Bohemian Club

Bohemian Club

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Introduction

The Bohemian Club's all-male membership and guest list includes artists, particularly musicians, as well as many prominent business leaders, government officials(including U.S. presidents), senior media executives, and people of power.[3][4] Members may invite guests to the Grove although those guests are subject to a screening procedure. A guest's first glimpse of the Grove typically is during the "Spring Jinks" in June, preceding the main July encampment. Bohemian club members can schedule private day-use events at the Grove any time it is not being used for Club-wide purposes, and are allowed at these times to bring spouses, family and friends, though female and minor guests must be off the property by 9 or 10 pm.[5]

After 40 years of membership the men earn "Old Guard" status, giving them reserved seating at the Grove's daily talks, as well as other perquisites. Former president Herbert Hoover was inducted into the Old Guard on March 19, 1953; he had joined the club exactly 40 years prior.[6] Redwood branches from the Grove were flown to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City where they were used to decorate a banquet room for the celebration. In his acceptance speech, Hoover compared the honor of the "Old Guard" status to his frequent role as veteran counselor to later presidents.[7]

The Club motto is "Weaving Spiders Come Not Here", which implies that outside concerns and business deals are to be left outside. When gathered in groups, Bohemians usually adhere to the injunction, though discussion of business often occurs between pairs of members.[2] Important political and business deals have been developed at the Grove.[5] The Grove is particularly famous for a Manhattan Project planning meeting that took place there in September 1942, which subsequently led to the atomic bomb. Those attending this meeting included Ernest Lawrence, U.C. Berkeley colleague Robert Oppenheimer, various military officials, the S-1 Committee heads such as the presidents of HarvardYale and Princeton along with representatives of Standard Oil and General Electric. At the time, Oppenheimer was not an official S-1 member due to security clearance troubles with the U.S. wartime Government, though Lawrence and Oppenheimer hosted the meeting.[8] Grove members take particular pride in this event and often relate the story to new attendees.[2]

History

In the 1870s, Henry "Harry" Edwards was an actor with theCalifornia Theatre Stock Company, a founding Bohemian and the headentomologist at the California Academy of Sciences

The tradition of a summer encampment was established six years after the Bohemian Club was formed in 1872.[2] Henry "Harry" Edwards, a stage actor and founding member, announced that he was relocating to New York City to further his career. On June 29, 1878, somewhat fewer than 100 Bohemians gathered in the Redwoods in Marin County nearTaylorville (present-day Samuel P. Taylor State Park) for an evening sendoff party in Edwards' honor.[9] Freely flowing liquor and some Japanese lanterns put a glow on the festivities, and club members retired at a late hour to the modest comfort of blankets laid on the dense mat of Redwood needles. This festive gathering was repeated the next year without Edwards, and became the club's yearly encampment.[10] By 1882 the members of the Club camped together at various locations in both Marin and Sonoma County, including the present-day Muir Woods and a redwood grove that once stood near Duncans Mills, several miles down the Russian River from the current location. From 1893 Bohemians rented the current location, and in 1899 purchased it from Melvin Cyrus Meeker who had developed a successful logging operation in the area.[2] Gradually over the next decades, members of the Club purchased land surrounding the original location to the perimeter of the basin in which it resides.[2]

Writer and journalist William Henry Irwin said of the Grove,

You come upon it suddenly. One step and its glory is over you. There is no perspective; you cannot get far enough away from one of the trees to see it as a whole. There they stand, a world of height above you, their pinnacles hidden by their topmost fringes of branches or lost in the sky.[11]

Not long after the Club's establishment by newspaper journalists, it was commandeered by prominent San Francisco-based businessmen, who provided the financial resources necessary to acquire further land and facilities at the Grove. However, they still retained the "bohemians"—the artists and musicians—who continued to entertain international members and guests.[2]

Membership and operation

The Bohemian Club is a private club; only active members of the Club (known as "Bohos" or "Grovers"[12]) and their guests may visit the Grove. These guests have been known to include politicians and notable figures from countries outside the U.S.[2] Particularly during the midsummer encampment, the number of guests is strictly limited due to the small size of the facilities. Nevertheless, up to 2,900 members and guests have been reported as attending some of the annual encampments.[citation needed]

