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Conspiracy Theories

Between The Skulls and Bones of Yale University

Skulls and bones have had some of the most prominent cultural and political figures in it's grasp over the years
Skulls and bones have had some of the most prominent cultural and political figures in it's grasp over the years

Despite the apparent differences between George Bush and John Kerry, both share a long-held secret that has remained undisclosed to the public throughout their political careers.

This secret pertains to their association with Skull and Bones, the secret, no, really “secret” society at Yale University, renowned for its influential membership that includes some of the most prominent figures of the 20th century.

Known as Bonesmen, members of this society are sworn to secrecy regarding their activities within the society’s private quarters, a windowless structure on the Yale campus known as the Tomb. Officially recognized as The Order, Order 322, or The Brotherhood of Death, Skull and Bones is the most venerable senior secret student society at Yale University.

As the oldest senior-class society at the university, Skull and Bones has not only cultivated a reputation for its powerful alumni but has also been the subject of various conspiracy theories.

Skull and Bones holds a distinguished place among the “Big Three” societies of Yale University, alongside Scroll and Key and Wolf’s Head. Informally referred to as “Bones,” its members are commonly known as “Bonesmen,” “Members of The Order,” or “Initiated to The Order.”

skulls and bones logo

The logo of the Skulls and Bones secret society with the ominous 322 beneath it

Like other prominent Yale societies, Skulls and Bones have undergone significant transformation. The society now sees fewer alumni descendants gaining membership, with a noticeable inclination towards left-wing activism, such as affiliations with the Democratic Socialists of America, being seen as a valuable attribute.

Throughout its history, Skull and Bones has encompassed a membership roster that reads like a who’s who of American leadership, including presidents, cabinet members, intelligence operatives, Supreme Court justices, business magnates, and, more recently, their sons and daughters. This assemblage forms an unparalleled social and political network.

Each member, irrespective of their stature, has traditionally maintained a strict code of silence regarding the society’s inner workings. However, this veil of secrecy was partially lifted by Alexandra Robbins, a Yale alumna, in her book “Secrets of the Tomb,” as reported by CBS News Correspondent Morley Safer.

Since its inception, the society has annually selected, or “tapped,” only 15 senior students. Upon graduation, these individuals ascend to become lifelong members, solidifying their place in what is effectively the epitome of an elite fraternity.

The Real Reason Skulls and Bones was Founded

Skull and Bones was established in 1832 following a disagreement among Yale’s debating societies – Linonia, Brothers in Unity, and the Calliopean Society – regarding the Phi Beta Kappa awards of that year. William Huntington Russell and Alphonso Taft co-founded the society and initially included these two founders along with thirteen other senior members.

The earliest comprehensive account of Skull and Bones appeared in Lyman Bagg’s 1871 publication, “Four Years at Yale.” Bagg remarked that the society’s secretive nature was a perpetual source of fascination and speculation within college circles.

Brooks Mather Kelley, in his 1974 book, shed light on the unique dynamic of Yale’s senior societies. He pointed out that while members of freshman, sophomore, and junior class societies at Yale often returned to campus and could divulge information about their societies, the graduating seniors, with their deeper knowledge, were distanced from campus life, thereby preserving the societies’ secrets.

Skull and Bones has maintained a tradition of selecting 15 junior class members annually since its inception. Known for its “Tap Day,” a Yale University tradition dating back to 1879, Skull and Bones selects new members each spring. The society’s recruitment focuses on those perceived as campus leaders and other individuals of notable standing.

The Weird Sausage Fest

In the swinging 60s, even the cloistered world of Yale’s secret societies couldn’t escape the winds of change. Skull and Bones, the crème de la crème of these groups, finally decided to spice up their membership roster in 1965 by admitting their first black member. They then raised eyebrows (and perhaps a few monocles) in 1975 by welcoming the president of Yale’s gay student organization.

But when it came to coeducation, Skull and Bones seemed a bit slow on the uptake. While other societies were welcoming women posthaste after Yale went coed in 1969, Bones clung to their boys’ club status until 1992. In 1971, a bunch of rebel Bonesmen tried to bring women into the fold, but the old guard was having none of it. They essentially called the rebels the “bad club” and nixed the whole idea.

Fast forward to 1991: the Bones class of ’91 had a wild idea – “Let’s invite women!” This caused such a ruckus that the alumni changed the locks on the Tomb (yes, they literally locked them out). The current Bonesmen had to slum it in the Manuscript Society building. A mail-in vote among members narrowly favored women joining, but then William F. Buckley and his band of traditionalists threw a legal wrench in the works, demanding a rewrite of the rulebook.

