Bohemian Club is a 145-years old male-only leisure club for the wealthy and powerful

Domagoj Valjak
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Wealthy and influential people often tend to join various organizations or clubs in which they can congregate with other people of power. Some of these organizations are elite secret societies, organizations, foundations or bizarre religious cults, often considered by the public as untouchable, mysterious or even shady. However, people of power also need to have fun just like regular mortals and therefore might join said elite leisure clubs.

One of these organizations is the Bohemian Club, an elite male-only club, located on the 2700-acre campground of Bohemian Grove near San Francisco, California. The club was formed in 1872 by the American theater actor Henry “Harry” Edwards. In the early years of the club, Edwards organized lavish parties for his friends and colleagues, which turned into regular events.

In the 1870s, Henry “Harry” Edwards was an actor with the California Theatre Stock Company, a founding Bohemian and the head entomologist at the California Academy of Sciences.

Nowadays, the Bohemian Club is among the most prestigious male-only clubs in the world. Its members include famous artists and musicians, scientists, businessmen, and politicians. The security of the encampment is impenetrable, so only a few traditions of the club are known to the public. One of the rituals is the so-called “Cremation of Care”, a summer festival during which the members of the club pretend to burn the spirit of “care” and party for several days in a row.

In the summer of 1989, a journalist of the Spy magazine decided to infiltrate the club in order to expose its rituals to the public. He pretended to be a guest and managed to spend several days at the club before he was eventually kicked out. In his article about the club, he wrote:

“You know 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”.

Cremation of Care in 1907.

 

 

A Bohemian Club tent in the 1900s, sheltering Porter Garnett, George Sterling, and Jack London.

The Bohemian Club is obviously a place where wealthy and influential men go to rest and forget about the formal work environment. Still, some members manage to find some time between relaxing and drinking to make important decisions.

In September of 1942, Ernest Lawrence, Robert J. Oppenheimer, and several military officials started the Manhattan Project at the Bohemian Grove. The Manhattan Project was a secret government research program that led to the development of the first nuclear weapons.

Harvey Hancock standing and speaking to a group of Bohemian Club members at the Owl’s Nest camp of the Bohemian Grove over breakfast on July 23, 1967. In attendance: Preston Hotchkis, California Governor Ronald W. Reagan, Former US Vice President Richard M. Nixon, Glenn Seaborg, Jack Sparks, (unidentified individual), (unidentified individual), and Edwin Pauley.

Women are still not allowed to become members of the Bohemian Club, however, the club did face discrimination charges in the late 1970’s for refusing to hire female workers. The Supreme Court of California found the club guilty, and the club was then ordered to begin hiring women.

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Also, several women managed to become honorary members of the club, including writer Sara Jane Lippincott and actress Elizabeth Crocker Bowers.