The Bohemian Club

A Long Standing Exclusive Club

Most people who have lived in the northern California region, particularly Sonoma County, just a short drive north of San Francisco, have heard of the Bohemian Club. Chances are, many people not residing in the area may never have heard of it. It’s been in existence for well over a century but it’s mystique remains. The mystique really centers around two things. The membership of the Bohemian Club might be considered the elite of the elite. It really depends what your personal definition of elite is.

california redwood trees

California Redwoods

The other element of mystique is how closely the gatherings each year, in the middle of a beautiful redwood forest, are so guarded.

A Beautiful Yet Very Remote Location

In the middle of the coastal redwood forests of Sonoma County California is one of the oldest and most private of members only clubs you’ll find on the face of the earth. The Bohemian Grove’s 2,700 acre campground is located at 20601 Bohemian Avenue, in Monte Rio, California. Monte Rio is a very small settlement along the Russian River, in the middle of a beautiful recreation area enjoyed by river rafters, campers, hikers and Sonoma wine country tourists. This heavily redwood forested area is one of Sonoma County’s busiest during the summer vacation months. The area is also very near the Pacific coast and it’s summer temperatures are quite moderate because of this.

The Bohemian Club was founded in 1872 although not at it’s present location. The first summer camp out occurred in 1878 when members held a going away party for it’s founding member, Henry Edwards, a stage actor, who announced that he was relocating to New York City. The group got together again the next summer even without Edwards and the summer camp out continued ever since. In 1878, members first gathered for the camp outing in Marin County just north of the San Francisco Bay entrance. By 1882 the members of the Club camped together at different sites in both Marin and Sonoma Counties which included the popular tourist site of Muir Woods in Marin and a site near Duncan Mills in Sonoma County which is between Monte Rio and the Pacific Ocean.

russian river

Beautiful Russian River near Bohemian Grove

One thing for sure is that this area of western Sonoma County is a great place to spend a few weeks during the summer. The Russian River which flows through it is a big attraction.

The Bohemian Grove site in Monte Rio California was rented by the Bohemian Club in 1893 and it’s influential and wealthy members finally purchased that land and more from a successful Sonoma County logger named Melvin Cyrus Meeker.

Keeping the Journalists at Bay

Unfortunately for tourists, the Bohemian Grove was and still is off limits to anyone not a member. Not to be denied, some journalists over the years have penetrated the club gatherings. To give you some perspective of the membership of this highly elite, all-male club, it’s members over the years have included every Republican president since Calvin Coolidge, Luther Burbank, Jack London and CEO’s of industry. More recent members have included Walter Cronkite, both George Bush’s, Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon, James Baker and David Rockefeller, Bill Clinton and they say Barack Obama. There are many others in addition to these. The Bohemian Club membership is filled with many names you’re familiar with and many you’re not.

russian river mouth

Mouth of Russian River at Pacific Ocean

An ironic story concerning one journalist’s alleged infiltration of this gathering occurred in 1991 when the People Magazine San Francisco bureau chief did get into the club and did write a story of his experience. The problem was that when he tried to publish the story it was held back by upper management. It seems that among the membership of the Bohemian Club was the upper management of Time Warner who owned the publication. The official stance from the Bohemian Club is simply that this annual event is merely a time for private fun among it’s membership and guests. Many non-members have long maintained that official business is indeed conducted there. They contend that policy speeches are regularly made by both members and guests. There have also been long time rumors that Bohemian Club members had bragged that the Manhatten Project itself was actually conceived at it’s annual camp site. I’m not sure this will ever be known for certain. The Manhatten Project occurred too long ago. When the “powerful” and let’s say “influential” conduct secret meetings shielded from the press, any rumor can emerge.

There are so many alleged instances of non-members getting into the Bohemian Grove during it’s annual summer event that they are almost too many to list. Supposedly, reporters, who are officially admitted as guests, pledge not to print what they see and hear. There are so many media owners and CEO’s attending that it’s not difficult to extract a pledge. Some people alleged to witnessed the meetings, however, went on to report on what they saw and heard. To give you another perspective on the exclusiveness of this club, President Richard Nixon was quoted as saying, “Anybody can be President of the United States, but very few can ever have any hope of becoming President of the Bohemian Club.” – President Richard Nixon, 1972.

monte rio california

Monte Rio California sign on River Road

Author Mike Hanson wrote a book on the Bohemian Club entitled “Bohemian Grove: Cult of Conspiracy“. Hanson points out…”They secretly meet for seventeen days each July in a remote “sacred grove” of ancient redwood trees in the deep forests surrounding San Francisco. Some 1,500 in number, their membership roll is kept secret, but includes the super-rich, blood dynasty member families of the Illuminati; heavy-hitting corporate chieftains and high government officials”. Hanson’s book further states that…”Now the truth can finally be revealed. Mike Hanson is a first-hand eyewitness who has been inside the Bohemian Grove. In the summer of 2000, Mike secretly “infiltrated” the Grove with radio talk show host Alex Jones. They filmed several hours of footage, including the entire “Cremation of Care” ritual, which will be published in full here for the first time”.

