– Nina Strochlic
From plots to take over the world, to possession of Che Guevara’s bones, accusations of every kind have been attributed to the most notorious and well-known among college-level secret societies: Yale University’s Skull and Bones. This collegiate group manages to maintain its mysterious facade, even while occasionally appearing in the news. Some devoted fans might know their name from the movie “The Skulls,” or episodes of Gilmore Girls chronicling Rory’s attempt to unveil their archaic rituals. But, more than likely, people will recognize the Skull and Bones since it gained media attention during the 2004 presidential election. Throughout the election, former “Bonesmen” Kerry and Bush remained tight-lipped about their previous membership in the society, both repeatedly telling the media that it was top secret.
Founded in 1832, Skull and Bones is the oldest of Yale’s secret societies, and one of the longest running in the nation. They retain a windowless clubhouse called “The Tomb” on Yale’s campus that continues to initiate prominent Yale undergrads annually. Alumni lists of the Skull and Bones read like a who’s who of history’s wealthiest and most powerful figures. Previous members include President Howard Taft, billionaire John Rockefeller, and writer William Buckley. Membership is typically less than 15 to 20 students at a time, but Bonesmen maintain a tight bond that’s retained long after graduation from the Ivy Leagues.
Even in this modern age, the Skull and Bones has a past littered with unsolved mysteries and unconfirmed conspiracy theories. Initiation ceremonies are the most shrouded, but recent infiltration attempts have begun to slowly scratch away at the society’s ironclad cover. Author and Yale alum Rob Rosenbaum managed to film what he believes was an initiation ceremony in the Tomb’s courtyard a few years ago. His description parallels that of a satanic cult nicely, and involves robe-clad figures, excessive amounts of shrieking, and simulated throat slitting of the novices. A tradition confirmed by former members includes revealing sexual histories to the whole group. Some have claimed this occurs while lying naked in a coffin. Other customs are a bit more vague, as are descriptions of the Tomb, which it’s often said to be filled with bones, stolen headstones, and other morbid historical trinkets.
These alleged practices give little doubt as to where the Skull and Bones’ notoriety stems, even though others maintain that the society is misunderstood. Milder traditions are evidence of this; weekly dinners, encouraging leadership, and quirky customs, such as keeping the clocks five minutes fast, clean up the Skull and Bones’ image.
In recent news, the descendants of Native American warrior Geronimo have filled suit against Yale and the Skull and Bones for allegedly stealing his bones from his burial site. A few reports confirm there is a skull on display in the Tomb that members call Geronimo, but whether or not it’s the same man is unknown.
With such intense secrecy even after graduation, it is unlikely that any reporter will get the full inside scoop on the Skull and Bones. After all, it couldn’t be called a secret society if that were to happen, and the fascination they’ve surely become fond of would slowly wane.