Nestled amidst the serene expanse of a secluded 2,700-acre haven, Bohemian Grove, concealed along the clandestine path of 20601 Bohemian Avenue, Monte Rio, California, USA, holds its enigmatic embrace. This mystic realm is the cherished sanctuary of the Bohemian Club, an exclusive San Francisco-based gentlemen’s enclave.
In the heart of mid-July, a clandestine gathering unfolds within the Grove’s verdant depths, spanning more than a fortnight. It beckons forth a congregation of luminaries who wield global influence, captivating the world’s attention with each passing year.
Within the hallowed ranks of the Bohemian Club, a mosaic of male excellence thrives. Here, artists and minstrels coexist harmoniously with titans of industry, statesmen of renown, former stewards of the nation, venerable media magnates, and captains of power. It is a haven where members wield the privilege to extend invitations to their chosen guests, beckoning them to partake in the Grove’s enigmatic allure during the “Spring Jinks” in June or the grandeur of the July encampment.
An aura of exclusivity permeates the Grove, where select members orchestrate private soirees within its sanctuary, accompanied by their cherished kin and trusted confidants. Yet, a silent curfew befalls the female and minor guests, bidding them adieu by 9 or 10 pm, shrouding the Grove’s nocturnal endeavors in secrecy.
But within this clandestine fraternity, an echelon of “Old Guard” awaits those who have devoted four decades to this elusive enclave. Their reward is a reserved seat amidst the Grove’s intellectual symposiums, a coveted privilege echoing their enduring commitment. A living testament to this honor is former U.S. President Herbert Hoover, whose induction into the “Old Guard” occurred precisely 40 years after his initial club affiliation. Redwood branches from the Grove, meticulously transported across the continent, adorned the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, a testament to the exalted status of these venerable gentlemen.
Bearing the solemn motto “Weaving Spiders Come Not Here,” the Bohemian Club solemnly underscores that external intrigues and worldly affairs must be left at the threshold. Yet, beneath this veneer of discretion, conversations of consequence often find their way between pairs of members. Within these hallowed grounds, history has borne witness to pivotal political and business negotiations that have shaped the course of nations.
Amongst these annals of secrecy, an indelible chapter unfolds: the clandestine gathering that gave birth to the Manhattan Project in September 1942. Within the Grove’s hidden groves, visionaries and luminaries convened, including Ernest Lawrence, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and the esteemed S-1 Executive Committee heads. Academia and industry intertwined their destinies, marking a momentous milestone in the birth of the atomic age. This tale, recounted with reverence, echoes through the generations of Grove members.
However, the Grove’s mystique is not without its detractors, as it has become the subject of parody and scrutiny. President Richard Nixon’s candid remarks, captured on a May 13, 1971, tape recording, offered a glimpse into the enigmatic world he occasionally traversed, laden with intrigue and mystique: “The Bohemian Grove, which I attend from time to time—it is the most faggy goddamned thing you could ever imagine, with that San Francisco crowd.”
What is the Bohemian Grove?
Bohemian Grove, a place where intrigue and mystery abound, emerges into the spotlight during June and July. Within the lush embrace of Sonoma County’s redwood groves in California, an exclusive assembly of the nation’s most affluent and influential men convenes.
These distinguished gentlemen are no ordinary individuals; they are members of the Bohemian Club, a private enclave steeped in tradition and exclusivity. This venerable institution has, over the years, counted among its ranks US presidents, military strategists, artistic luminaries, and captains of industry.
Upon entering the grounds of the Bohemian Grove, one is greeted by an assortment of camps, each bearing enigmatic nicknames: “Mandalay,” “Lost Angels,” “Isle of Aves,” and “Silverado Squatters.” It is a world shrouded in secrecy, where select guests are extended invitations. However, a peculiar rule prevails as night falls—women and the youth must leave.
A sentinel of sorts watches over the Grove—an imposing concrete owl, its hollow visage looming over an artificial lake. It is here, amidst this idyllic backdrop, that luminaries of great stature often descend to impart their wisdom, addressing pressing matters of public policy. The significance of this congregation lies in its secrecy, where the powerful and influential convene to discuss matters that shape the course of nations, concealed within the embrace of the Bohemian Grove’s timeless groves.
During the inaugural weekend of the summer encampment, an enigmatic ritual unfolds within the confines of Bohemian Grove. Cloaked in robes that shroud their identities, figures assemble to enact a ritual, a peculiar performance aimed at exorcising the anxieties that may haunt the hearts of the gathered members. This ancient custom, shrouded in secrecy, serves as a symbolic purge, casting away the burdens that weigh upon the shoulders of those who hold the reins of power. Notably, over the years, a distinguished roster of US presidents has found itself within the enigmatic fold of this clandestine congregation.
