Siouxland Observer


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Double Jeopardy

Just east of Santa Rosa, in Sonoma County, the small community of Occidental, California, is known for home-style Italian cooking. Several restaurants there are “famous” for family-style, hearty Italian meals.

According to Wikipedia, Occidental was once a stop on the North Pacific Coast Railroad, where a landowner known as “Dutch Bill” Howards donated the right-of-way. The railroad gave Mr. Howards a lifetime ticket (something worth having back then), and no doubt San Francisco saw a lot of “Dutch Bill.”

The railway also caused a rapid expansion of the timber industry. By 1877, there were six sawmills in the Occidental area, according to a Wikipedia citation, and surviving trees today surround Occidental in a thick forest of life. The old logging town, now a tourist hub, pops up out of nowhere at the bottom of a steep hill. The coastal fog, often cold and gray, gives the area the feel of a rainy day at camp; and on these days, before the fog burns off, the rustic restaurants beckon hungry visitors. There is good food and warmth in Occidental.

But for many, the warmth and good food is not readily accessible. For some visitors, there is a subtle feel of exclusivity about the area in general, and a single person wandering Occidental, or even a middleclass family, might pause at the unfamiliarity of the dinning there. Tales of famous visitors, such as Richard Nixon and Ronald Regan, among many others, abound even to the uninitiated, and these men could have stopped to eat in Occidental too.

Interestingly, such lore creates a thick, shroud-like pallor to a causal visitor—even when the hot summer sun bakes the fog and burns the pine trees on the hills above. And the exclusivity is real. According to a story published in the San Francisco Chronicle, signs proclaiming this fact abound just a short drive from town: “No Thru Traffic,” staff writer Adair Lara reported in 2004. “No Trespassing. Members and Guests Only. No Turn Around. Sentries scan the paths from above with binoculars, helped out by infrared sensors.”

Welcome to "Bohemian Grove," a local boy’s camp-like place for well-connected and powerful men. A gathering Mary Moore, owner of the consignment shop in Occidental, wanted to remind people, according to a story published in The Washington Post in 1981, “‘that the good old boy network is perpetuated this way.’ (Her) coalition of local citizens groups charge that Bohemian Grove is a place ‘where these men, in anonymity and without public scrutiny, make policy decisions and sustain contacts that often have catastrophic effects on our daily lives and, indeed, on the life of our planet.’"

Standing on an old logging road, at the head of the camp’s main access road, this reporter in 1983 watched as limousines and BMWs drove by with visitors heading for their first night at the camp. It was amazing to see this. Some men slowly driving by with their window down saying hello, or other comments (not very friendly as I remember) as we all protested happily into the night.

Of course, it was impossible to know what happened that summer, and the endless speculations year after year ranges from Satanism to, as Moore feared, the brokering of unilateral business deals that destroy lives and nations.

Still, it is a safe bet, when all is said and done, that the men were simply playing camp, at least those who could afford it, and doing little more.

The Bohemian Club itself is an exclusive group of men with a clubhouse on Nob Hill in San Francisco, according to one report. And I have walked by there many times on my way to and from the Fairmount Hotel. The Fairmount Hotel had a bar on the top floor of the hotel with a lazy-Susan-like table array. The tables circled round and round to view the entire bay. I sat there with Kyoko one evening, a tourist and striking woman I met on Market Street.

I have been there many times, both with friends and alone. And I am sure I once saw a sign on Nob Hill that said “No Girls Allowed.”

But tongue-in-cheek aside (and for many, whimsy is the real problem), the burning of “Dull Care” is what really riles people up near the Grove: the opening ceremony the first night at the Grove when all that is left of worry and concern is a pile of ashes at the camp fire. Much has been written of this, and an internet search will reveal some pretty unbelievable sites—including claims of satanic rituals where the site itself feels like Satan.

But it’s the huge owl in the forest of redwoods, a grove the Bohemian Club wanted to protect from loggers, that is the real source of concern—and, of course, the burning of Care in effigy.

Do these men truly run the country?

The Observer has done several searches on LexisNexis, the web and in articles published in the Omaha World-Herald. Much in the news recently concerns healthcare, of course, and the insurance industry’s (read men’s) worry, and conservative worry in general, that costs will go out of control, government will get too big and people will die needlessly.

Ironically, many of the people who took this country into debt over the war have visited the Bohemian Grove. This space will not go into the “tabloid” side with all the incredulous tales of the place. But weird stuff happens at any camp, and that includes liberals at Camp “Honesty,” somewhere in SoMa (south of Market), or perhaps the New York Times. Not only that, but conservatives will be happy to point out that many liberals have visited Bohemian Grove as well.

Simply, we owe it to ourselves, and the children, to do what we can to make the world a livable place.

Recently there has also been much in the news about the new movie “Where The Wild Things Are,” a film that according to all accounts takes childhood seriously. In a profound editorial cartoon, the Omaha World-Herald summed up the debate with hardly a word. Published October 19, 2009, the Observer hopes the World-Herald and the cartoonist will allow us to post this, and allow us an indulgence: behind the owl in the grove await the counselors from Camp Honesty.

Godspeed to us all.

Editor’s Note: Our thanks to Stefan Didak at for the photo of a neat little burg. Exclusivity aside.