, we remember Alexander Nininger with a collection of books and pamphlets on Bataan and Corregidor housed within the Library’s Special Collections and Archives Division. These materials, collected by Nininger’s nephew, John Patterson, are for use by cadets, faculty and those interested in the study of World War II in the Pacific. (A complete listing of the Nininger Collection is available via the Library Catalog.)

Contents contributed by Elaine McConnell, Rare Book Curator

The Barracks Fire of 1871


The destroyed roof and upper floor of the barracks can be seen in this photo taken on 6 February 1871, a day after the fire, by Ordinance Officer John Pitman, then an Assistant Instructor at the Academy. The fire began in the large room directly over the sally port. The heavily damaged 4th Division is just to the right of the sally port. The West Point Hotel can be seen in the background across the Plain. (photo courtesy of USMA Library Special Collections and Archives)

At around 2 a.m. on the morning of Sunday, February 5, 1871, cadets were awoken by a long roll of the drums, meaning everyone was to form up in the Area immediately. The barracks were on fire! The flames had started in the Dialectic Hall, a multi-story room directly over the sally port that allowed passage from the Area to the Plain, and soon reached the roof and fourth-floor rooms. Quickly the blaze spread east and west along the roof and smoke filled the top-floor rooms occupied mostly by plebes.

Cadets swiftly sprang into action with hand- and steam-powered fire engines, but the extreme cold and a stiff wind caused the valves to freeze. Bucket brigades were formed and cadets carried snow and water to the 3rd floor and higher stairways and threw water up to fight the flames and to protect the lower floors. The walls and windows of the building were soon covered in thick slabs of ice. As the water fell back down from the buckets, cadets became so encrusted with ice that one was able to stand up his overcoat the next morning in the mess hall and place his cap on top.

During the fire, some plebes were trapped in their rooms and were rescued either by ladder or by cadets linking arms and going room-to-room in the dense smoke. Amazingly, no lives were lost, but there were reports of frozen noses and ears and some cadets lost nearly all their possessions. The unfortunate were later compensated by Congress for destroyed items.

The fire engines were eventually thawed out and helped to bring the conflagration under control about three hours after it began. Cadets were aided by volunteers from elsewhere on post. For much of the next day the roof smoldered as cadets from the cockloft found other rooms to live in temporarily. Luckily, the rooms on the third floor and below were habitable and life returned to normal quickly. Although accounts vary, it looks like classes resumed on the second day after the fire. The 4th Division, directly adjacent to the Dialectic Hall, was the most impacted area. In total, the fire damage was assessed at $50,000. The cause of the fire remains unknown.

Contents contributed by Dr. Jon Malinowski, Professor of Geography, and Alicia Mauldin Ware, Archives Curator.

Ghostly Apparitions at West Point

Basement in Quarters 100.

Basement in Quarters 100, which is purported to be inhabited by the ghost of Thayer’s Irish maid, Molly. (Photo courtesy of Special Collections and Archives Department of USMA Library ca. 1965.)

Sleepy Hollow isn’t the only place in the Hudson Valley with sightings of ghostly apparitions and stories of otherworldly beings. According to legend, the old Morrison House (Quarters 107B) on Professors’ Row is sometimes inhabited by the ghost of a woman. One story claims that two servants who lived in the house in the 1920s became so frightened that they ran screaming from their room in the middle of the night. Father O’Keefe was called in to do an exorcism which reportedly sent the ghost to live under a railroad bridge on the east side of the Hudson.

Colonel Thayer’s quarters, in what is the current basement of Quarters 100, are also purported to be inhabited by the ghost of Thayer’s Irish maid, Molly. This female specter is said to muss the bedcovers in the “orderly room” and has even been accused of “borrowing” items and moving guests’ possessions. Perhaps she is unhappy about having extra visitors in the house.

In October of 1972, husband and wife team, Ed and Lorraine Warren, visited West Point to lecture on the supernatural. During that same visit the Warrens were asked to visit the Superintendent’s Quarters to investigate some unusual activity. Following the evening lecture the Warrens and a small group of officers and spouses returned to Quarters 100. Lorraine Warren closed her eyes and felt the presence of the ghost of a nineteenth-century soldier named Greer.