There were several other stories published concerning the activities at Bohemian Grove. One of the most active publications on this subject was the old “Spy” magazine which was in business for a relatively short time, 1986-1998. The publication claimed to have also infiltrated the camp outs.

Some of the Activities

In addition to the so-called secret meetings among the elite, there are a few things that go on each year at he Bohemian Grove which can be considered entertainment for the attendees. Since the year 1902 the Grove has featured a full theatrical play production. During the Second World War years the plays were suspended but started up again in 1946.

jack london winery cottage

Old Winery Cottage where Jack London passed away in 1916, Sonoma County California

Another well known activity held once each summer is the “Cremation of Care” ceremony. This event began all the way back in 1881. The Cremation of Care at first was part of the play production and then became a separate event starting in 1913. This event includes a 40 foot hollow owl (reported by one source to have the voice of the late Walter Cronkite), the exorcising of a Demon and a High Priest. While probably not something practiced at most summer camps, it does sound like a sensible and worthwhile endeavor and something perhaps the lesser elite of society might wish to adopt at their summer camp outings.

The Protesters Take Note

It goes without saying, a private club of this nature that gathers behind closed doors each summer, draws it’s share of protesters. Being this close to San Francisco doesn’t hurt either. As an example, the Press Democrat newspaper, located in nearby Santa Rosa California, reported in 2011 that about 45 protesters, not exactly an “Occupy” crowd, gathered at the entrance to the Bohemian Grove on July 13th. The paper mentioned the possible connection to a You Tube video calling for a peaceful protest. The You Tube video supposedly named the gathering “Operation Bohemian Grove“. Nevertheless, a few sheriff’s department deputies were stationed there to make sure it was peaceful.

guerneville california

Guerneville California on the Russian River

Back in 2005, the Sonoma County Free Press, reported that July of that year would mark twenty five years of protest at the exclusive mens only club in Monte Rio on the Russian River. Going back even further, the same Sonoma County Free Press pointed out that in 1981 a network of peace, environmental and justice groups had formed a coalition named Bohemian Grove Action Network (BGAN) formed to call attention to what they referred to as the “good old boys” club. Apparently, one of their top issues were the “Lakeside Talks” which have over the decades included presidents, CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies, the head of the World Bank as well as military leaders. BGAN considers these public policy talks given without public scrutiny.

On the more bizarre side of stories, the November 1989 edition of the now defunct Spy Magazine featured photos it claimed were Bohemian Grove men dancing around dressed up as women.The magazine went on with other very weird details which push the imagination to the limit. I think you might want to check the sources on this one before accepting as fact. Nevertheless, this 1989 story probably helped sell magazines.

Not sure that private talks at closed gatherings like the Bohemian Club are necessarily illegal, In fact they’re not, but they certainly give conspiracy theorists food for fodder. What policy direction emerges from these annual summer gatherings in a redwood forest, if any, is pure speculation and because there virtually is no press coverage, other than reporting the gathering itself had taken place, the speculation for sure will continue.

Unfortunately the Bohemian Grove isn’t a Sonoma County California tourist destination, although at times a very scenic protester destination, however there are other nearby wine country vacation spots you’ll certainly enjoy such as Monte Rio, Guerneville, Sebastopol, not to mention the many wineries located throughout Sonoma County.

Two additional articles from Trips Into History you’ll find interesting are Sonoma County Getaways and the historic Luther Burbank Gold Ridge Farm site in Sebastopol California.

(Phootos from author’s private collection. Jack London old Winery Cottage is in the public domain)

The North Pacific Coast Railroad / A Scenic and Historic Story

The North Pacific Coast Railroad was one of those railroads that came about because of the expansion along the west coast, and in particular, the building out of the San Francisco Bay area. The railroad was a narrow gauge common carrier that ran between Sausalito California and northward to Cazadaro California very near the Pacific coast. The rail line was connected to San Francisco proper via the ferry at Sausalito. The total length of the railroad line was 93 miles. During it’s latter years the railroad was called the Northwest Pacific Railroad.

north pacific coast railroad station

Duncan Mills California Railroad Depot

The Sonoma railroad is filled with northern California history. California railroads were key to the growing lumber industry. The North Pacific Coast Railroad started in operation in 1874. One of it’s purposes was to haul lumber down to the Bay Area.

