Graveyard Shift

Inside Skull & Bones, The Elite "Openly Secret" Society With Highly Influential Members

Every year, 15 Yale University seniors are tapped to enter the ranks of Skull and Bones, one of the most mysterious secret societies on the planet. Skull and Bones, as Esquire writer Ron Rosenbaum puts it, is “devoted to converting the idle progeny of the ruling class into morally serious leaders of the establishment.” Skull and Bones dates back to 1832 when William H. Russell, a student at Yale co-created it after returning from Germany. Inspired by the country's occult secret societies, the club began as a faux-occult group that worshipped Eulogia, a fake goddess of eloquence, but they would quickly become one of the few secret societies that run the world.

The amount of famous Skull and Bones members is staggering, and if you go take a look at any brand names in your kitchen like Kellogg or Pillsbury you’ll be looking at the names of some of the oldest families within their ranks. There’s no doubt a myriad of Skull and Bones secrets: what follows are just a few.

  • The Initiation Has Allegedly Involved Lying Naked In A Coffin

    The initiation rituals of the Skull and Bones are some of the most interesting parts of their society, not because of how weird they are (and they're very weird), but because no one's actually sure which ritual is true and which is an exaggeration. There are multiple stories having to do with an initiation that takes place inside of a coffin. In some versions initiates lie in a coffin while they're carried through a crypt while Bonesmen chant "reborn, reborn." And in other versions initiates are made to lie naked in a coffin and describe their personal sexual history in a room full of their bros. 

    There are also stories of having to jump in a pile of mud, or maybe wrestle another initiate in a pile of mud. And who can forget the rumor that initiates are given a gift of $15,000 and a guaranteed lifetime of financial security just for being tapped to join the Skull & Bones society? These wildly different stories about the rituals function as a way to make sure everything seems ridiculous while allowing everything to seem possible.

  • Prescott Bush And His Fellow Bonesmen Excavated Geronimo’s Bones

    There's a rumor that some members of Skull and Bones are given special assignments that involve grave robbing, and that one of those assignments was given to Prescott Bush, father of George H.W. Bush. His assignment? Dig up the bones of Geronimo. According to legend, in 1918, Bush and a few other Bonesmen went to Oklahoma where they dug up the warrior's skull, two bones and some riding gear from his grave and put it on display in The Tomb, the group's meeting place New Haven, Conn.

    On February 17, 2009 descendants of Geronimo filed a federal lawsuit against Skull and Bones in order to get them to return the warrior's bones so he can rest in peace. Geronimo's great-grandson Haryln Geronimo said, "I believe strongly from my heart that his spirit was never released."

  • Both Major Candidates In The 2004 Presidential Election Were Bonesmen

    The campaign for the 2004 presidential election was a horrible slog. Not only was America in the beginning of what would become a forever war in the Middle East, but it was becoming apparent that president George W. Bush was not the best person to be steering the ship. Unfortunately, his opponent, John Kerry, wasn't really anything special. Aside from having actually gone to Vietnam (something Bush managed to avoid), the two really weren't all that different. They're both from old money New England families, they're both quasi-religious, and they were both members of Skull and Bones. 

    This isn't to say that their presidencies would have been exactly the same. Bonesmen don't all think or vote the same way, but they do both have the interest of their fellow Bonesmen at heart. During the 2004 campaign, both men were asked about Skull and Bones and both demurred in different ways. John Kerry simply said, "It's a secret." While W. said, "So secret, I can't say anything more."

  • Skull & Bones Is Rooted In Bigotry, Racism, And Elitism

    Skull and Bones was founded in the height of the antebellum era, and despite its northern location from the very beginning has had its roots in racism and elitism. Originally founded by William Huntington Russell and Alphonso Taft, the former who was inspired by occultist groups he'd encountered on a trip to Germany. These same occultist groups influenced the rise of the Nazi Party and were steeped in eugenics and "one race" philosophies.

    Of course, Skull and Bones also excluded women and very much catered to the white male elite 1% of Yale's historical student body. According to a piece in The Atlantic, this type of exclusion may be changing, as the club seeks to diversify itself even while remaining secretive and exclusive.