An old picture showing some of the early members of the Skulls and Bones

An old picture showing some of the early members of the Skulls and Bones

Among the alumni, John Kerry and R. Inslee Clark, Jr. were all for letting women in. This drama even got a shoutout on The New York Times’ editorial page. Finally, in a second alumni vote in October 1991, common sense prevailed, and the Class of 1992 entered the Bones history – women included. The lawsuit got tossed, and the Tomb’s doors swung open (a bit wider this time) to a new era.

Like other elite Yale organizations, Skull and Bones has “utterly altered” in recent years; The Atlantic notes that the school welcomed its first totally non-white class in 2020, few alumni’s descendants are admitted, and progressive activism is a plus.

Of Weird Symbols and Rituals: The Essence of Skulls and Bones

Skull and Bones’ bling, if you can call it that, is a snazzy gold badge featuring a skull chilling atop some crossbones. The skull’s jaw is fashionably adorned with the mysterious digits ‘322’. Now, these Bonesmen apparently had a thing for Eulogia, a made-up goddess of eloquence. They weren’t just about spooky symbols and secret handshakes.

The “322” on their emblem isn’t just random numbers. The common whisper around the Yale courtyards is that it marks the year the Greek chatterbox Demosthenes kicked the bucket. Digging a little deeper into Yale’s dusty archives, we find a letter hinting that 322 BCE is the year from which these Bones aficionados count time – kind of like their own personal Year Zero.

The year 322 BCE wasn’t just about Demosthenes’ exit stage left; it was also when Athens waved goodbye to democracy and hello to a rule-by-the-rich system. If you had less than 2,000 drachmas in your piggy bank, tough luck, you were no longer a big shot in Athens. The Bones bunch even got a kick out of dating their documents “Anno-Demostheni,” because why not?

These guys don’t just have their own calendar; they even have their own time zone – kind of. They set their clocks five minutes off from what they call “barbarian time” (that’s regular time for us non-Bones folks). And to add another layer to the mystery pie, there’s a tale that the ‘322’ is a cryptic nod to “founded in ’32, 2nd corps,” which supposedly links back to some other secret society at a German university that’s lost in the mists of time.

Spooky, right? I personally call it the New World Order.

Crooky, Cocky Skulls and Bones

Skull and Bones seems to have a quirky (or should we say ‘crooky’) hobby: they’re infamous for nabbing memorabilia from other Yale societies and campus edifices. This pastime, cheekily known as “crooking” among members, isn’t just for kicks – it’s a competitive port where they try to one-up each other with their heists.

Now, here’s where it gets a bit macabre. This band of collegiate pirates has been accused of having quite the collection of pilfered skulls – and not just any skulls. We’re talking about the craniums of some pretty notable figures like Martin Van Buren, Geronimo, and Pancho Villa. It’s like a historical hall of fame, but for stolen skulls.

In a plot twist that sounds like it’s straight out of a mystery novel, in January 2010, Christie’s, the famous auction house, put a human skull under the hammer, and rumor had it that this skull had ties to Skull and Bones. Whether it was part of their legendary collection or just a spooky coincidence, we can only guess.

The Tomb and Deer Island of the Bonesmen

The “Tomb,” a.k.a. Skull and Bones’ clubhouse, is a bit like a gothic fortress meets Egyptian mausoleum, with a dash of Yale pomp. Built in three epic stages – because why stop at one? – it kicked off in 1856, got a middle child in 1903, and then sprouted some fancy Neo-Gothic towers in 1912, just to keep things interesting. The exterior screams ‘ancient Egypt meets Doric temple,’ all done up in swanky Portland brownstone.

These 1912 tower additions weren’t just for show; they cozied up the place with a cute little courtyard, thanks to Evarts Tracy and Edgerton Swartwout, an architectural dynamic duo from New York. Fun fact: Evarts was a Bonesman who probably had family reunions at the Tomb, considering his relatives were also in the club.

As for who masterminded this eerie structure, it’s a toss-up between Alexander Jackson Davis and Henry Austin. It’s like an architectural ‘Who Wore It Better?’ Patrick Pinnell, who’s basically a detective in architectural history, dives into this conundrum in his 1999 Yale chronicle. Davis might’ve sketched the original because he came back to add the towers, while Austin, known for his Egyptian Revival work, might’ve thrown in some pharaoh flair.