During this same month two first-year cadets, O’Connor & Victor, living in room 4714 in the 47th division, felt the presence of a phantom they described as a thin soldier, perhaps 5’ 6” in height, wearing a frayed full-dress coat and carrying a musket. On a subsequent evening upper- classmen slept in the room, and they too reported feeling the sensation of something otherworldly. The temperature of the room dropped from 27C to -18C. First Captain Joe Tallman and Deputy Brigade Commander Gary Newsom, who spent the night of November 6th in room 4714, were unmolested by the spirit. However, Cadet Jim O’Connor reported seeing the ghost on the wall of the room where he was staying. Perhaps the ghost was spooked by the upperclassmen.

Naval Academy Midshipman, William Gravell claimed responsibility for the ghost, saying he had created it using a slide, cheese cloth and a flashlight. West Point Cadets were not convinced by Gravell’s story. What do you think?

Content contributed by Elaine McConnell, Rare Books Curator

Pictures from Panama – Celebrating the Centennial

Jonas Lie, The Gates of Pedro Miguel, 1913.  Oil on canvas. (West Point Museum Collection, United States Military Academy; Anonymous gift in honor of MG George W. Goethals  (USMA 1880), chief engineer of the Panama Canal)

Jonas Lie, “The Gates of Pedro Miguel,” 1913. Oil on canvas. (West Point Museum Collection, United States Military Academy; Anonymous gift in honor of MG George W. Goethals (USMA 1880), chief engineer of the Panama Canal)

Opening at the West Point Museum in early December 2014, the exhibition Pictures from Panama celebrates the centennial anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal and features a selection of artists who captured the construction of the canal in all of its glory and communicated the massive scale of this virtually incomprehensible feat of engineering to American audiences. This exhibition highlights a variety of paintings, prints, watercolors and photographs from the collections of the West Point Museum and the Special Collections and Archives Department of the United States Military Academy Library.

Ernest “Red” Hallen, Gatun Middle Locks. Construction of Center Wall, Looking North, from Upper Lock, February 15, 1911.  Gelatin silver print. (United States Military Academy Library, West Point, NY; Gift of MG George W. Goethals  (USMA 1880), chief engineer of the Panama Canal)

Ernest “Red” Hallen, “Gatun Middle Locks. Construction of Center Wall, Looking North, from Upper Lock,” February 15, 1911. Gelatin silver print. (USMA Library Special Collections and Archives Department, West Point, NY; Gift of MG George W. Goethals (USMA 1880), chief engineer of the Panama Canal)

Ernest “Red” Hallen, Gatun Upper Locks. View Looking North, Showing Progress of Construction of Upper Guard Gates in the East Chamber, August 5, 1911.  Gelatin silver print. (United States Military Academy Library, West Point, NY; Gift of MG George W. Goethals  (USMA 1880), chief engineer of the Panama Canal)

Ernest “Red” Hallen, “Gatun Upper Locks. View Looking North, Showing Progress of Construction of Upper Guard Gates in the East Chamber,” August 5, 1911. Gelatin silver print. [USMA Library Special Collections and Archives Department,, West Point, NY; Gift of MG George W. Goethals (USMA 1880), chief engineer of the Panama Canal]

The Panama Canal was the largest construction project ever carried out by the United States when it took over the endeavor from the French in 1904. When the canal officially opened on August 15, 1914, it was the pinnacle achievement of the American industrial revolution culminating in the connection of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The canal was beneficial both economically and strategically to the United States, opening a new route for international commerce, providing a more efficient means for our military to move from one ocean to the other, and positioning America as a dominant power on the world stage.

The sheer size and scope of this project, even by today’s standards, seemed insurmountable. Ultimately, the waterway became a symbol of American pride and identity. The canal and its construction were mainstays of American discourse for well over twenty years. In order to document this marvel, artists, both invited and uninvited, visited the Canal Zone during construction and translated what they saw and experienced into a variety of mediums.

Most artists who visited the Canal Zone were given access to more iconic sites within the construction area to work. However, photographer Ernest Hallen was allowed unprecedented access to all areas of the site and, as a result, gave the American people an incredible perspective of the canal construction from start to finish. In 1907, at the age of 32, Ernest “Red” Hallen was appointed the official photographer of the Panama Canal project by the Isthmian Canal Commission, the American body overseeing the construction of the canal. Hallen remained on site until he retired from federal service in 1937, documenting every aspect of the construction, operation and the surrounding landscape at the Canal Zone. His resulting black and white photographs were published in the newspapers and magazines back home, which, for many Americans, were the only sources to witness the construction of this incredible engineering achievement.

