A macabre artefact being sold in New York this month offers new insight into the mysterious Skull and Bones secret society that counts both former Bush presidents as members.
The human skull and crossbones, apparently used as a ballot box, are to be auctioned at Christie's New York on January 22 -- with an estimate of $10,000 (€6,930)--$20,000 (€13,860) -- along with a book containing the names and photographs of 50 Bonesmen.
The skull, fitted with a hinged flap on the top so that ballots can be dropped inside, is believed to have been used for votes at the secret society's meetings in the late 19th century. It may also have been displayed at the society's headquarters on the Yale University campus, known as "The Tomb".
Skull and Bones, set up as the first elite society at Yale University in 1832, has helped to define the American Establishment. Both former Bush presidents were members along with President William Howard Taft, diplomat Averell Harriman, 'Time' magazine founder Henry Luce, conservative commentator William F Buckley Jr, Morgan Stanley founder Harold Stanley, and the writers Archibald MacLeish and John Hersey.
The society's tentacles reach so far into the upper reaches of American society that the Robert De Niro film 'The Good Shepherd' suggested that a man could become CIA director only if he belonged to Skull and Bones -- a claim officially rejected by the CIA.
Every year Skull and Bones selects 15 final-year Yale students to join its ranks with a tap on the shoulder and the question: "Skull and Bones, accept or reject?"
Recruits have to undergo a bizarre initiation ritual that reportedly includes nude wrestling and confessing one's sexual secrets while lying in a coffin.
The society is said to fetishise the skull and bones and icons of death to show that life is fleeting.
The society's book contains photos of future President Taft; Morrison Remick White, who later became US Chief Justice, and William Maxwell Evarts, who became US Secretary of State. (©The Times, London)