Uncovering a not-so-secret Hopkins past

The John Hopkins News-Letter
Feb. 16, 2006

The three mysterious numbers under the insignia of the famous Skull and Bones are 322. Some say these numbers denote the establishment of a New World Order in 322 B.C. Others claim that the Skull and Bones is Chapter 322 of a German secret society. Some even believe that the skull-and-crossbones crest on pirate flags originated from the secret society Skull and Bones.

From the well-known Skull and Bones to their arch rival, the Scroll and Key Society at Yale, secret societies have always been unique student institutions in the country. Marked by athletic ability, scholarship, fellowship and most importantly, great wealth, members of secret societies have always, appropriately, kept their identities and relationship with the societies a secret.

Members of secret societies have historically denied their membership and have kept their institutions secrets by oath, often leading to speculation by outsiders. As author Anthony Sutton writes in America's Secret Establishment, the term "Skull and Bones" is known differently by insiders as "The Order," by others as "Chapter 322" and was also once known as the "Brotherhood of Death."

Such uncertainties have constantly led to speculation; some even claim that Skull and Bones is really an undercover organization attempting to rule the world. And they really seem to accomplish that goal. Franklin Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, George H.W. Bush and George Bush, all "Bonesmen" at one point, have assumed the single most prestigious position in the government.

Many others have taken up other significant roles, from such public positions as senators, attorney generals, U.S. secretaries, Federal Reserve chairmen and chief justices, to those in the private sector such as the Rockefellers, Harold Stanley (founder of Morgan Stanley) and presidents of numerous colleges.

What about Hopkins? Despite being the elite, history-rich university that it is, Hopkins does not seem to have its own version of Skull and Bones. And for those looking forward to learning about Hopkins' own secret society in this article, unfortunately we have not had a history of secret societies according to both the library archivist and Rob Turning, Coordinator of Greek Life.

We either never had one, or its members have been doing a hell of a job keeping their business secret. But given the extent to which secret societies have been exploited and their secrets compromised by the media and other college students over the years, it is also hard to think that a secret society could have been kept a secret all these years if Hopkins actually had one.

Although Turning does not know of any secret society on campus, he reckons that there are certain contributions a secret society would have at Hopkins. He believes that secret societies would bring an "increased sense of school spirit and involvement."

He said that the ultimate goal of such societies would be to "ingrain themselves into the university" as many members of secret societies at other colleges are often involved in athletics, student government and other positions of power.

He expects a secret society would be popular among Hopkins students, since many would seek it out because membership would associate one with the elite. While secret societies would bring positive influences to campus, Turning also believes that these institutions would have negative effects on the student body.

On one hand, many would be skeptical about such an organization, but on the other hand, discrimination, sexism and racism would play a significant role as secret societies have had a history of only recruiting rich, white males.

Furthermore, from the many prominent positions that Bonesmen fill in the outside world, secret societies seem to prepare their members for the outside world with a vast network of connections. If Hopkins had a secret society, its members might just reach such pinnacles of business, politics, education and service that secret societies members have.

Secret societies may still seem distant to us, but one Bonesman has undeniably affected every Hopkins student's life -- Daniel Coit Gilman. Gilman, a name familiar to many, the first president of our very own school, was a member of the 1852 class of Skull and Bones. This Bonesman played an active role in founding Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Medical School, and he was immortalized by the establishment of Gilman Hall, the landmark of Homewood.

Another link between secret societies and Johns Hopkins lies in our fraternities. Many fraternities are said to employ ritual systems that are supposedly kept secret. They don't make their recruits lay nude in coffins during Satanic rituals like they do in Skull and Bones, but many other initiation rituals date back to Masonic order rites, sharing common ancestry with secret societies.

Despite the fact that there don't seem to be any secret societies hiding in the corners of Homewood, it is still an interesting thought to consider. If a senior walks up to you one of these days, taps you on the shoulder and asks, "I offer you an election to [insert your version of Hopkins' secret society]. Do you accept?" Would you?

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