Since its founding in 1701, Yale University has prided itself on the environment of education and intellectual pursuit which it fostered. However, lurking beneath the surface lies a clandestine world, one shrouded in secrecy and intrigue.
Deep within the hallowed halls of this prestigious institution, a secret society known as Skull and Bones has thrived for almost two centuries. Established in 1832, this enigmatic brotherhood has attracted some of the nation’s most influential figures, from presidents and justices to business tycoons and intellectuals.
Behind the impenetrable walls of their headquarters, ominously (and perhaps slightly embarrassingly) dubbed “The Tomb”, Skull and Bones members partake in rituals and traditions that remain closely guarded secrets. Whispers of forbidden initiation ceremonies and macabre artifacts, such as the alleged skull of Apache leader Geronimo, only fuel the curiosity surrounding this elusive organization.
7 Facts About Yale’s Secret Society
Skull & Bones ‘322’
The number ‘322’ appears on the society’s insignia, and is said to refer to 322 B.C., when Athens lost the Lamian War and had to dissolve its democracy. A new, plutocratic government allowed only wealthy Athenians to remain citizens.
Skull and Bones owns Deer Island in the St. Lawrence River in Alexandria, N.Y. The society uses it for get-togethers, and every new member visits it. Though servants once served catered meals in elegant cottages on the island, little is left of the old buildings. The 40-acre retreat had dense undergrowth, stone ruins and a small lodge. One Bonesman described it as a beautiful dump.
The Russell Trust
Alphonso Taft, founder of the political dynasty and father of President William Taft, co-founded Skull and Bones in 1832 with William Huntington Russell. Russell in 1856 incorporated the Russell Trust as the business arm of the society.
In 1943, the Connecticut Legislature passed an act granting a special exemption to the trustees. They wouldn’t have to file corporate reports with the secretary of state, normally required.
Both President George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush belonged to Bones. So did Secretary of State John Kerry, the younger Bush’s opponent in the 2004 presidential election. Bush wrote in his autobiography, “[In my] senior year I joined Skull and Bones, a secret society; so secret, I can’t say anything more.” A reporter once asked Kerry what it meant for two Bonesmen to run against each other for president. He replied, “Not much, because it’s a secret.”
Bonesmen have a reputation for stealing from other Yale societies. They’ve stolen the skulls of Martin Van Buren, Pancho Villa and Geronimo. In 2009, Geronimo’s descendants charged the society with the theft of his remains. Prescott Bush, George H.W. Bush’s father, supposedly broke into his grave during World War I and stole his skull and two bones. The court dismissed the case.
Not No. 1
Of Yale’s 41 secret societies, Bones is only the fifth richest, with $4,129,936 in assets in 2015, according to Business Insider.
He-Man Women Haters?
Bonesman William F. Buckley led a group that sued to block the admission of women to Skull and Bones in 1991. Though black men were admitted since 1965, the Russell Trust adamantly opposed women. When the class of ’91 tapped seven women for the ’92 class, the Russell Trust changed the locks on the Tomb. Members voted by mail, 368-320 to allow women. But then Buckley and his group got a temporary restraining order against the move. The lawsuit eventually fizzled out and the first women joined in 1992.
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