LeBARON: The story behind Bohemian Grove

  • Bohemian grove, 1934

The annual Bohemian Grove encampment, as a friend pointed out this week, lends itself to such tales of adventure that it has become one of the most fascinating facets of our local history.

Example: I see by my daily newspaper that some of this year's protesters outside the Monte Rio site are of the Tea Party persuasion.

Now that's different.

The road to the Monte Rio redwood grove where the rich and famous gather each July has been lined with protesters, off and on, since 1980. That's when the Bohemian Grove Action Network, headed by Camp Meeker's tenacious laborer in the vineyards of peace and justice, Mary Moore, led a group of the county's concerned citizens to confront the captains of industry, accusing them of endangering the fate of the nation. Now, apparently, it is members of the far right who have issues with this traditional retreat.

This isn't the first sea change in the Grove's climate. Not in the least. If we could, still in Shakespeare's words, "Call back yesterday, bid time return," we would find that Bohemian Club was founded in 1872 by nine San Franciscans who took it as their mission to be caretakers of the arts on the Pacific Coast at a time when American culture was seen to exist exclusively in New England and New York.

They were anything but rich and famous. There were, among them, a Shakespearean actor, a winemaker, two successful merchants and, heaven help us, five journalists.

In 1878, the club held its first encampment as a farewell party for the actor member who was moving to New York. According to the club's official historian, Alfred Baxter, everyone had such a good time they decided to make it an annual event.

That first one was on Lagunitas Creek in Marin County. The site is now Samuel Taylor State Park. In 1879, they camped on Freezeout Creek in Duncans Mills; in 1880, just east of Guerneville; in 1881, west of Guerneville. The next four years they were at (Camp) Meeker's, from 1887 to 1891 at Elim Grove on Austin Creek and in 1892 they went back to Marin, to Muir Woods.

Then in 1893, they found a campsite in a long narrow stand of old-growth redwoods owned by Sonoma Lumber Company, known as Westover Canyon.

They liked it so well they never left. For eight years, they used the property with the lumber company's permission.

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