Cover image for Secrets of the tomb : Skull and Bones, the Ivy League, and the hidden paths of power
Title:
Secrets of the tomb : Skull and Bones, the Ivy League, and the hidden paths of power
Author:
Robbins, Alexandra, 1976-
Personal Author:
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Boston : Little, Brown, [2002]

©2002
Physical Description:
vii, 230 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, portraits, map ; 25 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780316720915
Format :
Book

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HS205.O73 R62 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
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Summary

Summary

This is the only expos of one of the world's most secretive and feared organizations: Yale University's nearly 200-year-old secret society, Skull and Bones. Through society documents and interviews with dozens of members, Robbins explains why this old-boy product of another time still thrives today. of photos.


Author Notes

Alexandra Robbins is on the staff of The New Yorker and has written for numerous magazines and newspapers. A Yale graduate, she lives in the Washington, D.C. area.


Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Robbins, herself a Yale graduate and secret society member, aims to debunk the myth of one of the oldest secret societies, Skull and Bones. She begins with a superstitious, melodramatic account that suggests the society is both immensely rich and so powerful that it influenced politics. What follows is an extremely detailed account that traces the history of Yale and that of secret societies in general and that of Bones in particular, founded in 1832. Fifteen initiates, who are often among the smartest and most talented in their class, are tapped their junior year. They are initiated in the tomb (the Bones headquarters) and taken on a retreat to Bones-owned Deer Island, off the coast of New York. Much like a fraternity, Bones has many secret rituals and traditions. Robbins reveals some of these--special "Bones" names, the Bonesmen's theft of the bones of Geronimo. She also names some of the members, including both George Bush and George W. Bush. An interesting study, though the casual reader might find it too detailed. --Kristine Huntley


Publisher's Weekly Review

Robbins (Quarterlife Crisis) begins by setting readers up with the ridiculous myth of Yale's Skull and Bones, an exclusive society whose powerful members including both presidents Bush are sworn to secrecy for life about the club's activities: the myth says that the society's members form a clique that rules the world. Robbins then proposes demystifying the group. On the one hand, she propagates the myth, spelling out how Bonesmen have promoted one another in enormously successful political and business careers; they presided over the creation of the atomic bomb as well as the CIA, she says. On the other hand, Robbins turns up much that is prosaic, as she traces the society's origins back to 1832, when William Russell founded it as retribution for a classmate's having been passed over by Phi Beta Kappa; she discovers that the club's cryptic iconography is derived from German university societies. She reveals the inventory of the Tomb (an evocative name for what is essentially a frat house) and details about the group's oddly juvenile fraternal ritual. The narrative never gets more dramatic than Robbins staking out the Tomb for President George W. Bush during Yale's tercentennial celebrations in 2002, and while she relies heavily on the testimony of many Bonesmen, she never names names. While the book may demystify Skull and Bones, it also imparts the sense that Robbins, herself a Yale graduate and member of a rival society, believes in Yalies' elitist entitlement to power and prestige. (Sept. 6) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Excerpts

