Hugh’s News: Summer camp for leaders of the free world
BY HUGH TURLEY — This summer, the sweet fragrance of honeysuckle will be in the air as area children head off to sleep-away camp. On the West Coast, under the canopy of the California redwood forest, over 2,000 carefully chosen industrialists, bankers, government officials and other luminaries will gather this month to continue a tradition that dates back more than a century.
The secluded encampment called the Bohemian Grove is shrouded in secrecy about what goes on and who is invited, but occasional stories have surfaced in such venues as ABC News and magazines like Parade, Mother Jones and Spy.
Political figures at the hideaway have included every Republican president since Calvin Coolidge; Generals Colin Powell, Norman Schwarzkopf and Alexander Haig; Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia, Earl Warren and Stewart Potter; and influential leaders of corporations like IBM, Bechtel and Bank of America. Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Kenneth Starr have also attended.
The two-week retreat begins with “The Cremation of Care,” an evening ritual burning of an effigy on an altar under a 40-foot statue of an owl, with chants from a robed chorus that looks like Ku Klux Klansmen. For years, the late Walter Cronkite – “the most trusted man in America” – served as the voice of the owl during the ceremony.
In a 1981 Parade magazine article, Jack Anderson reported “The participants in this strange ceremony are not part of a secret conspiracy that had infiltrated the nation’s power structure. They were simply enjoying a midsummer frolic at the world’s most exclusive summer camp … owned and operated by the elite Bohemian Club of San Francisco.”
Guests from the other side of the aisle include Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Al Gore and former Speaker of the House Tom Foley. Alan Greenspan visited the Bohemian Grove before he became Chairman of the Federal Reserve. Other notables over the years have included Rupert Murdoch, Isaac Stern, Bing Crosby, Herman Wouk and Merv Griffin.
Presidential adviser David Gergen, editor-at-large for U.S. News and World Report, resigned his membership in the Grove during the Clinton administration after some fuss about it being an all-male club. At that time, the Washington Times reported, Gergen had said “he wouldn’t run around naked through the encampment.”
In 1981, ABC News reported that exclusive members included CIA Director William Casey and William F. Buckley and that “activities included hiking, swimming, relaxing in the sun, and doing a bit of drinking.”
Phil Weiss, who claimed he slipped into the Grove uninvited, filed a different version of events in his story for Spy in 1989. Weiss described juvenile joking about sex and continual urinating in the woods.
“I was able to enjoy most pleasures of the Grove, notably the speeches, songs, elaborate drag shows, endless toasts, pre-dawn Gin Fizzes, round-the-clock Nembutals and other drinks,” wrote Weiss, “though I didn’t sleep in any of the camps or swim naked with like-minded Bohemians in the Russian River at night.”
Former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt described his first visit to the Bohemian Grove, as the guest of George Shultz. In his political retrospective Men and Power, Schmidt wrote, “[it] was one of the most astounding experiences I ever had in the United States.”
During what are called Lakeside Talks, guests address members on their area of expertise. Last year, Arnold Schwarzenegger was a speaker. The name of disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner has not surfaced as an attendee, but if he was there he might well have picked up a few pointers.