At the Bohemian Grove

Published on July 24, 2004

© 2004- The Press Democrat




It begins with the Cremation of Care, a ceremonial bonfire beneath a giant statue of an owl that is meant to symbolize the release of burden.

The robed men gathered at the edge of the lake include world leaders, captains of industry and celebrities, as well as lesser-known businessmen, academics and
even a musician or two.

They are drawn every July to a pristine forest of redwoods along the Russian River, where access is strictly limited to invited members and guests.

Bizarre ritual and secrecy aside, the real attraction of the Midsummer Encampment at Bohemian Grove is escape from worldly concerns.

At least, that's how one observer views this year's gathering. His account, given on condition of anonymity, provides a rare inside look at the Grove, which has
been alternately described as a sinister meeting of the rich and powerful and a silly camp for grown men.

The Bohemian Club was founded in 1872 by five San Francisco newspapermen, a Shakespearean actor, a winemaker and two successful merchants, with the
goal of connecting ``gentlemen'' to the finer pursuits of literature, art, music and drama.

Bohemians, who have been holding annual gatherings at the Russian River since 1882, insist the club's focus is still artistic. But many people associate it with more
capitalistic pursuits.

The source who spoke to The Press Democrat, a multiyear seasonal employee, said some of the camps have fire rings or a fireplace, a patio for lounging and
listening to music, a bar, a kitchen, sitting rooms, bathrooms and sleeping quarters. Many are decorated with photos of past and present camp leaders, and a few
have pinups.

Others are as rustic as any to be found in a state park. In the older, simpler camps, men sleep under canvas tents on wooden platforms.

The more modern camps are well-furnished homes, where the term ``roughing it'' does not apply. These are reserved for ex-presidents, Cabinet members and

At night, dots of light illuminate all the camps that line the roads and the steep hillsides. Men sit inside, drinking alcohol, talking, smoking cigars and listening to
music. Most camps have at least a piano.

There are field trips to Fort Ross, fly-casting demonstrations, hikes and daily skeet shooting. The Museum Talks are typically at 12:30 p.m. The Lakeside Talks,
which are held around the artificial lake where the Cremation of Care occurs, are usually at 4:30.

Campgoers also participate in extravagant plays called Low Jinks and High Jinks. At the Grove Theater, the only building is an air-conditioned structure that
houses the club's giant pipe organ.

But the most popular pastime seems to be kicking back and socializing with the same group of men who come year after year, the observer said.

Many of the camps post come-all invitations for cocktails or meals. Others join the crowd at a picturesque dining area ringed by redwoods. A small army of
waiters and waitresses, mostly young people, take fastidious care of diners seated at long, hefty picnic tables with gas-fed candelabra.

Open-air trucks with benches in the back provide transportation around the Grove 24 hours a day. And because the encampment is really an enclosed city, it
includes a library, a camp store, a museum, a barber shop, an emergency health clinic and a fire station.

For 17 days, this is the home of the Bohos.

You can reach Staff Writer Derek J. Moore at 521-5336 or dmoore@pressdemocrat.com.