Excerpts

The Legend of Skull and Bones Sometime in the early 1830s, a Yale student named William H. Russell-the future valedictorian of the class of 1833- traveled to Germany to study for a year. Russell came from an inordinately wealthy family that ran one of America's most despicable business organizations of the nineteenth century: Russell and Company, an opium empire. Russell would later become a member of the Connecticut state legislature, a general in the Connecticut National Guard, and the founder of the Collegiate and Commercial Institute in New Haven. While in Germany, Russell befriended the leader of an insidious German secret society that hailed the death's head as its logo. Russell soon became caught up in this group, itself a sinister outgrowth of the notorious eighteenth-century society the Illuminati. When Russell returned to the United States, he found an atmosphere so Anti-Masonic that even his beloved Phi Beta Kappa, the honor society, had been unceremoniously stripped of its secrecy. Incensed, Russell rounded up a group of the most promising students in his class-including Alphonso Taft, the future secretary of war, attorney general, minister to Austria, ambassador to Russia, and father of future president William Howard Taft-and out of vengeance constructed the most powerful secret society the United States has ever known. The men called their organization the Brotherhood of Death, or, more informally, the Order of Skull and Bones. They adopted the numerological symbol 322 because their group was the second chapter of the German organization and founded in 1832. They worshiped the goddess Eulogia, celebrated pirates, and plotted an underground conspiracy to dominate the world. Fast-forward 170 years. Skull and Bones has curled its tentacles into every corner of American society. This tiny club has set up networks that have thrust three members into the most powerful political position in the world. And the group's influence is only increasing-the 2004 presidential election might showcase the first time each ticket has been led by a Bonesman. The secret society is now, as one historian admonishes, " 'an international mafia'. . . unregulated and all but unknown." In its quest to create a New World Order that restricts individual freedoms and places ultimate power solely in the hands of a small cult of wealthy, prominent families, Skull and Bones has already succeeded in infiltrating nearly every major research, policy, financial, media, and government institution in the country. Skull and Bones, in fact, has been running the United States for years. Skull and Bones cultivates its talent by selecting members from the junior class at Yale University, a school known for its strange, Gothic elitism and its rigid devotion to the past. The society screens its candidates carefully, favoring Protestants and, now, white Catholics, with special affection for the children of wealthy East Coast Skull and Bones members. Skull and Bones has been dominated by about two dozen of the country's most prominent families-Bush, Bundy, Harriman, Lord, Phelps, Rockefeller, Taft, and Whitney among them-who are encouraged by the society to intermarry so that its power is consolidated. In fact, Skull and Bones forces members to confess their entire sexual histories so that the club, as a eugenics overlord, can determine whether a new Bonesman will be fit to mingle with the bloodlines of the powerful Skull and Bones dynasties. A rebel will not make Skull and Bones; nor will anyone whose background in any way indicates that he will not sacrifice for the greater good of the larger organization. As soon as initiates are allowed into the "tomb," a dark, windowless crypt in New Haven with a roof that serves as a landing pad for the society's private helicopter, they are sworn to silence and told they must forever deny that they are members of this organization. During initiation, which involves ritualistic psychological conditioning, the juniors wrestle in mud and are physically beaten-this stage of the ceremony represents their "death" to the world as they have known it. They then lie naked in coffins, masturbate, and reveal to the society their innermost sexual secrets. After this cleansing, the Bonesmen give the initiates robes to represent their new identities as individuals with a higher purpose. The society anoints the initiate with a new name, symbolizing his rebirth and rechristening as Knight X, a member of the Order. It is during this initiation that the new members are introduced to the artifacts in the tomb, among them Nazi memorabilia-including a set of Hitler's silverware-dozens of skulls, and an assortment of decorative tchotchkes: coffins, skeletons, and innards. They are also introduced to "the Bones whore," the tomb's only full-time resident, who helps to ensure that the Bonesmen leave the tomb more mature than when they entered. Members of Skull and Bones must make some sacrifices to the society-and they are threatened with blackmail so that they remain loyal-but they are remunerated with honors and rewards, including a graduation gift of $15,000 and a wedding gift of a tall grandfather clock. Though they must tithe their estates to the society, each member is guaranteed financial security for life; in this way, Bones can ensure that no member will feel the need to sell the secrets of the society in order to make a living. And it works: No one has publicly breathed a word about his Skull and Bones membership, ever. Bonesmen are automatically offered jobs at the many investment banks and law firms dominated by their secret society brothers. They are also given exclusive access to the Skull and Bones island, a lush retreat built for millionaires, with a lavish mansion and a bevy of women at the members' disposal. The influence of the cabal begins at Yale, where Skull and Bones has appropriated university funds for its own use, leaving the school virtually impoverished. Skull and Bones' corporate shell, the Russell Trust Association, owns nearly all of the university's real estate, as well as most of the land in Connecticut. Skull and Bones has controlled Yale's faculty and campus publications so that students cannot speak openly about it. "Year by year," the campus's only anti-society publication stated during its brief tenure in 1873, "the deadly evil is growing." The year in the tomb at Yale instills within members an unwavering loyalty to Skull and Bones. Members have been known to stab their Skull and Bones pins into their skin to keep them in place during swimming or bathing. The knights (as the student members are called) learn quickly that their allegiance to the society must supersede all else: family, friendships, country, God. They are taught that once they get out into the world, they are expected to reach positions of prominence so that they can further elevate the society's status and help promote the standing of their fellow Bonesmen. This purpose has driven Bonesmen to ascend to the top levels of so many fields that, as one