The membership list has included every Republican Party and some Democratic Party U.S. presidents since 1923, many cabinet officials, directors and CEOs of large corporations including major financial institutions. Major military contractors, oil companies, banks (including the Federal Reserve), utilities (including nuclear power) and national media (broadcast and print) have high-ranking officials as club members or guests.[13]

Camp valets

Camp valets are responsible for the operation of the individual camps. The "head" valets are akin to a general manager's position at a resort, club, restaurant, or hotel. Service staff include female workers whose presence at the Grove is limited to daylight hours and to central areas close to the main gate. Male workers may be housed at the Grove within the boundaries of the camp to which they are assigned or in peripheral service areas. High-status workers stay in small private quarters but most workers are housed in rustic bunkhouses.[2]

Facilities

The main encampment area consists of 160 acres (0.65 km2) of old-growth redwood trees over 1,000 years old, with some trees exceeding 300 feet (90 m) in height.[14]

The primary activities taking place at the Grove are varied and expansive entertainment, such as a grand main stage and a smaller, more intimate stage. Thus, the majority of common facilities are entertainment venues, interspersed among the giant redwoods.

A Bohemian tent in the 1900s, sheltering Porter Garnett, George Sterling and Jack London

There are also sleeping quarters, or "camps" scattered throughout the grove, of which it is reported there were a total of 118 as of 2007. These camps, which are frequentlypatrilineal, are the principal means through which high-level business and political contacts and friendships are formed.[2]

The pre-eminent camps are:[2][15]

  • Hill Billies (Big Business/Banking/Politics/Universities/Media/Texas Business);
  • Mandalay (Big Business/Defense Contractors/Politics/U.S. Presidents);
  • Cave Man (Think Tanks/Oil Companies/Banking/Defense Contractors/Universities/Media);
  • Stowaway (Rockefeller Family Members/Oil Companies/Banking/Think Tanks);
  • Uplifters (Corporate Executives/Big Business);
  • Owls Nest (U.S. Presidents/Military/Defense Contractors);
  • Hideaway (Foundations/Military/Defense Contractors);
  • Isle of Aves (Military/Defense Contractors);
  • Lost Angels (Banking/Defense Contractors/Media);
  • Silverado squatters (Big Business/Defense Contractors);
  • Sempervirens (California-based Corporations);
  • Hillside (Military—Joint Chiefs of Staff);
  • Idlewild (California-based Corporations)

The central spaces for recreation and entertainment are:

  • Grove Stage—an amphitheater with seating for 2,000 used primarily for the Grove Play production, on the last weekend of the midsummer encampment. The stage extends up the hillside, and is also home to the second largest outdoor pipe organ in the world.
  • Field Circle—a bowl-shaped amphitheater used for the mid-encampment "Low Jinks" musical comedy, for "Spring Jinks" in early June and for a variety of other performances.
  • Campfire Circle—has a campfire pit in the middle of the circle, surrounded by carved redwood log benches. Used for smaller performances in a more intimate setting.
  • Museum Stage—a semi-outdoor venue with a covered stage. Lectures and small ensemble performances.
  • Dining Circle—seating approximately 1,500 diners simultaneously.
  • Clubhouse—designed by Bernard Maybeck in 1903, completed in 1904 on a bluff overlooking the Russian River;[16] a multi-purpose dining, drinking and entertainment building; the site of the Manhattan Project planning meeting held in 1942.
  • The Owl Shrine and the Lake—an artificial lake in the middle of the grove, used for the noon-time concerts and also the venue of the Cremation of Care, that takes place on the first Saturday of the encampment. It is also the location of the 12:30 pm daily "Lakeside Talks." These significant informal talks (many on public policy issues) have been given over the years by entertainers, professors, astronauts, business leaders, cabinet officers, CIA directors, future presidents and former presidents.[17]

Symbolism and rituals

Since the founding of the club, the Bohemian Grove's mascot has been an owl, symbolizing knowledge. A 40-foot (12 m) hollow owl statue made of concrete over steel supports stands at the head of the lake in the Grove; this Owl Shrine was designed by sculptor and two-time club president Haig Patigian, and built in the 1920s.[18] Since 1929, the Owl Shrine has served as the backdrop of the yearly Cremation of Careceremony.[2]

The Club's patron saint is John of Nepomuk, who legend says suffered death at the hands of a Bohemian monarch rather than disclose the confessional secrets of the queen. A large wood carving of St. John in cleric robes with his index finger over his lips stands at the shore of the lake in the Grove, symbolizing the secrecy kept by the Grove's attendees throughout its long history.[2]

