A Yale Senior Society Building
The Wall Street Journal today published a story (based on an article in the Yale Alumni Magazine) featuring just the kinds of themes illustrative of the arrogance and oppression of the ancien regime beloved by the hearts of liberal journalists.
Skull and Bones, the most prestigious of Yale’s senior societies, derives its public name from its use of that emblem, typical of the Freemasonry-inspired imagery adopted unversally by student fraternities founded in the 19th century Romantic era. Memento mori were characteristically exhibited to remind fraternity members that life is fleeting.
Skull and Bones, from the time of its foundation in 1832, has had a policy of deliberately encouraging wild rumors of its own dark secrets, influence, and power in order to enhance its prestige. One of the most popular legends, right up there with tales of guaranteed lifetime incomes, and Skull and Bones’ alleged control of governments and national economies, is the legend of the Bones collection of the skulls of famous individuals, including that of the famous Apache warrior, Geronimo.
The association of skulls with the society’s emblem supposedly makes their aquisition highly desirable to the society, so generations of enterprising and influential Yale men have spent their spare time bribing officials and excavating graveyards by moonlight in order to carry back prizes to be housed in the recesses of its High Street headquarters. The reality seems to be that the senior society does possess a human skull and pair of femurs, purchased as anatomical specimens back in the 19th century, which have been used emblematically since in annual photographs of class delegations.
A skull is a skull is a skull, and nothing has ever prevented dark hints that this particular skull is Geronimo’s, or Pancho Villa’s, or President van Buren’s. And like the legends of subsidized incomes, or the immense swimming pool supposedly in the club’s basement, the wilder the story, the more eagerly it was taken up and repeated as gossip in the college community. Bonesmen smiled behind the closed doors of their impressive clubhouse, as the hints they dropped, and the rumors they spread themselves, blossomed into wide acceptance, inspiring outsiders with awe.
The Geronimo skull legend made the news wires back about a generation ago, and in 1986 the Yale Society offered to return the supposed Geronimo relic to Indian possession, but Indian representatives were not satisfied with the skull they were offered and were unwilling to sign a receipt for its delivery.