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Credit: Slug Signorino

A friend recently told me about something called the Bohemian Grove where supposedly the leaders of our country meet annually to hold bizarre satanic rituals including burning things in front of a 40-foot statue of an owl. As proof she had me examine a dollar bill where in the corner there appears to be a tiny owl. She went on to explain that if you look at the U.S. Capitol and grounds it looks like an owl. For the piece de resistance she sent me links to videos on YouTube “proving” all this is true. What in the world is going on? —Bill Leahy

The claim is that U.S. leaders hold bizarre satanic rituals, and the proof is that there’s an owl on the dollar bill? Call me picky, but that doesn’t strike me as ironclad logic. Nonetheless, this isn’t a story somebody just made up. In fact, if you replace “satanic” with “sophomoric,” you’ve got a reasonably accurate description of what evidently goes on. Yes, big shots have been known to participate. Yes, there are robes, candles, and incantations. Yes, featured prominently is a grisly rite in which a victim is brutally sacrificed, then rises from the dead…oh, wait, that’s not the Bohemian Grove, that’s Easter. Well, you know how easy it is to get these cults mixed up.

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The Bohemian Club, a men’s club for artists and journalists, was formed in San Francisco in 1872. The group first headed north to the redwood forest camp now known as Bohemian Grove in 1878. They liked it so much they bought a 160-acre piece in 1899; this has now grown into a 2,712-acre retreat with more than 100 swank semiprivate campgrounds. The latest information I could find indicates the club has about 2,400 members, most of them well-heeled.

The club’s mascot is the owl, symbol of wisdom. Into frat-house theatrics, members constructed the notorious 40-foot concrete owl and its accompanying shrine in the 1920s. This is the scene of an annual ceremony called the “Cremation of Care,” where a “foul and pestilential demon” (apparently sometimes a human effigy) is exorcised with fire by “the avenging power of goodness and light.”

As to the other claims:

The club is a cabal of the rich and powerful. True, or at least truish. A 1991 study of members found 13 percent were on the boards of major companies. Several U.S. presidents have been either members or guests, as have Supreme Court justices, California officials, Henry Kissinger, and other heavy hitters. Richard Nixon belonged but was caught on tape in 1971 saying “it is the most faggy goddamned thing you could ever imagine.” Bill Clinton once said of the Grove, “That’s where all those rich Republicans go up and stand naked against redwood trees, right?”

The club engages in drunken debauchery. We know they drink. And the Grove is near San Francisco.

Owls hidden on the dollar bill and around the U.S. Capitol prove the club’s influence. What’s supposedly a microscopic owl is perched on the scroll framing the numeral 1 in the upper right corner of the bill’s obverse. The streets and paths surrounding the Capitol, meanwhile, form an arguably owl-like pattern when seen from above.

But let’s not get sidetracked. If you follow the news you know that any time the rich and powerful get together, chances are they’ll be up to no good. And who knows, maybe the Bohemian Grove is one of the places where they hatch their nefarious schemes. But don’t forget, to get any really serious dirty work done they have to fly back to D.C. —Cecil Adams

Is there something you need to get straight? Take it up with Cecil at straightdope.com.