historian observes, "at any one time The Order can call on members in any area of American society to do what has to be done." Several Bonesmen have been senators, congressmen, Supreme Court justices, and Cabinet officials. There is a Bones cell in the CIA, which uses the society as a recruiting ground because the members are so obviously adept at keeping secrets. Society members dominate financial institutions such as J. P. Morgan, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, and Brown Brothers Harriman, where at one time more than a third of the partners were Bonesmen. Through these companies, Skull and Bones provided financial backing to Adolf Hitler because the society then followed a Nazi-and now follows a neo-Nazi-doctrine. At least a dozen Bonesmen have been linked to the Federal Reserve, including the first chairman of the New York Federal Reserve. Skull and Bones members control the wealth of the Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Ford families. Skull and Bones has also taken steps to control the American media. Two of its members founded the law firm that represents the New York Times. Plans for both Time and Newsweek magazines were hatched in the Skull and Bones tomb. The society has controlled publishing houses such as Farrar, Straus & Giroux. In the 1880s, Skull and Bones created the American Historical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Economic Association so that the society could ensure that history would be written under its terms and promote its objectives. The society then installed its own members as the presidents of these associations. Under the society's direction, Bonesmen developed and dropped the nuclear bomb and choreographed the Bay of Pigs invasion. Skull and Bones members had ties to Watergate and the Kennedy assassination. They control the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission so that they can push their own political agenda. Skull and Bones government officials have used the number 322 as codes for highly classified diplomatic assignments. The society discriminates against minorities and fought for slavery; indeed eight out of twelve of Yale's residential colleges are named for slave owners while none are named for abolitionists. The society encourages misogyny: it did not admit women until the 1990s because members did not believe women were capable of handling the Skull and Bones experience and because they said they feared incidents of date rape. This society also encourages grave robbing: deep within the bowels of the tomb are the stolen skulls of the Apache chief Geronimo, Pancho Villa, and former president Martin Van Buren. Finally, the society has taken measures to ensure that the secrets of Skull and Bones slip ungraspable like sand through open fingers. Journalist Ron Rosenbaum, who wrote a long but not probing article about the society in the 1970s, claimed that a source warned him not to get too close. "What bank do you have your checking account at?" this party asked me in the middle of a discussion of the Mithraic aspects of the Bones ritual. The Legend of Skull and Bones I named the bank. "Aha," said the party. "There are three Bonesmen on the board. You'll never have a line of credit again. They'll tap your phone. They'll. . . " . . .The source continued: "The alumni still care. Don't laugh. They don't like people tampering and prying. The power of Bones is incredible. They've got their hands on every lever of power in the country. You'll see-it's like trying to look into the Mafia." In the 1980s, a man known only as Steve had contracts to write two books on the society, using documents and photographs he had acquired from the Bones crypt. But Skull and Bones found out about Steve. Society members broke into his apartment, stole the documents, harassed the would-be author, and scared him into hiding, where he has remained ever since. The books were never completed. In Universal Pictures' thriller The Skulls (2000), an aspiring journalist is writing a profile of the society for the New York Times. When he sneaks into the tomb, the Skulls murder him. The real Skull and Bones tomb displays a bloody knife in a glass case. It is said that when a Bonesman stole documents and threatened to publish society secrets if the members did not pay him a determined amount of money, they used that knife to kill him. This, then, is the legend of Skull and Bones. It is astonishing that so many people continue to believe, even in twenty-first-century America, that a tiny college club wields such an enormous amount of influence on the world's only superpower. The breadth of clout ascribed to this organization is practically as wide-ranging as the leverage of the satirical secret society the Stonecutters introduced in an episode of The Simpsons. The Stonecutters theme song included the lyrics: Who controls the British crown? Who keeps the metric system down? We do! We do. . . Who holds back the electric car? Who makes Steve Guttenberg a star? We do! We do. Certainly, Skull and Bones does cross boundaries in order to attempt to stay out of the public spotlight. When I wrote an article about the society for the Atlantic Monthly in May 2000, an older Bonesman said to me, "If it's not portrayed positively, I'm sending a couple of my friends after you." After the article was published, I received a telephone call at my office from a fellow journalist, who is a member of Skull and Bones. He scolded me for writing the article-"writing that article was not an ethical or honorable way to make a decent living in journalism," he condescended -and then asked me how much I had been paid for the story. When I refused to answer, he hung up. Fifteen minutes later, he called back. "I have just gotten off the phone with our people." "Your people?" I snickered. "Yes. Our people." He told me that the society demanded to know where I got my information. "I've never been in the tomb and I did nothing illegal in the process of reporting this article," I replied. "Then you must have gotten something from one of us. Tell me whom you spoke to.We just want to talk to them," he wheedled. "I don't reveal my sources." Then he got angry. He screamed at me for a while about how dishonorable I was for writing the article. "A lot of people are very despondent over this!" he yelled. "Fifteen Yale juniors are very, very upset!" I thanked him for telling me his concerns. "There are a lot of us at newspapers and at political journalism institutions," he coldly hissed. "Good luck with your career"-and he slammed down the phone. Continue... Excerpted from Secrets of the Tomb by Alexandra Robbins Copyright (c) 2002 by Alexandra Robbins Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

The Legend of Skull and Bonesp. 3
1 Pomp and Circumstance: Yale's Mystiquep. 13
2 The Society Systemp. 47
3 Inside Headquartersp. 77
4 The Initiationp. 101
5 The Secrets of Skull and Bonesp. 123
6 The Networkp. 161
7 The Orderp. 191
Acknowledgmentsp. 207
Bibliography of Selected Text Sourcesp. 209
Indexp. 221