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Straight Booz

July 2024
1min read

Readers of Spencer Klaw’s “West Point: 1978” in our June/July, 1978, issue will remember the author’s discussion of turn-of-the-century hazing practices at the academy, particularly one instance in which a cadet “had died after drinking bottle after bottle of Tabasco sauce.…” Subscriber Daniel J. Cragg of Arlington, Virginia, took issue with the Tabasco allegation, declaring that he was “skeptical that any cadet, no matter how susceptible to intimidation by upperclassmen, could put down enough of the stuff to do himself permanent, even fatal, injury.” Mr. Cragg went on to identify the unfortunate cadet involved, one Oscar L. Booz, and pointed out that Booz had resigned from the academy in October, 1898, and had died, more than two years later, from tuberculosis. He also quoted the report of the testimony of West Point’s post surgeon during a subsequent congressional hearing, to the effect that the surgeon “did not believe it possible that an application … of that sauce would produce any ulceration of the throat, and … positively and emphatically stated that it would be impossible for the administering of this sauce to stand in any causative relation, direct or indirect, to the death of Cadet Booz.…” Finally, Mr. Cragg notes that in the investigation there was no mention of “bottle after bottle” of the sauce being forced down Booz’s throat.

When presented with Mr. Cragg’s evidence, author Klaw made the following reply: “I was, indeed, aware, from the source I used—Thomas J. Fleming’s West Point —that no connection had been established between the Tabasco drinking and the cadet’s subsequent death. My purpose in citing the incident was to illustrate the kind of hazing to which plèbes were subjected. … But I realize that the way I wrote the sentence might easily lead a reader to jump to the conclusion that it was the Tabasco sauce that had done poor Booz in. I must plead guilty, too, to authorship of the phrase ‘bottle after bottle.’ As I recall Fleming’s account… he said that Booz had been made to drink ‘large quantities’ of Tabasco sauce, and when I went out to the kitchen and looked at our bottle of the stuff I concluded that ‘large quantities’ would have to mean bottle after bottle.…

“I’m not sure that forcing cadets to swallow any amount of Tabasco sauce (except in a Bloody Mary) is likely to make better men or generals out of them, but that’s a different topic.…”

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