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GOOD Guide: to Shadowy Organizations, the Order of Skull and Bones

Perhaps the oldest of old-boy networks, Bones's rolls boast three presidents and dozens of other movers and shakers in politics and business.

"Rari quippe boni" ("The good, alas, are few")

DOCTRINEBones runs on a mix of solemn and mock-solemn bonding rituals imported from 19th-century German academic societies. The knights must address one another by ritual names (Boaz, Thor, Hamlet, etc.) inside the tomb, never use these embarrassing cryptonyms outside, and pay a fine if they mess up. Drinking alcohol inside the tomb is verboten, though boisterous Bonesmen have won temporary leave on holidays and anniversaries. The order prepares its novices for the rough-and-tumble of postgraduate realpolitik with two years of "boodleball," a violent blend of soccer and hockey played on the tomb's dining-hall floor.

HEADQUARTERSThe tomb is at 64 High Street, in New Haven, Connecticut. Vacations are spent frolicking with their elders in upstate New York on Deer Island, a retreat on the St. Lawrence River owned by the Russell Trust Association, the Bones corporate entity. Send your correspondence to: Skull and Bones c/o RTA Incorporated, P.O. Box 202138, New Haven, CT 06520.
MYTHICAL ACHIEVEMENTSAccording to the docu-fictional movie The Good Shepherd, the CIA itself was born over late-night scotches in the cabins of Deer Island. The tomb is legendary for its trove of looted memorabilia, including a counterrevolutionary trophy case containing numerous famous skulls, including those of Pancho Villa, Che Guevara, and Geronimo, chief of the Apaches. An old letter between Bonesmen suggests that Geronimo's skull was stolen from its resting place by presidential sire Prescott Bush.GREATEST ACTUAL ACHIEVEMENTThe CIA denies having sprung from Bones's loins, but a number of knights were on the staff of the Office of Strategic Services, the CIA's forerunner. There were also a remarkable number of Bonesmen among the mid-century military, executive, and intelligence elites.
MembershipEach year, 15 Yale juniors are inducted into the Bones "knighthood" via a secret ritual that reportedly involves mock burial and the confession of sexual histories in a vault-like "tomb" on campus in New Haven. Women became eligible in 1991. The legendary five-figure Skull and Bones cash prize, deliverable on graduation, is a myth.AlumniPerhaps the oldest of all American old-boy networks, Bones's rolls boast three presidents (Taft and both Bushes), one almost-president (John Kerry), plus dozens of Cabinet members, Supreme Court justices, ambassadors, governors, senators, and generals. Cornell University, FedEx, Time, and the New York Mets were all founded by knights, as were countless hedge funds, buyout firms, and holding companies.The ExposéYale alum Alexandra Robbins interviewed several anonymous Bonesmen (also known as the Knights of Eulogia) for her 2002 book Secrets of the Tomb, a thorough and clear-eyed general history. Ron Rosenbaum, who lurked on High Street for a 1977 Esquire article, took a more obsessive approach in 2001, covertly videotaping parts of the Bones induction ceremony. It's still up on YouTube and resembles a typical frat hazing.In Their Own Words"We have a basic policy of not commenting to the press," says a courtly Henry P. Davison, treasurer of the Russell Trust Association. "I can't really say why. It's just a good policy to have." Calls to the cell phone of Coit Liles, who receives a $41,170 annual salary for serving as RTA's "administrator" in New Haven, were not returned.WATCH

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