The area north of the San Francisco Bay along the California coastline is filled with beautiful redwood trees and the North Pacific Coast Railroad earned a lot of money hauling lumber. One of the largest lumber mills was located in Duncan Mills just a few miles inland from the coast and at the end of the line. As a result, Duncan Mills, which today is a nice small tourist village, was a busy commercial site. Buildings were erected right and left and included three beautiful Victorian hotels.

During it’s heyday, Duncan Mills had many eastern visitors including Ulysses S. Grant. The Bay Area was booming and wood homes were being built at a feverish pace. In summertime during the early 1900’s railroad travel was very popular. Lines of people would get their ticket at the San Francisco Ferry Building. Some were vacationers and others were looking for a same day excursion up to the beautiful Russian River area.

The town received it’s name from the brothers who started lumber operations in the area, Sam and Alex Duncan. What grew their business and what put Duncan Mills on the map was the North Pacific Coast Railroad. The arrival of the railroad introduced many more visitors to the area provided a means to ship large quantities of lumber. When the railroad came to town in 1876, Duncan Mills had a post office, a hotel and four saloons. As Alex Duncan owned lands heavily forested on both sides of the Russian River, he came into an agreement to move his lumber mill to the north side of the river if the North Pacific Coast Railroad would build a railroad bridge from Moscow Mills, located on the south side of the river to reach his properties.

The first train arrived in the new town of Duncan Mills in 1877, and the depot became the northernmost terminus on the line. Today, the tourist can visit the Duncan Mills railroad station which is still at it’s original location.The depot was constructed in 1907 and won the outstanding restoration award for the State of California in 1971.

narrow gauge railroad caboose

North Pacific Coast Railroad Caboose NO. 2

One of the old rail cars on display at Duncan Mills is the North Pacific Coast Railroad Caboose NO. 2. This narrow gauge caboose car was built in 1877 at the North Pacific Coast R. R. Sausalito shops. It was added to the line that same year.

Records are that this was the only caboose manufactured by the railroad. Another rail car is a wooden built coach that operated on the North Pacific Coast Railroad until it’s last days.

Steam trains were a common sight in this area of Sonoma County. The “Sonoma” is one of three locomotives built in 1876 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia for the narrow gauge North Pacific Coast Railroad. This engine which is now on display at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento California hauled both passengers and freight on the line from Sausalito to Duncan Mills. The Sacramento Railroad Museum is probably one of the very best in the United States.

During the 1906 earthquake, Duncan Mills lost it’s three Victorian hotels. Essentially the entire village was destroyed and was left to the sprouting weeds for years to come. The North Pacific Coast Railroad ceased operations in 1925 for a variety of reasons. The redwood trees were being depleted and a massive fire that burned from Guerneville to the Pacific coast hurried the process. In addition to this, automobiles began hitting the road and the train was used less and less.

north pacific coast railroad wooden coach railcar

North Pacific Coast Railroad wooden coach car

Today, the tourist to Duncan Mills and the lower Russian River region can see some of the old railroad cars still on display as well as the railroad depot. Duncan Mills also offers restaurants, unique shops and a fine wine tasting room.

Driving the popular River Road all the way from U.S. Hwy 101 offers a very scenic drive. The towns along this stretch of the Russian River are now northern CA resorts. River Road essentially follows the meandering Russian River as it heads to it’s mouth at the Pacific Ocean just a bit west of Duncan Mills. Duncan Mills is located 5 miles east of the Pacific Coast Highway 1.

Two additional related travel stops in northern California are the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens in Santa Rosa California and Kayaking on the Russian River.

If you’re going to travel northern California, this area along the lower Russian River between Hwy 101 and the ocean is a good addition to your California road trip planner. Duncan Mills, Guerneville, Occidental and other historic towns in the redwood country north of the San Francisco Bay area continue to be popular summer destinations for kayaking, canoeing, camping and just fun relaxation in the fresh outdoors that the redwoods and ocean offer.

The most direct way to reach the Russian River vacation town of Duncan Mills is to travel north on U.S. Hwy 101 from San Francisco and exit at River Road which is just on the north side of Santa Rosa, about 65 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Turn left onto River Road and drive west about 25 miles.

(Article and photos copyright Trips Into History)