Where’s the fashionable rendezvous for the World’s Secret Government?
In the good old days when the Illuminati had a firm grip on things, it was wherever the Bilderbergers decided to pitch their tents. Then Nelson and David Rockefeller horned their way in, and the spotlight moved to the Trilateral Commission. Was there one secret government or two?
Some said all the big decisions were taken in England, at Ditchley, not so far from the Appeasers’ former haunts at Cliveden
and only an hour by Learjet from Davos, which is where jumped up
finance ministers and self-inflating tycoons merely pretend they
rule the world.
But comes next July 14 and every self-respecting member of the
Secret World Government will be in a gloomy grove of redwoods
alongside the Russian river in northern California, preparing to
Banish Care for the 122nd time, prelude to three weeks
drinking gin fizzes and hashing out the future of the world.
Many an empire has of course been run by drunken men wearing make-up.
But a long, hard look at the Bohemian Club, its
members and appurtenances, suggests that behind the pretense of
Secret Government lies the reality of a summer camp for a bunch of
San Francisco businessmen, real estate plungers and lawyers who long
ago had the cunning to recruit some outside megawattage (e.g.,
Herbert Hoover, a Rockefeller, Richard Nixon) to
turn their mundane frolicking into the simulacrum of
Secret Government and make the
In his memoirs Hoover wrote that within one hour of Calvin Coolidge’s announcement in 1927 that he would not run again,
Hoover was at the Grove again the
following summer, as he had been with some considerable regularity
since 1911, when news came that Republicans had chosen him for their
It was at the Bohemian Grove that America’s
nuclear weapons program was first devised by physicists such as
Grove members Ernest O. Lawrence and Edward Teller -
meeting with other members who were then in government, all
confident of the security of the redwood clubhouse built by
Bernard Maybeck (my favorite of all American architects) in
Where else could such men hope to chat privately with the head of
IBM, a couple of Rockefellers, bankers galore, a Justice of the US
Supreme Court and Charlton Heston? Even the prickly Lee
Kuan Yew hastened to visit the club, only to have the
mortification of being mistaken for a waiter.
pulled in a few wealthy men of commerce to pay for the champagne and
the rot soon set in. Within a very few years the lowly scriveners
were on their way out, except for a few of the more presentable
among them to lend a pretense of Boho-dom - and Mammon had seized
The final blow to the hacks came soon thereafter.
Near the end of the last century the cult of the redwood grove as Nature’s cathedral was in full swing and the Boho-businessmen yearned to give their outings a tincture of spiritual uplift. The long-range planning committee of the club decided to buy a grove some sixty miles north of the city near the town of Monte Rio.
When the wheeling and dealing was over, the club owned 2,700 acres of redwoods, a grove of the mightiest of thousand-year-old Sequoia sempervirens:
Soon the ancient redwoods, hated by the
Pomo Indians of the area as clammy and sepulchral, rang to
the laughter of the disporting men of commerce.
picked out by torchlight, robed tycoons move slowly into a clearing
with a bier supporting the effigy of Care. Amid stentorian
chants, a blare of music and leaping flames, Care is finally
cremated. In its place the flame of eternal friendship is ignited
and three weeks of Boho-dom are underway.
Many of the Boho rituals and its first play, The
Triumph of Bohemia, were worked up by a real estate speculator
called George Sterling who took to poesy and Boho-dom late in
life and banished Care permanently in 1926 by taking strychnine in
the Club’s city premises.
But Tom worked for an independent contractor supplying
food and help and got $125 a day plus tips (officially banned at the
Grove) and ended up with $3,000 for his three-week stint.
The Bohemian Club is set up along frat house lines. Instead of Deltas and Pi Etas there are camps, some 120 in all, stretching along River Road and Morse Stephens canyon.
Their names follow the imaginative arc of American industrialists and financiers over the past hundred years, from,
The camp Tom lived and worked at was thick with real estate tycoons and had a reputation for good food and comfortable appointments.
