The Bohemian Grove serves as a camp for the masters of the universe, where they can sit back, relax, and get rowdy.
The Bohemian Grove is synonymous with elitism, mystery, and debauchery. It’s a no-frills venue nestled among the ancient Redwoods in Sonoma County, Calif. For most of the year, the rustic cabins spread throughout the club’s 2,700-acre compound lie dormant, awaiting the once-yearly descent of rich and powerful men. For two weeks in July, these men exhibit behavior more likely to be seen at a frat party than in a revered national forest.
“The overriding agenda is to get so wasted every day that any reasonable person would immediately call 9-1-1 to get help,” a former guest who chooses to remain anonymous told All That’s Interesting.
The Bohemian Members
Since 1878, members of the Bohemian Club in San Francisco have been flocking to the Bohemian Grove every summer. Built as a retreat for the club members, the grove serves as a getaway for members to reconnect to themselves and with each other, and to let loose in the great outdoors.
Many of those who attend – all of them men, a majority of them white – are well known. Some are household names on Wall Street and in Washington, like Rockefeller, Roosevelt, Morgan, and Bush. Most, however, hail from the Bay Area.
Besides all being male, the attendees also share similar backgrounds. They were either born into affluence or achieved it themselves. Generally, they also have conservative political leanings. Every Republican president since Coolidge has attended the Bohemian Grove alongside executives at some Fortune 500 companies.
In order to keep in touch with their bohemian roots (they are, after all, the Bohemian Club), artists are regularly invited to attend. Author Mark Twain was a member in his time as was crooner Bing Crosby.
Though membership guidelines don’t explicitly require a seven-figure bank account, the membership fees would be hard to pay without one. The initial joining fee alone is somewhere upwards of $25,000, and the yearly fees are hardly more affordable. This is all assuming you can even get in, of course.
The former guest told All That’s Interesting that the average time on the waitlist for the club is between 20 and 30 years, though it’s “faster if you play an instrument.”
The Bohemian Grove
“It’s honestly just a place where wealthy guys from San Francisco go to be drunk knuckleheads,” said the former guest.
The grove’s back-to-nature setting is perfect for that sort of thing.
“It’s very rustic,” he said of the Bohemian Grove. “There are scores of ‘camps’ within the grove, each with 20 to 50 people. Each camp is unique and has a different cabin or clubhouse. They are all along a main dirt road. They burn firewood to stay warm and generally just host people from other camps or go visit people at other camps and provide entertainment.”
The entertainment could be anything from guest speakers and musicians to stage performances.
“A portion of the membership is dedicated to actual professional musicians, actors, artists, et cetera. so there’s great entertainment,” said the former guest.
Al Jardine, co-founder, guitarist, and occasional lead singer of the Beach Boys has been known to play at the grove. Sometimes members will get together and put on performances of Shakespeare and other dramas, or hire troupes to perform for them. Due to the Bohemian Grove’s intimate setting, members often get to meet and mingle with the special guests.
Though it’s an unspoken rule that attendees don’t mix business with pleasure, business dealings have been known to occur.
In 1967, club member Richard Nixon gave a speech on American foreign policy, calling it the “first milestone on my road to the presidency.” It was at the Bohemian Club in San Francisco following that speech that member Ronald Reagan agreed not to challenge Nixon in the primaries. Legend has it that the first inklings of the Manhattan Project were birthed within the Redwood confines of the Bohemian Grove.
The Bohemians Exposed
As with any elite “secret” society, over the years rumors have abounded, though members tend to blame that on the club’s strict no cell phone policy. According to the former guest, members can actually get suspended for having one.
That hasn’t stopped countless journalists and curious voyeurs from trying to sneak a peek at the mysterious goings-on at the Bohemian Grove. In 2009, Vanity Fair writer Alex Shoumatoff was arrested for trespassing after pushing through a hole in a fence to explore the compound. He documented his trip in a piece for the magazine.
Before Shoumatoff, radio host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and a cameraman infiltrated Bohemian Grove in 2000. The pair filmed one of the club’s ceremonies known as the Cremation of the Care:
While a spokesman for the grove denied Jones’ conspiracy theories about the ceremony, he admitted that the footage was authentic.
Prior to Jones, a Spy magazine reporter managed to pose as a member of the group for seven days, all the while documenting the trip in a piece titled “Masters of the Universe Go to Camp: Inside Bohemian Grove.”
Regardless of the conspiracies or rituals or debauchery that these intruders claimed they witnessed, members are quick to let people know that the club is mostly for relaxation, a reprieve from the stresses of the world of the rich and powerful.
“I don’t buy the conspiracy stuff. Those theories are just a product of the fact that many of the members are wealthy and powerful and there are no phones allowed, so people let their imaginations run wild. I know a number of members and none of them are Illuminati.”