The Not-So-Secret Secret of Bohemian Grove
All of my life, I've been a fan of the north coast of California. I was born there, I've stayed there, camped there, hiked there, kayaked there. I fell in love with Occidental, California and it's tiny enclave of great restaurants amidst the vast groves of trees, and twisting roads that lead to the Pacific Ocean just a few short miles away.
I lived in Santa Rosa, California for a period and loved the city, nestled amongst the wineries and sleepy hills a half hour from the ocean. The two primary routes to the Pacific are via Highway 12 - the Bodega Highway, through eclectic Sebastopol and the town of Bodega (the setting for Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 movie "Birds") to Bodega Bay, and Highway 116, which winds along the Russian River to Jenner. The latter route takes you through Guerneville, Monte Rio and Duncans Mills along the way, and is known for flooding in high rain years. Not much of an assuming place, and frankly not a heck of lot to do there, but it's pretty country and a fun day outing.
Being as the familiar with the area as I thought I was, I was surprised when a coworker told me about a conservative, Republican-dominated, male-only campground located in the woods outside Monte Rio. It doesn't really match the character of the area. Even more surprising was that this campground, affiliated with the San Francisco-based Bohemian Club, has been there since the 1870s, and has regularly hosted some of the most powerful men in the world, including a number of sitting U.S. Presidents (every Republican since 1923 - yes, both Bushes), CEOs, Governors (yes, including Arnold), and a huge number of other influential men. In fact, in mid-July each year, they host a three-week encampment where many of these dudes gather to bond, pee in the woods, or whatever they do.
I Google-mapped it, because I've been in the area so many times and had no idea it was there...
Boys in the Hood
So, who exactly goes to these man camps? A sampling of names who have belonged to the exclusive Bohemian Club: Lamar Alexander, Joseph Alioto, James Baker, Pat Brown, William F. Buckley, Warren Buffett, George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, Jeb Bush, former CIA Director William Casey, Dick Cheney, Bill Clinton, Calvin Coolidge, Francis Ford Coppola, Walter Cronkite, Bing Crosby, Jimmy Doolittle, John DuPont, Clint Eastwood, Dwight Eisenhower, Malcolm Forbes, Gerald Ford, Henry Ford, Newt Gingrich, Barry Goldwater, Al Gore, Danny Glover, Alan Greenspan, Merv Griffin, Alexander Haig, William Randolph Hearst, Herbert Hoover, Jack Kemp, Robert F. Kennedy, Henry Kissinger, Ray Kroc, Art Linkletter, Jack London, Edwin Meese, John Muir, Richard Nixon, David Packard, Colin Powell, Ronald Reagan, Nelson Rockefeller, David Rockefeller, Teddy Roosevelt, Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld, Antonin Scalia, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Norman Schwarzkopf, George Schultz, William H. Taft, Mark Twain, Earl Warren, Caspar Weinberger, Oscar Wilde, and Chuck Yeager.
You get the picture. Big names.
Every July, there is a gathering of big names in world power, who give lakeside talks and hang around socializing, toss aside outside concerns and follow the club motto of "Weaving Spiders Come Not Here". Naturally, when influential people come together, agreements often come together, including a planning meeting for the Manhattan Project in September 1942, which led to the development of the atomic bomb.
Naked in the Woods
Lore around the Bohemian Grove is rampant. A lot of attention is given to the perceptual disparity between reports of ritual funerals, worshiping before a massive stone owl, wearing of KKK-style garb, frolicking and peeing naked in the woods. Normally, not the kind of stuff to get your attention, if it were part of a John Belushi movie.
A number of resources point to a variable number of rituals, allegedly satanic or paganistic at this place, presumably in a vein that presupposes a lack of empathy and caring about humans, such as with this site. Of course, this type of thing is amplified by the sheer exclusivity of the encampment, the type of attendees it garners, and by the reports of a select number of people who have "infiltrated" the place over the years, producing photos, such as those shown to the right (my favorite is the 1909 photo of the forebearers of Monty Python.)
Stephen Colbert, in a report from last year, discusses the female version of the club, called the Belizean Grove - another elite, women-only response to the Bohemian Grove, stationed in New York City and founded in 1999. Of course, his story focuses tongue-in-cheek around then Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor's membership in this exclusive club. My favorite part of this snippet I've posted below - in Richard Nixon's own words on the Watergate tapes - that Bohemian Grove is "the most faggy goddamed thing you could ever imagine" (because as you know, most homosexual persons wear funky robes, do sacrifices before a stone altar and discuss politics in secret!)
So secretive is this site that articles use the term "infiltrations" when describing various occasions in the past when a non-member has been able to gain access and listen or film events that take place there. One of which let to a 2000 documentary titled Dark Secrets: Inside Bohemian Grove. Another led to the creation of a satire film titled Teddy Bear's Picnic (here's a trailer), which was produced by the creator of This is Spinal Tap.
(You know, as a footnote, I have to say this is one of the beautiful things about the internet today - you can get anything you want on any subject, on the people who poke fun of the subject, and on the conspiracy theorists who insist there's a hidden meaning behind every subject. Ain't it great?)
To me, the whole thing just feels a little comical - both the political encampment itself, it's "exclusive" members, it's detractors, protestors, conspiracy theorists, media attention, etc. It's all so self-important, as if the story or the people involved have any real relevance to anything that matters.
It reminds me of something Dennis Lehane wrote in one of his novels about the father of his main character, who was involved in Boston politics years before - that politics is the last great secret treehouse club to belong to. All the boys wanted to belong to it, be part of the popular crowd, and sit up in the limbs spitting down on those unfortunate to walk below it. And the goal is to be able to get into it before someone rolls up the ladder and doesn't allow anyone else in.
And doesn't that just really speak to the heart of the issue?
Hoot hoot! God Bless America. Namaste. Peace out ~