Cremation of Care

A dress rehearsal for the 1909 Grove PlaySt. Patrick at Tara

The Cremation of Care ceremony was first conducted in the Bohemian Grove at the Midsummer encampment in 1881, devised by James F. Bowman with George T. Bromley playing the High Priest.[19] It was originally set up within the plot of the serious "High Jinks" dramatic performance on the first weekend of the summer encampment, after which the spirit of "Care", slain by the Jinks hero, was solemnly cremated. The ceremony served as a catharsis for pent-up high spirits, and "to present symbolically the salvation of the trees by the club ..."[20] The Cremation of Care was separated from the Grove Play in 1913 and moved to the first night to become "an exorcising of the Demon to ensure the success of the ensuing two weeks."[21] The Grove Play was moved to the last weekend of the encampment.[22]

The ceremony takes place in front of the Owl Shrine, a 40-foot (12 m) hollow owl statue made of concrete over steel supports. The moss- and lichen-covered statue simulates a natural rock formation, yet holds electrical and audio equipment within it. For many years, a recording of the voice of club member Walter Cronkite was used as the voice of The Owl during the ceremony.[1] Music and pyrotechnics accompany the ritual for dramatic effect.

Grove Play

Main article: List of Grove Plays

Each year, a Grove Play is performed for one night during the final weekend of the summer encampment. The play is a large-scale musical theatrical production, written and composed by club members, involving some 300 people, including chorus, cast, stage crew and orchestra.[23] The first Grove Play was performed in 1902; during the war years 1943–1945 the stage was dark. In 1975, an observer estimated that the Grove Play cost between $20,000 and $30,000, an amount that would be as high as $131,000 in today's dollars.[23]

Protests and controversies

With its combination of wealth and power, Bohemian Grove's secrecy has been a target for protest for many years. The Bohemian Grove Action Network ofOccidental, California, organizes protests and has aided journalists who wish to penetrate the secrecy surrounding the encampment. Over the years, individuals have infiltrated the Grove then later published video and claimed accounts of the activities at Bohemian Grove.

Infiltrations

In the summer of 1989, Spy magazine writer Philip Weiss spent some seven days in the camp posing as a guest, which led to his November 1989 article "Inside Bohemian Grove".[1] He wrote about uninhibited behavior he witnessed: "You know you are inside the Bohemian Grove when you come down a trail in the woods and hear piano music from amid a group of tents and then round a bend to see a man with a beer in one hand and his penis in the other, urinating into the bushes. This is the most gloried-in ritual of the encampment, the freedom of powerful men to pee wherever they like ..."[1] Weiss noticed "hundreds of cigars whose smokers had ignited them in defiance of the California Forest Service's posted warnings."[1]

On July 15, 2000, controversial conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his cameraman, Mike Hanson, sneaked into the Grove. With a hidden camera, Jones and Hanson were able to film the Cremation of Careceremony. The footage was the centerpiece of Jones' documentary Dark Secrets: Inside Bohemian Grove.[24] Jones claimed that the Cremation of Care was an "ancient CanaaniteLuciferianBabylon mystery religion ceremony," and that the owl statue was Moloch. The Grove and Jones' investigation were covered by Jon Ronson in Channel 4's four-part documentary, Secret Rulers of the World. Ronson documented his view of the ritual in his book, Them: Adventures With Extremists, writing "My lasting impression was of an all-pervading sense of immaturity: the Elvis impersonators, the pseudo-pagan spooky rituals, the heavy drinking. These people might have reached the apex of their professions but emotionally they seemed trapped in their college years."[25]

The Owl Shrine covered in moss, standing among trees behind a stage at one edge of a man-made pond

Also filmed for The Order of Death[26] was Jones' return to the entrance of the Bohemian Grove in 2005 where he filmed a protest organized by the Bohemian Grove Action Network that took place at the Grove's entrance on Bohemian Highway, only to discover a majority of the protesters engaging in an "occult counter-ritual" known as the Resurrection of Care, supposedly a counter-ritual against the Cremation of Care. Jones' narration for the film lambasted the protesters' actions and motivations from a religious standpoint. In 2005, Chris Jones (no relation) walked into the Grove when hired as an employee, and videotaped the Owl Shrine in daylight, even venturing inside the hollow statue.[27]&

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