The Bohemian Club of San Francisco
Stephen Hewitt, 21 September 2005
In his book, Jon Ronson describes some infantile antics of the rich and powerful in Bohemian Grove, in the redwood forests of northern California. ("Them adventures with extremists", Jon Ronson, Picador, an imprint of Pan MacMillan Limited, 2002)
On 15 July 2000, Ronson and a U.S. American radio presenter called Alex Jones and others gate-crashed the party by the simple expedient of dressing the part and walking in through the main entrance. Amongst other things, Ronson reports:
He was standing by a notice-board, full of snapshot photographs presumably taken at the previous night's entertainment. In these photographs, elderly preppy-looking gentlemen stood around, drinking and laughing. Some were dressed in full drag, with fishnet stockings and hideously applied make-up, humorously oversized fake breasts protruding from their nylon blouses. They struck burlesque erotic poses, their legs wide apart, fingering their buttocks, tongues out, etc. Others were dressed as Elvis impersonators, with fake chest wigs. Next to the photographs was a notice advertising the following Tuesday's concert, MC: George Bush.
Other names Ronson saw listed are Dick Cheney, Henry Kissinger and John Major. He witnessed a ritual sacrifice to a fifty-foot high stone owl. The owl was standing on the opposite side of a lagoon and a "papier-mâché effigy" was burnt on a fire in front of it. "The effigy was retrieved from the boat by (my programme informed me) the Brazier Bearers, held out to the owl's midriff, and then thrown - by the Mourning Revelry Dancers - into the fire."
Ronson's programme also informed him that this was the 121st performance of "Cremation of Care". (It also listed "Voice of the Owl - John MacAllister" amongst its credits, which is curious, because in Ronson's detailed description of this performance, the owl did not speak.)
Ronson's book makes no attempt to research into the organisers of this event and does not even name the Bohemian Club of San Francisco, mentioned on the description of the owl in the Fitzwilliam Museum.
However, that this club is indeed the organiser is made clear by this dissertation : "A Relative Advantage: Sociology of the San Francisco Bohemian Club", A Doctoral Dissertation (1994) by Peter Martin Phillips. (Incidentally, Phillips now Professor of Sociology at Sonoma State University,, California, is also director of Project Censored.) His dissertation mentions "The 1906 San Francisco fire destroyed the Bohemian Clubhouse, including its library and most of its art" (page 23). This is consistent with the Fitzwilliam Museum suggestion of a 1906 earthquake destroying a 'monster owl', since the earthquake caused fires in San Francisco.
There is also an article from the San Francisco Chronicle available on the web. ("THE CHOSEN FEW S.F.'s exclusive clubs carry on traditions of fellowship, culture -- and discrimination", Adair Lara, 18 July 2004, San Francisco Chronicle)
- Photo of stoneware owl by Robert Wallace MartinSeptember 2005, Fitzwilliam museum, Cambridge