• Bohemian Grove is the Sonoma County, California campground where the Bohemian Club meets annually.
• The Bohemian Club, a San Francisco-based private club that has counted a number of US presidents among its members, is a controversial group.
• The club’s reported rituals and secretive status have spawned sinister internet rumors.
• But experts and insiders conclude Bohemian Grove goings-on are no more or less troubling than a group of extremely wealthy men letting loose in the forest.
Bohemian Grove is a place where strange things happen.
In June and July, some of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the country flock to the redwood grove in Sonoma County, California. They’re all members of the Bohemian Club, a private, all-male club that’s counted US presidents, military officials, artists, and business leaders as members.
The Bohemian Grove grounds are dotted with camps bearing strange names — “Mandalay,” “Lost Angels,” “Isle of Aves,” and “Silverado Squatters.” Guests are welcome, but women and minors must vacate the premises at night. A hollow concrete owl towers over the Grove’s artificial lake, where prominent individuals often visit to give lakeside talks on pressing public policy matters.
And, during the first weekend of the summer encampment, robed figures sacrifice an effigy as part of a ritual meant to banish all worries from the gathered members.
Over the years, a number of those gathered club members have happened to be US presidents.
Here’s a look at the club’s background — and at the presidents who Business Insider could confirm were in fact Bohemian Club members:
The Bohemian Club is almost 150 years old
The traditions go back to the earliest days of the private gentleman’s club, which sprang up in 1872 in San Francisco. The Bohemian Club began renting the campground for an annual retreat, before purchasing it outright in 1899.
“You come upon it suddenly,” poet and club member Will Irwin wrote of the Grove in 1908. “One step and its glory is over you.”
Originally a cluster of newspaper writers who’d adopted a “bohemian lifestyle,” the club expanded overtime to include artists, businessmen, military leaders, and politicians.
While the club has diversified in terms of its members’ professions, women have been barred from joining since its inception. A 1978 lawsuit did result in the Bohemian Club being required to hire female employees, however.
So how do you land a coveted spot in the approximately 2,500-member club? Vanity Fair reported that you either need to snag invitations from several members, or languish for decades on the club’s waiting list. You’ve also got to be prepared to drop $ 25,000 on your initiation fee.
G. William Domhoff, a University of California, Santa Cruz professor emeritus of psychology and sociology, has studied the Bohemian Club extensively. In a post on the site Who Rules America? he described the Grove as “… a place where the powerful relax, enjoy each other’s company, and get to know some of the artists, entertainers, and professors who are included to give the occasion a thin veneer of cultural and intellectual pretension.”
The motto of the Bohemian Club is “weaving spiders, come not here.” It’s a line from William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” reflecting the idea is that members are not supposed to worry about work or business deals while at the club.
The activities at the Bohemian Grove have become increasingly controversial — especially in the advent of the internet
Because of its secrecy, strange ceremonies, and elite body of members, the Bohemian Club has long been the subject of sinister online rumors. Right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones even attempted to film a cremation ceremony there in 2000.
The Bohemian Grove has also attracted a number of protestors who aren’t concerned with the allegedly occult aspects of the proceedings.
“The thing we should be concerned about is the lakeside talks,” activist Mary Moore told Vice in 2011. ” They are public policy talks, where these powerful people discuss and choose policy, but they do so in secrecy, with no public scrutiny.”
A number of journalists have managed to infiltrate the campground — with mixed success. Alex Shoumatoff investigated reports the Club was illegally logging for Vanity Fair, and was caught and detained for trespassing. Philip Weiss snuck into the Bohemian Grove in 1987 and spent a few days mingling with the rich and powerful as they attended speeches, boozed it up from breakfast to nightfall, and urinated on trees. He wrote about the strange experience for Spy magazine.
On Gawker, Sophie Weiner also described her own stint working as a dining server at the Grove in 2016. She described the retreat as a place where the elite could “engage in behavior that doesn’t usually fly for people of their stature in the regular world.”
While many politicians have attended Bohemian Grove functions, the number of presidents who were actually club members is seemingly greatly overstated. Calvin Coolidge and Gerald Ford, for example, are often erroneously cited as members.
Domhoff concluded that the Bohemian Club reveals that there is a “socially cohesive upper class” in the US, but the Grove activities are “harmless.”
“The Grove encampment is a bunch of guys kidding around, drinking with their buddies, and trying to relive their youth, and often acting very silly,” he wrote.
As president, Theodore Roosevelt accepted an honorary membership in the club
Theodore Roosevelt was granted honorary club membership when he became president.