However, amidst the whispers of mystique, a discordant note emerges in June of 2023. A group of former valets, once entrusted with the secrets of Bohemian Grove’s Monastery Camp in Monte Rio, California, has filed a complaint, seeking justice and reparations to the tune of $1.5 million. Their allegations paint a damning picture of club management, accusing them of collaborating to devise schemes that evade payroll taxes and overtime compensation.
Anthony Gregg, one of the courageous plaintiffs, has dared to shed light on the inner workings of the Grove’s retreats. His account paints a vivid tableau of indulgence, featuring copious libations and revelry, complete with the wafting aroma of cigars and hot chocolate laced with horse tranquilizers. In a candid comparison, he likens the culture within the Grove to a fraternity house. “These gentlemen,” Gregg asserts, “clasp onto the vestiges of their collegiate experiences, refusing to relinquish them even as they amass wealth and savor finer spirits.”
The Long (And Bizarre) History of the Bohemian Grove
The traditions of the Bohemian Club trace their roots back to the earliest days of this exclusive gentlemen’s enclave, which sprouted forth in 1872 amid the vibrant city of San Francisco. At that juncture, the Bohemian Club merely leased the picturesque campground that would later become the stage for their annual retreat. It wasn’t until 1899 that they boldly decided to purchase this idyllic haven.
In 1908, the words of poet and club member Will Irwin served as a lyrical ode to the Grove’s allure: “You come upon it suddenly, one step, and its glory is over you.” Once inhabited by a cadre of newspaper writers who embraced the “bohemian lifestyle,” this sacred ground gradually evolved to encompass a diverse spectrum of luminaries.
Among its hallowed ranks, artists, captains of industry, military strategists, and statesmen intermingled, their lives intertwined by the mystique of the Bohemian Club.
Notably, since its inception, this exclusive enclave has remained impervious to the intrusion of women into its inner sanctum. A legal challenge in 1978 did compel the Bohemian Club to open its doors to female employees, but membership remained a male domain.
For those who aspire to join the hallowed circle of approximately 2,500 members, the path is not without its trials. Vanity Fair divulged the intricacies of membership acquisition, indicating that aspiring initiates must secure invitations from several current members or languish indefinitely on the club’s waiting list.
Additionally, the initiation fee carries a substantial price tag, demanding a commitment of $25,000.
- William Domhoff, a venerable scholar from the University of California, Santa Cruz, has dedicated extensive research to the Bohemian Club. In his reflections on the club, he portrays it as a sanctuary where the powerful momentarily cast aside their worldly concerns, bask in each other’s company, and acquaint themselves with the artistic, intellectual, and academic luminaries who are invited to lend the gathering an aura of cultural and intellectual sophistication.
The motto that encapsulates the ethos of the Bohemian Club is a line borrowed from William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”: “Weaving spiders, come not here.” This phrase reverberates with the notion that within the Grove’s hallowed confines, the cares of labor and commerce should be left behind, allowing members to fully immerse themselves in leisure and camaraderie.
The Controversial Activities of the Bohemian Grove
The Bohemian Club, shrouded in secrecy and known for its peculiar ceremonies, has often served as fertile ground for online rumors and conspiracy theories. Among those who have sought to unravel its mysteries, right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones made a notable attempt in 2000 to film what was rumored to be a cremation ceremony within its hallowed confines.
Beyond the realm of conspiracy theories, the Bohemian Grove has drawn the ire of protestors who focus less on occult speculations and more on concerns related to transparency and governance. Mary Moore, an activist, highlighted a specific facet of the Grove’s activities that has been the subject of criticism—the “lakeside talks.”
These discussions, she asserted in a 2011 interview with Vice, delve into matters of public policy, shaping decisions of profound consequence. Yet, they unfold in the shadows, beyond the reach of public scrutiny.
Journalists, in their quest to uncover the truth, have embarked on daring infiltrations into the Grove, often with varying degrees of success. Alex Shoumatoff’s investigation into allegations of illegal logging for Vanity Fair led to his detainment for trespassing.
Philip Weiss, on the other hand, successfully infiltrated the Bohemian Grove in 1987, offering a unique firsthand account of the rich and powerful as they engaged in speeches, indulged in libations from dawn till dusk, and, curiously, relieved themselves upon the Grove’s ancient trees. His recounting of this strange experience found its way into the pages of Spy magazine.
Even former employees have unveiled glimpses of life within the Grove’s enigmatic confines. Sophie Weiner, in a 2016 expose for Gawker, detailed her tenure as a dining server at the retreat. She portrayed it as a realm where the elite could engage in behaviors that would typically be frowned upon in the outside world, a place where social norms seemed to bend to the will of its privileged inhabitants.
