This Week In History

• On December 22, 1879, President Rutherford B. Hayes gave a speech in Philadelphia during which he extolled, at great length, the health values of vinegar. The speech rambled on for some 45 minutes, well beyond its allotted time, and made it vividly clear that Hayes consumed nearly a quart of malt vinegar each day. For many today — even some history buffs — this is the only thing people really remember about Hayes, i.e. "Is he the one who drank vinegar or the one with the mutton chops?" • On December 23, 1962, representatives of the late Ernest Hemingway's estate uncovered a hidden cache of notes and first drafts. While most of what the papers reveal is minor (he briefly tried to work a lovable dachshund named Lucky into For Whom the Bell Tolls, but scrapped the idea), by far the biggest revelation was the existence of a fully written alternate ending to The Old Man and the Sea, detailing how the fisherman was able to fight off the sharks with a knife and return home with his prize catch. Hemingway's estate decided it was best to leave the ending in its original form, so as to properly bum out generations of high school sophomores.

• On December 24, 1813, Colonel Thaddeus McKitrick very nearly prevented the War of 1812’s famed Christmas Day Ambush. McKitrick had never been particularly religious, but he had a fondness for Christmas, and wanted to do something for his increasingly frustrated soldiers. Fashioning a makeshift St. Nicholas costume, he sneaked out of the camp before dawn, climbed a nearby tree, and waited to surprise the men as they awoke. It would have been the perfect vantage point to spoil the oncoming British ambush, had McKitrick's costume not become tangled in tree's branches, preventing him from calling out to warn the camp. The British, pressed for time, saw that he wasn't a threat and left him there. Caught unawares, the sleeping troops were captured, dealing a serious blow to the Americans' position on the southeastern shores of Lake Erie.

McKitrick himself was extricated from the tree on Boxing Day by a passing US patrol. He was relieved of his command by General Winfield Scott on New Year's Eve.