No story of Mr. Ducrot could be complete without mention of Benny Havens. This affable creature so famed in song and story, first crashed the official records about 1825 as keeper of "a public house or place where liquors are sold." Prior to this, we know, Benny, who had come to West Point from New Windsor as a young man, had worked for the sutler or general storekeeper; one of those who had been cashing Mister Ducrot's pay checks in advance at a juicy premium. At this time, the barracks were located in what is now known as Central Area. The store was located about where the north sallyport of Central Barracks is now. Benny lost his job at the store for selling rum to a kaydet, so he joined a volunteer outfit from Buttermilk Falls, holding a commission of first lieutenant in the War of 1812. Then he had run a floating delicatessen for several years before opening up, just off the post, south and west of the present cadet hospital. This was located on property owned by one Mr. Gridley. Here he and the missus, a marvelous cook, dispensed good food and hot rum punches, both highly esteemed by the Corps, until the government finally got around to buying up the Gridley property, mainly to remove the tavern nuisance.
Naturally this commendable act only added to the wear and tear on Mister Ducrot's shoe leather! For when Benny and the missus moved still farther south to their historic location down at the river's edge below Buttermilk Falls, the Corps simply extended its lines of communication and maintained contact as both tactics books and tummies prescribed. Mister Ducrot liked this site even better, for now he had the river for a secondary escape route, especially handy when it was frozen over and circumstances indicated rapid withdrawal. There were still hazards, of course, and it is reported that the Confederate States of America almost lost their president before he even left West Point -- it seems that Jeff Davis once slipped off the cliffs trying to evade the tacs who had invaded Benny's, and was nearly killed. But it was nice and private down there by the falls, and although the hospitable Benny welcomed the tac's good dollar along with the cadet's doubtful chit, the brass kept their distance for quite a few years, staging only an occasional raid to corral their wandering boys.
Even after the young lieutenants in the T.D. who had so recently enjoyed Benny's as cadets began frequenting the little tavern with greater regularity, much to Ducrot's disgust, Mein Host usually got warning enough to shoo his illegal guests out through back windows and doors before the V.I.P.'s arrived. Legend has it that the slow-falling waters of Buttermilk Creek even speeded up at such times and roared their own warning of approaching trouble. Be that as it may, despite the awesome number of unofficial cadet-hours spent at Haven's during the thirty-odd years he acted as sommelier to the Corps, his influence on the Academy was a healthy one as a whole. In later years at least, the authorities realized this and made no determined effort to close him up, although there was always much to-do about getting around to it.
For Benny and the missus, whose hearts were bigger even than their ample bodies, were no contributors to juvenile delinquency, as they loved every cadet like their own son. And despite the tall tales that have grown up around the little house at the river's edge, there was always for more eating down there than drinking, although Benny was famous for the quality of his "flip." "Flip" was made of a mixture of ale or cider and eggs well beaten, sweetened and spiced, and made hot by means of a red hot iron or "flip dog" plunged into it. If the iron was left in just long enough, a caramel-like flavor was the result -- and Benny knew to the second when to withdraw the "dog." When Benny ceremoniously plunged his sizzling poker into his famous flagon of rum punch and "filled the brimming glasses," it was only to warm cold, homesick young hearts with friendly hospitality so that they could for a while at least forget their barren existence, while the roasting fowl turned dripping on its spit and the aroma of flapjacks and fraying ham filled the low-ceilinged, smoky room. It is no wonder that Benny's meant so much to so many, for it was the one place Mister Ducrot could unfasten his collar, put up his feet, and let down his hair in an atmosphere of home. To hell with the risks; they even added to the spice of it, and what were a couple of months of walking the area in comparison?
The hours of relaxation spent at Benny's were not soon forgotten, and graduates returning to West Point in later years were almost certain to return to that site of pleasant memories, just as did Lieutenant Lucius O'Brien in the winter of 1839-40.
O'Brien, you see, was visiting old friends at West Point on day and, as the evening shadows grew longer, he and his friends decided to repair to Benny's, as in days of old. There, at the height of the evening's conviviality, the muse tapped the young lieutenant on the writing hand. At that moment said hand was occupied, but with a fortitude evoking the enthusiasm of all present, Lieutenant O'Brien freed his hand from the entangling alliance with the mug and called for paper and quill. "Benny Havens, Oh!" was the result. But mere poetry struck the company as pallid fare; therefore, the versatile poet proposed a tune to which the words could be sung. The tune, strangely enough (the author's name being O'Brien), was "The Wearing O' the Green." No data exists as to when the party broke up. "Benny Havens, Oh!" is the oldest and most popular of all West Point songs still being sung.
One hundred years later, the West Point Army Mess commissioned Mr. Paul C. McElroy to reproduce the festive occasion on canvas. His painting consists of three panels done in oil. The middle panel, the largest one, stretches twelve feet long and four feet high. It is flanked by two smaller panels, each half as long as the center one, but of the same height. The sequence of events shows cadets approaching Benny's tavern, unexpectedly finding a party of officers, and subsequently evading the O.C.
In the first panel, four cadets are warily approaching Benny's lighted tavern. Flattened against the rocky hillside, they are carefully checking against the presence of the "enemy," tactical officers.
In the large central panel, two of these cadets check themselves in the doorway of Benny's tavern. Their faces are classics of astonishment: the gathering of officers drinking hot flip at Benny's table is certainly not going to invite them in; it is against the rules. There is Benny himself, in the middle of the party, with his hawk nose and his stern and yet pleasant face. The old flintlock over Benny's fireplace, the crackling fire seeming eager to join the general merriment, show the homey atmosphere that Benny's place offered to the cadets of yore. With little exertion of the imagination, we can see our valiants falling over themselves as they hastily bang the door and make a hurried retreat. In the midst of the melee, Lt. Lucius O'Brien sits at Benny's table with a pen in his hand, composing "Benny Havens, Oh!"
The third panel shows our cadets' running and stumbling back up the rock-strewn hill. They are scarcely able to maintain their short lead on the pursing officer. The outcome is left in doubt, but a betting man would have to conclude that the wily cadets are never caught.
Nowadays, the cadet has so many opportunities for weekend leaves, overnight trips, etc., that it is difficult to realize how cloistered he once was, and how comforting Benny's flagons must have been. Yet, even so, Mr. Ducrot still has his favorite haunts, be they known as the Peppermint Lounge, the Two-Oh-Two, or Snuffy's.
He still warms to the round of good cheer, and the conviviality of good friends.
As in the days of Benny, however, the cadet must still contend with the T.D., and thought our long lads win more than their share of the contests, no year is complete without several quill sheets reading, "Drinking or otherwise partaking…." It has been estimated that over sixty verses were originally written, and many more have been penned through the years, a sampling of which follows; stanzas one, eight, and ten have long been favorites of West Pointers, while number 13 was written by the Class of 1877 to commemorate Benny's death on May 29, 1877.