Regarding the membership of political figures, it is worth noting that while numerous politicians have attended functions at the Bohemian Grove, the number of presidents who were actually club members appears to have been overstated. The likes of Calvin Coolidge and Gerald Ford, for instance, have sometimes been erroneously cited as members.
In the midst of these speculations and investigations, G. William Domhoff, the seasoned scholar who has delved deeply into the Bohemian Club, has posited that, in essence, the activities within the Grove are relatively harmless.
He has described the encampment as a place where individuals of stature gather to unwind, imbibe with friends, and perhaps, on occasion, indulge in playful frivolity—a far cry from the shadowy conspiracy theories that have at times enshrouded the Bohemian Club’s reputation.
The US Presidents and the Bohemian Grove
The Bohemian Club has a storied history with several notable figures, including hosting several US Presidents.
Roosevelt and Hoover
Upon becoming President, Theodore Roosevelt was granted an honorary club membership. In a brief 1903 letter to Bohemian Club member Edgar D. Peixott, he expressed his gratitude for the “honor conferred upon me” and regretted that he couldn’t attend a club function.
Herbert Hoover joined the Bohemian Club in 1913, when he had already amassed a significant fortune through his involvement in mining and engineering. Hoover, along with a group of fellow Stanford alumni, went on to establish their own camp within the Bohemian Grove known as the “Cave Man Camp.” The camp’s name was inspired by an abandoned caveman statue previously used in a club production, as recounted in the book “Hoover, the Fishing President: Portrait of the Private Man and His Life Outdoors.”
In “Ike and Dick: Portrait of a Strange Political Marriage,” it is noted that Hoover held his Bohemian Club membership in high regard and actively sought out recruits for the club. In 1950, he invited then-congressman Richard Nixon to join him on a trip to the Bohemian Grove.
During that 1950 visit to the Grove, Nixon coincidentally encountered his future running mate, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was meeting with the Cave Man Camp. This fortuitous encounter laid the groundwork for their Republican presidential ticket in 1952.
Nixon later became a member of the Cave Man Camp in 1953. This camp, characterized as “highly conservative” even within the Bohemian Club, counted Nixon among its members. It’s worth noting that Nixon reportedly used his affiliation with the Bohemian Club to advance his political career, including his successful bid for the White House.
In July 1967, Nixon delivered a Lakeside Speech to his fellow club members, outlining his ideas on American foreign policy. He referred to this speech as the “first milestone on my road to the presidency,” according to the book “Kennedy, Johnson, and the Nonaligned World.”
Furthermore, Nixon reportedly received verbal confirmation from club guest Ronald Reagan that Reagan would not challenge him in the Republican primary that year, as detailed by G. William Domhoff.
However, it’s worth noting that Nixon’s relationship with the Bohemian Club was not without its complexities. While he was actively involved and enthusiastic about his membership, the Watergate tapes revealed that Nixon used derogatory language to describe the Bohemian Grove activities, indicating a more ambivalent sentiment toward the club in private conversations.
Ronald Reagan’s association with the Bohemian Club adds another intriguing layer to the club’s history.
Reagan officially became a member of the Bohemian Club in 1975, just a year before he embarked on his 1976 presidential campaign. He joined the Owl’s Nest Camp, where he found himself in the company of executives from influential companies of the 1970s, including United Airlines and others.
During the 1980 presidential election, however, Reagan chose to distance himself from the Bohemian Grove. As he explained in “Reagan: A Life in Letters,” he felt that his presence might pose an inconvenience or even embarrassment to his fellow Bohemians due to the intense media scrutiny and round-the-clock press surveillance he faced at the time.
Philip Weiss, in his Spy magazine expose, had the unique opportunity to meet with Reagan in the Owl’s Nest Camp during one of his visits. They engaged in casual conversation, during which Reagan casually confirmed that he had assured Richard Nixon he “wouldn’t challenge him outright for the Republican nomination in 1968.”
Reagan’s involvement with the Bohemian Club extended beyond mere membership. In a notable turn of events, he delivered a lakeside talk at the club during a gathering. In this address, he took questions from fellow club members and discussed various issues. His call for four-year terms for members of Congress and his emphasis on the need for greater regulation of the press provided intriguing insights into his political perspectives during that time.
George HW Bush
George H.W. Bush’s association with the Bohemian Club is another notable chapter in the club’s history.
In 1973, during the tumultuous era of the Watergate scandal, George H.W. Bush became a member of the Bohemian Club. At that time, he was serving as the chairman of the Republican National Committee. His membership in the club provides a glimpse into the circles he moved in during this period.
Within the Bohemian Club, George H.W. Bush belonged to a camp known as the “Hill Billies.” This camp counted among its top executives from prominent entities like Bank of America, General Motors, and Procter & Gamble. These connections shed light on the diverse and influential membership of the club.
