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Skull and Bones, with all its ritual and macabre relics, was founded in 1832 as a new world version of secret student societies that were common in Germany at the time.
Since then, it has chosen or "tapped" only 15 senior students a year who become patriarchs when they graduate -- lifetime members of the ultimate old boys' club."Skull and Bones is so tiny. "There are only 15 people a year, which means there are about 800 living members at any one time."But a lot of Bonesmen have gone on to positions of great power, which Robbins says is the main purpose of this secret society: to get as many members as possible into positions of power."They do have many individuals in influential positions," says Robbins.
"I spoke with about 100 members of Skull and Bones and they were members who were tired of the secrecy, and that's why they were willing to talk to me," says Robbins.
"But probably twice that number hung up on me, harassed me, or threatened me."Secret or not, Skull and Bones is as essential to Yale as the Whiffenpoofs, the tables down at a pub called Mory's, and the Yale mascot - that ever-slobbering bulldog.
Bonesmen, as they're called, are forbidden to reveal what goes on in their inner sanctum, the windowless building on the Yale campus that is called the Tomb.
When 60 Minutes first reported on Skull & Bones last October, conspiracy theorists, who see Skull and Bones behind just about everything that goes wrong, and even right, in the world, were relishing the unthinkable - the possibility of two Bonesman fighting it out for the presidency.
As opposite as George Bush and John Kerry may seem to be, they do share a common secret - one they've shared for decades, and one they will not share with the electorate.
The secret: details of their membership in Skull and Bones, the elite Yale University society whose members include some of the most powerful men of the 20th century.
"Prescott Bush, George W's grandfather, and a band of Bonesmen, robbed the grave of Geronimo, took the skull and some personal relics of the Apache chief and brought them back to the tomb," says Robbins.
And so that any society or institution that hints that there is something hidden is, I think, a legitimate subject for investigation."His investigation is a 30-year obsession dating back to his days as a Yale classmate of George W. Rosenbaum, a self-described undergraduate nerd, was certainly not a contender for Bones. And during the initiation rites, you could hear strange cries and whispers coming from the Skull and Bones tomb."Despite a lifetime of attempts to get inside, the best Rosenbaum could do was hide out on the ledge of a nearby building a few years ago to videotape a nocturnal initiation ceremony in the Tomb's courtyard.
But he was fascinated by its weirdness."It's this sepulchral, tomblike, windowless, granite, sandstone bulk that you can't miss. "A woman holds a knife and pretends to slash the throat of another person lying down before them, and there's screaming and yelling at the neophytes," he says.
One can't help but make certain comparisons with the mafia, for example.
Secret society, bonding, stakes may be a little higher in one than the other.