Secret societies: tombs and tradition

Many Yalies have a common goal: to be tapped by a secret society. There is no secret formula, just many myths and rumors. Each spring, the societies have “Tap Night,” in which current members select juniors and force them to wear silly costumes and perform strange activities in exchange for entrance into the group.

Don’t expect to find out much about these buildings without windows, however. It is commonly known that societies generally meet every Thursday and Sunday night, and while members will acknowledge that they’re “going to society,” they are generally not allowed to divulge which society they are in. Society is a place to make connections or to get a future job in the CIA — but it is highly unlikely that your society is going to buy you a Porsche.

Secret societies are something that makes Yale unique and elitist, though all the societies are now coed.

The most mysterious and well-known of Yale’s societies, thanks in part to the fictionalized Joshua Jackson movie “The Skulls,” Skull and Bones was founded in 1832. Notable Bonesmen include former President Taft and both current and former Presidents Bush.

Each Bonesman or Boneswoman is assigned a Sunday night during which to tell his or her life history to fellow members who are sworn to secrecy, history professor Gaddis Smith told the Yale Daily News. Members also have “Connubial Bliss” nights during which a member divulges all sexual experiences to fellow Bonesmen, Smith said.

The next most famous society is Scroll and Key, with alumni such as Dean Acheson, Cole Porter and Cornelius Vanderbilt. Though not as prestigious as Skull and Bones, Scroll and Key uses a similar system of tapping members based on extracurricular achievement, and also has an extremely large endowment. Scroll and Key was founded in 1841 in opposition to Skull and Bones.

Berzelius was founded in 1848 and is rumored to be in poor financial standing. Not quite as somber as some of the other societies, some know Berzelius as the “party society.” Book and Snake also has a party reputation, with a large number of athletes and fraternity and sorority members.

Manuscript, the location of a society party in Tom Perlotta’s novel “Joe College,” involves faculty and alumni in the tapping process.

Elihu, noted as a left-wing society, invites every member of the junior class to participate in its interview process. Because of its open interviewing process, Elihu is considered to be less prestigious. St. Anthony Hall is another type of society, which invites every sophomore to join. Located next to Silliman, St. A’s is not so secret.

Other societies include St. Elmo’s and Mace and Chain. Though Mace and Chain does not currently have a tomb, it has recently been re-established through alumni funding.

Though you won’t find their tables at the freshman bazaar, now you have a bit of insight as to what goes on in those windowless buildings — and what you have to aspire to.

–Yale Daily News

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