A particularly noteworthy moment in George H.W. Bush’s involvement with the Bohemian Club occurred when he introduced his son, George W. Bush, at a lakeside talk in 1995. During this introduction, he believed his son would make a great president.
This prophetic statement foreshadowed the future political trajectory of George W. Bush, who would indeed go on to become the 43rd President of the United States.
The Rituals at Bohemian Grove
Say whatever you want, there is some strange and bizarre stuff going on at the Grove, there is no denying; some of the strangest things are:
- Patron Saint John of Nepomuk: The club’s patron saint is John of Nepomuk, a historical figure renowned for his unwavering commitment to secrecy. According to legend, he chose to die at the hands of a Bohemian monarch rather than reveal the confessional secrets of the queen.
A large wood carving of St. John in cleric robes, with his index finger placed over his lips, stands at the shore of the lake within the Grove. This sculpture symbolizes the solemn secrecy attendees have upheld throughout the club’s extensive history.
- The Sacred Owl: Bohemian Grove has adopted the owl as its mascot since its inception, signifying wisdom. A notable 30-foot hollow owl statue, constructed from concrete over steel supports, presides at the head of the lake in the Grove. This iconic Owl Shrine was designed by sculptor and two-time club president Haig Patigian and was erected in the late 1920s.
Since 1929, the Owl Shrine has been the backdrop for the annual Cremation of Care ceremony.
- The Cremation of Care Ceremony: This theatrical production has been a longstanding tradition at the Bohemian Grove, dating back to its inception in 1881. Originally a part of the “High Jinks” dramatic performance on the first weekend of the summer encampment, it symbolized the slaying of the spirit of “Care” by the hero of the Jinks play and the subsequent solemn cremation of this symbolic entity.
Over time, the ceremony evolved and was moved to the first night of the encampment. It serves as an exorcism to ensure the success of the ensuing two weeks. The ceremony takes place in front of the Owl Shrine, with the statue concealing electrical and audio equipment. Notably, for many years, the voice of club member Walter Cronkite was used as the voice of The Owl during the ceremony.
- Grove Plays: Each year, a Grove Play is performed during the final weekend of the summer encampment. These large-scale musical theatrical productions are written and composed by club members and involve around 300 participants, including chorus members, cast, stage crew, and orchestra. The first Grove Play was presented in 1902, and it has continued as a cherished tradition ever since, with a brief hiatus during the war years from 1943 to 1945. These productions are elaborate and meticulously executed, showcasing the club’s dedication to the arts and culture.
These traditions, infused with symbolism and historical significance, contribute to the unique and enigmatic atmosphere of the Bohemian Grove, making it a place of intrigue and fascination for both its members and outsiders. And due to this, there are strong security systems in place.
The Bohemian Grove’s commitment to security is apparent in its year-round protection measures, particularly during the times when members are present at the encampment. The Bohemian Club spares no expense in employing ex-military personnel to safeguard the area.
They utilize a range of sophisticated security equipment, including thermal/night vision cameras, motion detectors, and vibration-sensing alarm systems. This comprehensive security setup ensures the privacy and seclusion that members value during their gatherings.
To bolster security further, the local Sheriff’s office, California Highway Patrol, and even the United States Secret Service are sometimes called upon to secure the areas and roads surrounding the encampment, particularly if the guest list warrants such measures.
However, despite the stringent security measures in place, the Bohemian Grove has witnessed several high-profile infiltrations over the years:
- In 1980, Rick Clogher managed to gain entrance to the Grove with the assistance of an employee, assuming the guise of a worker during two weekends of the annual encampment. His daring undercover reporting was published in the August 1981 issue of Mother Jones, marking the first magazine reporting from inside the Grove. Around the same time, ABC Evening News aired a special report on the Bohemian Grove.
- In 1989, journalist Philip Weiss of Spy magazine spent seven days in the camp by posing as a guest, leading to his November 1989 article titled “Inside the Bohemian Grove.” His bold adventure came to an end when he was discovered and arrested for trespassing.
- On July 15, 2000, controversial radio host and filmmaker Alex Jones, along with his cameraman Mike Hanson, clandestinely entered the Bohemian Grove and captured footage of the Cremation of Care ceremony. Jones sensationalized the event, describing it as a “ritual sacrifice.” The footage was later used in documentary films and television programs that explored the Bohemian Grove’s activities.
- On January 19, 2002, a 37-year-old individual named Richard McCaslin was arrested after infiltrating the Bohemian Grove under the cover of darkness. During his unauthorized entry, he set several fires and was found heavily armed, wearing a skull mask and an outfit with “Phantom Patriot” written across the chest. This incident raised concerns about security breaches at the Grove.
Bohemian Groove remains a place of fascination, but what do you think about it?
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