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Skull & Bones 322 | Secret Societies

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Skull and Bones

Join the Society

Skull and Bones

on Aug 5, 2008 in Skull and Bones

Skull and Bones

Skull and Bones is an undergraduate senior or secret society at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. It is a traditional peer society to Scroll and Key and Wolf’s Head, as the three senior class ‘landed societies’ at Yale.

 

Skull and Bones

Skull and Bones

The society’s alumni organization, which owns the society’s real property and oversees the organization, is the Russell Trust Association, named for William Huntington Russell,who co-founded Skull and Bones with classmate Alphonso Taft. The Russell Trust was founded by Russell and Daniel Coit Gilman, member of Skull and Bones and later president of the University of California, first president of Johns Hopkins University, and the founding president of the Carnegie Institution.

 

The society is known informally as “Bones”, and members are known as “Bonesmen”.

Skull and Bones was founded in 1832 after a dispute among Yale’s debating societies, Linonia, Brothers in Unity, and the Calliopean Society, over that season’s Phi Beta Kappa awards; its original name was “the Order of Skull and Bones.”

 

The first extended description of Skull and Bones, published in 1871 by Lyman Bagg in his book Four Years at Yale, noted that “the mystery now attending its existence forms the one great enigma which college gossip never tires of discussing.” Brooks Mather Kelley attributed the secrecy of Yale senior societies to the fact that underclassmen members of freshman, sophomore, and junior class societies remained on campus following their membership, while seniors naturally left.

 

 

Skull and Bones owns an island in the St. Lawrence River in upstate New York named Deer Island:

 

The 40 acre retreat is intended to give Bonesmen an opportunity to “get together and rekindle old friendships.” A century ago the island sported tennis courts and its softball fields were surrounded by rhubarb plants and gooseberry bushes. Catboats waited on the lake. Stewards catered elegant meals. Although each new Skull and Bones member still visits Deer Island, the place leaves something to be desired. “Now it is just a bunch of burned-out stone buildings,” a patriarch sighs. “It’s basically ruins.” Another Bonesman says that to call the island “rustic” would be to glorify it. “It’s a dump, but it’s beautiful.”

—Alexandra Robbins, TheAtlantic.com

 

Once the pinnacle of the college’s social system, the society remained central to campus life through the 1950s, but since then some say it has lost much of its luster.

Skull and Bones selects new members every spring as part of Yale University’s “Tap Day”, and has done so since 1879. Recent Tap Days were held on April 20, 2009, and April 15, 2010. Every year, Skull and Bones selects fifteen men and women of the junior class to join the society. Skull and Bones traditionally “tapped” those that it viewed as campus leaders and other notable figures for its membership. The Tapping ceremony has always been a public event at Yale. The traditional form was followed for generations:

 

Every year, … about 200 hopeful juniors gather on the grass in Branford College court (until 1933 they stood by the Fence in front of Durfee on the old campus). At the stroke of 5, senior members of the societies, wearing their pins, black ties and blue suits, march through the crowd, tap their men. A tappee hustles to his room, followed closely by his tapper, or shakes his head (refusal). Each society picks 15. Tapping usually ends when the Battell Chapel clock strikes 6, but in 1936 Wolf’s Head, turned down by 17 tappees, went on tapping long after dark to fill its quota.

—Time Magazine,

 

The process of Tapping, as an admission process for a university secret society, with wide variations, have been passed on to other universities, such as University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Missouri. The longest and most elaborate Tapping process is still Yale’s.

 

The Skull & Bones Hall is otherwise known as the “Tomb”. The architectural attribution of the original hall is in dispute. The architect was possibly Alexander Jackson Davis (1803–1892) or Henry Austin (1804–1891). Architectural historian Patrick Pinnell includes an in-depth discussion of the dispute over the identity of the original architect in his 1999 history of Yale’s campus.

 

The building was built in three phases: in 1856 the first wing was built, in 1903 the second wing, and in 1911, Davis-designed Neo-Gothic towers from a previous building were added at the rear garden. The front and side facades are of Portland brownstone and in an Egypto-Doric style.

The 1911 additions of towers in the rear created a small enclosed courtyard in the rear of the building, designed by Evarts Tracy and Edgerton Swartwout, Tracy and Swartwout, New York. Evarts was not a Bonesman, but his paternal grandmother Martha Sherman Evarts and maternal grandmother Mary Evarts were the sisters of William Maxwell Evarts (S&B 1837). Pinnell speculates whether the re-use of the Davis towers in 1911 was evidence suggesting that Davis did the original building; conversely, Austin was responsible for the architecturally similar brownstone Egyptian Revival gates, built 1845, of the Grove Street Cemetery, to the north of campus. Also discussed by Pinnell is the “tomb’s” aesthetic place in relation to its neighbors, including the Yale University Art Gallery. New Hampshire landscape architects Saucier & Flynn designed the wrought-iron fence that currently surrounds a portion of the complex in the late 1990s.

 

Conspiracy theories

Skull & Bones is a regular feature in many conspiracy theories, which claim that the society plays a role in a global conspiracy for world domination. It is true that some prominent families had one or more members as Bonesmen.

The theorists such as Alexandra Robbins suggest that Skull & Bones is a branch of the Illuminati,or that Skull & Bones itself controls the Central Intelligence Agency;[citation needed] the conspiracy theorists relying on supposed personal connections and coincidences[citation needed].

Others who have written about Skull & Bones were economist Antony C. Sutton, who wrote a book on the group titled America’s Secret Establishment: An Introduction to the Order of Skull & Bones. and Kris Millegan, who wrote a book on the society in 2003

 

 


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