In an age in which it seems that all that could possibly be concealed about anything and anybody has been revealed, those blank tombstone walls could be holding the last secrets left in America. You could ask Averell Harriman whether there's really a
sarcophagus in the basement and whether he and young Henry Stimson and young Henry Luce (Time magazine) lay down naked in the coffin and spilled the secrets of their adolescent sex life to 14 fellow Bonesmen. You could ask Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart if there came a time in the year 1937 when he dressed up in a skeleton suit and howled wildly at an initiate in a red-velvet room inside the tomb. You could ask McGeorge Bundy if he wrestled naked in a mud pie as part of his initiation
and how it compared with a later
quagmire into which he so eagerly plunged. You could ask Bill Bundy or William F. Buckley, both of who went into the CIA after leaving Bones - or George Bush, who ran the CIA / President - whether their Skull and Bones experience was useful training for the clandestine trade. ("Spook," the Yale slang for spy.) You could ask J. Richardson Dilworth, the Bonesman who now manages the Rockefeller fortune, just how wealthy the Bones society is and whether it's true that each new initiate gets a no-strings gift of fifteen thousand dollars cash and guaranteed financial security for life.
You could ask...but I think you get the idea. The lending lights of the Eastern establishment - in old-line investment banks (Brown Brothers Harriman pays Bone's tax bill), in a blue-blood law firms (Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, for one), and particularly in the highest councils of the foreign-policy establishment - the people who have shaped America's national character since it ceased being an undergraduate power, had their undergraduate character shaped in that crypt over there. Bonesman Henry Stimson, Secretary of War under F.D.R., a man at the heart of the heart of the American ruling class, called his experience in the tomb the most profound one in his entire education.
But none of them will tell you a thing about it. They've sworn an oath never to reveal what goes on inside and they're legendary for the lengths to which they'll go to avoid prying interrogation. The mere mention of the words "skull and bones" in the presence of a true-blue Bonesman, such as Blackford Oakes, the fictional hero of Bill Buckley's spy thriller, Saving the Queen', will cause him to "dutifully leave the room, as tradition prescribed." I can trace my personal fascination with the mysteriouis goings- on in the sepulcher across the street to a spooky scene I witnessed on its shadowy steps late one April night eleven years ago. I was then a sophmore at Yale, living in Jonathan Edwards, the residential college (anglophile Yale name for dorm) built next to the Bones tomb. It was part of Jonathan Edwards folklore that on a April evening following "tap night" at Bones, if one could climb to the tower of Weir Hall, the odd castle that overlooks the Bones courtyard, one could hear strange cries and moans coming from the bowels of the tomb as the fifteen newly "tapped" members were put through what sounded like a harrowing ordeal. Returning alone to my room late at night, I would always cross the street rather than walk the sidewalk that passed right in front of Bones. Even at that safe distance, something about it made my skin crawl.
But that night in April I wasn't alone; a classmate and I were coming back from an all-night diner at about two in the morning. At the time,...