A Cadet Casino Christmas, 1890
For much of West Point's history, cadets were not allowed or able to go home for the holidays due to rules and distance. Because of this, other activities took place, both organized and unorganized. The 1826 Eggnog Riot was certainly one of the more infamous unsanctioned events! In 1890, some cadets were allowed to go to see a Broadway show called Poor Jonathan at the famed Casino Theatre on Christmas Eve. The reason for this special event is that the musical comedy's third act took place at West Point. The Sun newspaper of New York reported:
The youngers in the Military Academy at West Point came to town last night to have a Christmas Eve jubilee at the Casino over the West Point scene in "Poor Jonathan." The West Point cadets were there in their uniforms of gold and gray, and some of the Annapolis cadets were there, too. The naval cadets occupied seats behind the West Pointers. There were seventy in the party. They rose in a body and cheered the chorus girls who execute the military march.
Poor Jonathan had a complicated plot involving a servant, Jonathan, who accidently puts soap in an ice cream dessert at a dinner party. Jonathan falls in love with a fellow servant, becomes rich when his boss feels bad for him, etc. etc.. In the original German version of the show, the final act involved African-Americans picking cotton along the Hudson, but it was thought that this would not play well to a New York audience. Rewrites moved the final scenes to West Point, hence the mention of chorus girls doing a military march. There was apparently a beautiful panorama of West Point revealed at the beginning of the final act that elicited so much applause on opening night that the show was delayed.
The female star of the show, and many productions at the Casino, was Lillian Russell, a star of the era. She is remembered today both as a performer and as the longtime companion of wealthy businessman Diamond Jim Brady. In 1895, Brady would become the first New Yorker to own an automobile. He was known for his incredible appetite and love of gambling. The day after the cadets visited the Theatre, photos of Ms. Russell were among gifts being handed out in honor of the holiday.
The Casino Theatre was built in 1882 as a grand example of Moorish architecture. It was one of the first completely electrified buildings in the City. and was a very popular venue for operettas and musicals. It closed in 1930. Read more about the Casino in this excellent article.
"Cadets See 'Poor Jonathan.'" The Sun . December 25, 1890.
"Poor Jonathan." The World. October 15, 1890.