Bohemian Grove is a 2700 acre (11 km²) campground located in Sonoma County, California belonging to a San Francisco men’s fine arts club known as the Bohemian Club, founded in 1872. The club is built on four pillars: music, literature, drama and arts, and the club attracts fine artists, both well known and unknown, as well as those who appreciate them, some of whom are prominent business leaders and government officials (notably several U.S. presidents).
The club holds a 2-week long “encampment” during the month of July, where members and guests gather to share their passion and appreciations for arts. Dozens of concerts, some scheduled and many impromptu are held at the grove’s amphitheaters and at “camps” every day, and two original plays, a musical comedy and a drama usually based on historical events are presented each year. There is also an on-going art exhibit, and lectures and talks in a wide range of topics from music history to current political affairs are held.
From the founding of the club, Bohemia’s symbol has been an owl. The owl symbolizes the wisdom of life and companionship that allows people to survive struggles with the cares of the world. A forty-foot concrete owl stands at the head of the lake in the Grove and since 1929 has served as the site of the yearly Cremation of Care Ceremony. The club’s motto, “Weaving Spiders Come Not Here” taken from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 2, Scene 2, signifies that the club and the grove are not for conducting business, but are for exchanging friendship and free sharing of common passion, summarized in the term, “the Bohemian Spirit.”
The Cremation of Care was devised in 1893 by a member named Joseph D. Redding, a lawyer in New York. The New York Times described the show in a June 25, 1899 article:
“Great attention was paid to all the details, and the Druid priests who figured prominently in the show bore all the insignia of their order on their vestments. Over 500 persons figured in the spectacle, and electric and calcium lights were used to illuminate the tableaus. There was a symphony orchestra and a grand chorus. A Druids’ altar and sacrificial stone lent an air of realism to the scenes. Mr. Redding served as High Priest of Bohemia. Then came a procession of eight Druid priests bearing six chained captives– a Gaul, a Celt, a Roman, a barbarian, and two men from the Far North. Each captive was in costume and each in turn pleaded his case before the assembly, but was condemned to death. Only the Gaul, who represented Bohemia, was able to make a defense that lifted the sentence from the heads of the captives. A loving cup was then drunk by Druids, captives, and Bohemians. Mephisto and a number of devils rushed in and attempted to rescue Care from the catafalque. The devil made an impassioned address, saying that good-fellowship was a mockery and that care could not be banished. Then the Druid leader drove them into the woods with a lighted torch, which he at once applied to the funeral pyre. After this came the low jinks, a species of amateur minstrel show. Then the Bohemians retired to their tents and to such sleep as the wags and practical jokers of the club permitted them to take.”
The ceremony is still played out every year, and is meant “to set aside the nagging and often unworthy preoccupations which inhibit openness and warm sympathy for human affairs generally and for works of artistic and moral creativity in particular”.
Some past attendees have included:
- Ronald Reagan
- Richard Nixon
- George H. W. Bush
- George W. Bush
- Alan Greenspan
- Dwight D. Eisenhower
- Robert Novak
- Arnold Schwarzenegger
- Dick Cheney
- as well as other political and business leaders
Many of the notable participants have been politically conservative, leading conspiracy theorists to speculate that the club is actually being used as a meeting place to secretly determine important public policies. However, the majority of the members and guests who are targets of such attacks meet only over the middle weekend of the encampment, and the club largely remains a haven for artists and art lovers.