By Suzanne Bohan
(Published Aug. 2, 1999)
-- The Bohemian Club's Annual Summer Encampment came to a close here
Sunday, ending a two-week retreat for the rich and powerful that
President Herbert Hoover once called "the greatest men's party on
The club's famed annual gathering has been held for more than 100
years at the 2,700-acre Bohemian Grove in Monte Rio, about 70 miles
north of San Francisco in Sonoma County. This year's event drew in
notables such as former President George Bush, Texas Gov. George W.
Bush, Henry Kissinger, retired Gen. Colin Powell, former House
Speaker Newt Gingrich and Dow Chemical Chairman Frank Popoff, as
well as actor Danny Glover.
The men gather to celebrate what they call "the spirit of
Bohemia," said Peter Phillips, a Sonoma State University sociology
professor who wrote his doctoral dissertation on the Bohemian Club.
"This is a place men can go and hang out with people who are
similar to them," he said.
The annual gathering near the Russian River, which was first held
in 1879, starts with the "Cremation of Care" ritual, in which the
club's mascot is burned in effigy, symbolizing a freedom from care.
Members also perform several plays, and gourmet food and expensive
wine are plentiful.
While the club was formed in 1872 by a group of San Francisco
journalists, the male-only club now bars journalists from membership
to protect the group's privacy. Membership is coveted, and people
routinely wait 10 or 15 years before gaining admittance. There are
currently about 2,700 members.
The club has drawn criticism for years because of its emphasis on
privacy. What particularly concerns Phillips and others are the
"Lakeside Talks" held during the summer retreat. This year, Powell
was expected to deliver a talk titled "America's Promise Leading
Armies and Leading Kids," and Popoff, of Dow Chemical, was to give a
speech called "Environmental Journey."
"These are often public policy speeches," said Mary Moore, with
Bohemian Grove Action Network, a protest group. "And the American
public is not privy to it."
No one from the club returned several calls from The Bee.
Bohemian Grove Action Network has periodically held
demonstrations at the grove, although none were held this year.
The point of the protests, Moore said, has been "to let the
American public know that what they've learned in civics isn't the
full story on how decision-making . . . is made in this country."
The Bohemian Club, she said, "is one of the most elite organizations
on the planet."
When the group sponsors public policy talks that are held without
public scrutiny, "the average American feels left out of the
process," she said.
Phillips echoes Moore's objections to the off-the-record nature
of the Lakeside Talks.
"These are extremely powerful people and private discussions on
policy issues that affect us certainly go against democratic
principles," he said. "There's no reason that those speeches they're
giving couldn't be transcribed and made public. They have a
responsibility to be open about