In the summer of 1989, Spy magazine writer Philip Weiss spent some seven days in the camp posing as a guest, which led to his November 1989 article “Inside Bohemian Grove”.
He wrote about uninhibited behavior he witnessed: “You know you are inside the Bohemian Grove when you come down a trail in the woods and hear piano music from amid a group of tents and then round a bend to see a man with a beer in one hand and his penis in the other, urinating into the bushes.
This is the most gloried-in ritual of the encampment, the freedom of powerful men to pee wherever they like …” Weiss noticed “hundreds of cigars whose smokers had ignited them in defiance of the California Forest Service’s posted warnings.”
The Bohemian Club’s all-male membership and guest list includes artists, particularly musicians, as well as many prominent business leaders, government officials (including U.S. presidents), senior media executives, and people of power.
Members may invite guests to the Grove although those guests are subject to a screening procedure.
A guest’s first glimpse of the Grove typically is during the “Spring Jinks” in June, preceding the main July encampment. Bohemian club members can schedule private day-use events at the Grove any time it is not being used for Club-wide purposes, and are allowed at these times to bring spouses, family and friends, though female and minor guests must be off the property by 9 or 10 pm.
After 40 years of membership the men earn “Old Guard” status, giving them reserved seating at the Grove’s daily talks, as well as other perquisites.
Former president Herbert Hoover was inducted into the Old Guard on March 19, 1953; he had joined the club exactly 40 years prior.
Redwood branches from the Grove were flown to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City where they were used to decorate a banquet room for the celebration. In his acceptance speech, Hoover compared the honor of the “Old Guard” status to his frequent role as veteran counselor to later presidents.
The Club motto is “Weaving Spiders Come Not Here”, which implies that outside concerns and business deals are to be left outside.
When gathered in groups, Bohemians usually adhere to the injunction, though discussion of business often occurs between pairs of members.
Important political and business deals have been developed at the Grove.
The Grove is particularly famous for a Manhattan Project planning meeting that took place there in September 1942, which subsequently led to the atomic bomb.
The Cremation of Care ceremony was first conducted in the Bohemian Grove at the Midsummer encampment in 1881, devised by James F. Bowman with George T. Bromley playing the High Priest.
It was originally set up within the plot of the serious “High Jinks” dramatic performance on the first weekend of the summer encampment, after which the spirit of “Care”, slain by the Jinks hero, was solemnly cremated.
The ceremony served as a catharsis for pent-up high spirits, and “to present symbolically the salvation of the trees by the club …”
The Cremation of Care was separated from the Grove Play in 1913 and moved to the first night to become “an exorcising of the Demon to ensure the success of the ensuing two weeks.”
The Grove Play was moved to the last weekend of the encampment.
The ceremony takes place in front of the Owl Shrine, a 40-foot (12 m) hollow owl statue made of concrete over steel supports.
The moss- and lichen-covered statue simulates a natural rock formation, yet holds electrical and audio equipment within it.
For many years, a recording of the voice of club member Walter Cronkite was used as the voice of The Owl during the ceremony.
Music and pyrotechnics accompany the ritual for dramatic effect.
Though no woman has ever been given full membership in the Bohemian Club, the four female honorary members were hostess Margaret Bowman, poet Ina Coolbrith (who served as librarian for the Club), actress Elizabeth Crocker Bowers and writer Sara Jane Lippincott.
Since Coolbrith’s death in 1928, no other woman has been made a member.
These honorary members and other women guests have been allowed into the Bohemian “City Club” building and as daytime guests of the Grove, but not to the upper floors of the City Club nor as guests to the main summer encampment at the Grove.
Annual “Ladies’ Jinks” were held at the Club especially for spouses and invited guests.
In 1978 the Bohemian Club was charged with discrimination by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing over its refusal to hire women employees.
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