In this Sept. 2003 file photo, Yale’s secret society, Skull and Bones’ clubhouse or “tomb” as it is known, is seen on the Yale University campus

In this Sept. 2003 file photo, Yale’s secret society, Skull and Bones’ clubhouse or “tomb” as it is known, is seen on the Yale University campus

Pinnell also notes how the tomb plays nice aesthetically with its artsy neighbor, the Yale University Art Gallery. And in the late 90s, some landscape architects decided it needed a bit more iron in its diet, so they wrapped part of it in a wrought iron fence.

Oh, and Skull and Bones has its own private island, Deer Island, because at this point, why not? As Alexandra Robbins dishes in her book on these secret clubs, this 40-acre playground was once a hotspot with tennis courts, softball fields, rhubarb patches, gooseberry bushes, and catboats (not boats for cats, unfortunately, poor Morbid).

It was like a summer camp for the elite, with stewards serving up gourmet chow. These days, Bonesmen still flock there every summer for a week to chill, tell ghost stories, and maybe play a genteel game of ‘Who’s Got the Creepiest Ancestor?’

A Brief History of the Bonesmen

Skull and Bones, with all its tweed and secret handshakes, has long been the playground of the “power elite.”

Skull and Bones’ member roster sounds like a roll call for a super-exclusive, slightly eccentric club. For a long time, it was like a “No Girls, No Diverse Backgrounds” treehouse, with members mostly being white Protestant males. Yale was like, “Let’s be exclusive,” and Skull and Bones was like, “Hold my beer.”

Eventually, some folks from the excluded groups slipped in through sports – like a secret society draft. They even tapped the first Jewish player, Al Hessberg, in 1938, and an African-American player, Levi Jackson, in 1950. Jackson, however, turned them down in a move that was probably cooler than anything happening inside the Tomb. On your face, Bonesmen.

Judith Ann Schiff, Yale’s Chief Research Archivist and probably the best detective we never had, says the society wasn’t always hush-hush about its members. The secretiveness ramped up in the 70s, possibly because their mixtapes were just too good to share.

Then in 1985, Charlotte Thomson Iserbyt, in a move that could’ve come straight out of a spy novel, slipped Antony C. Sutton some juicy Skull and Bones intel. Sutton sat on this goldmine of a gossip column for over fifteen years, probably worried that the photocopied pages would whisper secrets in the wrong ears, before spilling the beans in a book.

Skull & Bones members during the college days of George H. W. Bush (standing to the left of the clock) and on the right is the new Skulls and Bones

Skull & Bones members during the college days of George H. W. Bush (standing to the left of the clock) and on the right is the new Skulls and Bones

And oh, the nicknames! They’ve got “Long Devil” for the tallest guy, “Boaz” for the football captain (because why call him by his real name?), and “Sherrife” for the future prince of… something. They pull these names from everywhere – literature, religion, myths. It’s like a highbrow game of Dungeons & Dragons.

Some famous Bonesmen swapped names like baseball cards: “Sancho Panza” went from banker Lewis Lapham to political adviser Tex McCrary. And let’s not forget George H. W. Bush’s nickname, “Magog,” which sounds like he should be in a Tolkien novel.

Skull and Bones might as well be the star of its own conspiracy theory genre, given its frequent appearances in books and movies where it’s cast as the puppet master in a grand scheme for global domination.

Then there are those who believe Skull and Bones is actually a branch of the Illuminati (because, of course, it is). The story goes that alumni from German universities set it up after the Illuminati got the boot in their homeland.

Picture Karl Theodor, the Elector of Bavaria, and Frederick the Great of Prussia teaming up to squash the Illuminati, only for it to pop up again across the Atlantic at Yale. It’s like a game of whack-a-mole but with secret societies.

And let’s not forget the rumors that paint Skull and Bones as the puppeteer of the CIA. It’s as if every time someone in the CIA says “Jump,” a Bonesman somewhere in the shadows nods slowly and whispers, “How high?”

So, there you have it, Skull and Bones: part secret society, part quirky summer camp for the rich and powerful. But all hell-bent on making our lives a mockery.

Next, read about the Stanford Prison Experiment and then, about the Dungarvon Whooper of New Brunswick

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Written By

Abin Tom Sebastian, also known as Mr. Morbid in the community, is an avid fan of the paranormal and the dark history of the world. He believes that sharing these stories and histories are essential for the future generations. For god forbid, we have seen that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

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