Unlike the convenient and instantly gratifying digital photography used today, photography at the beginning of the 20th century was just beginning to flourish as both a documentary source and an art form. The camera, itself, was a bulky apparatus that had to be transported and set up from site to site. Additionally, the process to create a photograph was manually intensive and time consuming.

Ernest “Red” Hallen, Close View of Slide at Culebra-on-the-dump. Looking South, June 1912.  Gelatin silver print. (United States Military Academy Library, West Point, NY; Gift of MG George W. Goethals  (USMA 1880), chief engineer of the Panama Canal)

Ernest “Red” Hallen, “Close View of Slide at Culebra-on-the-dump. Looking South, June 1912.” Gelatin silver print. [USMA Library Special Collections and Archives Department, West Point, NY; Gift of MG George W. Goethals (USMA 1880), chief engineer of the Panama Canal]

Over his thirty-year career, Hallen produced more than 16,000 photographs of the Canal Zone and the surrounding environment. The images are remarkable because they thoroughly document the canal construction and offer great insight into the redevelopment of the landscape, construction methods, use of the completed canal and the life of the Panamanian population in the Canal Zone over a span of thirty years. Hallen would often return to the same area on multiple occasions to photograph the progress made at a particular site. While the photographs primarily served a documentary purpose, they are raw, highly dramatic images, which, intentionally or not, are beautifully artistic in their composition.

The small selection of Hallen’s oeuvre featured in the exhibition Pictures from Panama at the West Point Museum is from the collection of Major General George Goethals, chief engineer of the Panama Canal and a West Point graduate (Class of 1880). Goethals’ collection of Hallen’s photographs is the most comprehensive and complete set of Hallen’s work, comprising 45 volumes of images, all printed by Hallen, himself. Goethals gave this wonderful collection to the Library at the United States Military Academy. The photographs provide superb visual insight into the construction of the Panama Canal and are great examples of American photography.

*Pictures from Panama opens at the West Point Museum in early December 2014. Please see the Museum Facebook page for exact dates and times:

Contents contributed by Marlana Cook, Curator of Art, West Point Museum

The West Point Hotel

The West Point Hotel on  Trophy Point in the mid-1800s.

The West Point Hotel on Trophy Point in the mid-1800s. (image courtesy of USMA Library Special Collections and Archives)

The need for a hotel at West Point was recognized by the USMA Board of Visitors in 1820. Over the next several years, funds for the hotel’s construction were accumulated, largely from the sale of wood cut on the military reservation. Erected on Trophy Point at a cost of $18,000, the hotel was opened in the spring of 1829 for the convenience of officers, relatives and friends of cadets, and the visiting public. It was owned by the Government but leased to private individuals to operate for profit. The lessees paid rent for use of the facilities, the receipts of which were placed in the post contingency fund by the Treasurer, USMA, and used to defray the cost of maintenance and repairs on the hotel building.

The first lessee was William B. Cozzens, who was in charge of the Cadet Mess. The Cozzens family retained the lease for many years. The hotel was usually known by the surname of the current proprietor: Cozzens, Roe, Cranston, Carney, and Logan, among others.

During the 19th century several additions were made to the hotel. In 1890, what is now known as Building 148 was built as the laundry to the West Point Hotel.

It accommodated thousands of visitors to the Academy: Government officials, parents of cadets, noted military figures, and other distinguished guests. The hotel served as a social center for cadets and their families. Until 1887, operation and leasing of the hotel was under the direct supervision of the Superintendent; after that date responsibility was vested in the Quartermaster, USMA. However, the Secretary of War had to approve major decisions regarding the property.

The U.S. Thayer Hotel shortly after opening in 1926.

The U.S. Thayer Hotel which opened in June of 1926. (image courtesy of USMA Library Special Collections and Archives)

By the 20th century the hotel was considered “obsolete and deficient in comfort” and the price of total renovation too prohibitive. An act of March 30, 1920, authorized the Superintendent to lease another part of the West Point reservation for construction and operation of a new hotel. The U.S. Hotel Thayer was subsequently built and opened in June 1926, although the original West Point Hotel continued in operation until it was torn down in 1932.



Contents contributed by Alicia Mauldin Ware, Archives Curator