Tom fixed the early morning gin fizzes and kindred cobweb banishers. He got the papers - San Francisco Chronicle, Wall Street Journal, New York Times. He cleaned up the mess left by the Bohos’ nocturnal revels. He served up the fruits, juices, eggs and bacon and listened to captains of commerce start their day’s chat about business affairs.
The club has a famous motto, "weaving spiders not come here," meaning No shop talk, but Tom laughs.
By midmorning it’s another day in
Bohemia, with Tom’s hands never idle as he runs up Old Fashioneds
and Manhattans. The members prefer to mix their own martinis.
He sneered too, though more deferentially, at lordly Mandalay camp, inaccessible save by written invitation by a member, luxuriously appointed and stocked with the Membership Committee’s most determined stab at the pretense of Secret Government.
Here are to be found members of the Bechtel clan, owners of the largest engineering contractorship in the world, veterans of Republican Washington of,
The waiting lists for membership are so long it takes years for the novitiate to be admitted. Lobbying is pathetically fierce.
Tom Watson, the builder of IBM, once took a long weekend off from his retirement job as US ambassador to Moscow to fly to San Francisco to dine with a Bohemian Grove board member and discreetly lobby for membership. A friend of mine, big in Reagan’s time, has been on the doorstep for 15 years. He says he likes it that way.
He’s spared the hefty signup fee of around
$10,000 and annual membership dues and only has to pony up when he’s
invited, which is every two or three years. Particularly in the more
sumptuous camps even this takes plenty of money, sharing bills for
retinues of uniformed servants, vintage cellars, master chefs and
kindred accouterments of spiritual refreshment. But what, in the
end, does the member get for his pains?
During the day there
are enviro-strolls with some biologist from Stanford or Berkeley
lecturing his retinue on successional stages in redwood
regeneration. There’s skeet-shooting on the private range. There’s
endless dominoes, the Grove’s board-game par excellence. There’s Not
Being At Home with the wife. But best of all, there are the talent
revue and the play.
Tycoons vie eagerly for the privilege of shifting a stage prop or securing the best computerized lighting system that money can provide. Although the talent shows put on by Merv Griffin and Art Linkletter were reckoned at least in past years to be good, the plays are pretty awful, heavily freighted with double-entendres about swollen members and the like.
A poster for
one Grove play, Pompeii, featured a mighty erection under a toga,
modeled no doubt on the redoubtable organ in the Pompeiian fresco
photographed by many a touring tycoon.
World affairs stood still a few seasons ago as Henry Kissinger prepared for his big moment, which was to enter, dressed as a dumpy man wearing a Kissinger mask which he duly pulled off, to reveal the ever-familiar features, while announcing in his glottal accent,
Puissance - this is after all a mature
crowd scampering about amid the Sequoia sempervirens - is a big
theme, and the drag acts are heavily overstated.
anthropologists of Boho culture even believe that the Grove is now
encircled with gay residential suburbs that have inevitably sprung
up to accommodate these migrants.
Randy members break
bounds and head for such straight cruising spots as the Northwood
Lodge and Country Club where vigorously bejeweled women in their
thirties are to be found
He said it was a big shot in the arm for Monte Rio’s ailing economy.
This same caller moved from shots in the
arm to shots in another location. He said he stocked his cabins with
plenty of booze as well as syringes of a potency drug recently
approved by the Food and Drug Administration which furnishes
four to six-hour erections. Sempervirens indeed. The Monte Rio
caller added that at least this quotient of Secret Government
included good tippers, doling out splendid gratuities to their
Dole wasn’t even a member and with Bill
and Hillary in office, journalists dashed off each year to the
Carolina coast to write about the Renaissance Weekend at Hilton Head
where the idiom was of the 1990s - self-awareness, being in touch
with your inner self, networking - rather than the 1890s - making
merrie, getting drunk and using the Old Boy Net.
For the Rally and Line of Shame, be at the Monte Rio parking lot across from the Rio theater at 2pm, July 14.