Deer Island – Alexandria, New York - Atlas Obscura

Deer Island

Alexandria, New York

The private island of Yale's elite Skull & Bones society is kind of a dump. 


While it comes as no surprise that Yale’s secretive Skull & Bones society has a not-so-secret private island in upstate New York, however it’s shocking to discover that Deer Island is just a rundown hangout for drunk college kids.

The Skull & Bones society is a supposedly elite student group that has included such high profile members as both Presidents Bush, the co-founder of Morgan Stanley, and a bevy of senators and CEOs. Given their grim image, powerful membership, and secretive, ritualistic initiation ceremonies, countless conspiracy theories have arisen claiming that the organization is part of a shadowy global illuminati, or in control of the CIA, or simply grooming the secretly chosen leaders of the world. Given the wealth and power associated with the group, it would be safe to assume that their private island would be an opulent pleasure palace where the fate of the world is decided over drinks and debauchery. However, all accounts of the privately-owned Deer Island make the group seem like just another college frat.

The 50-acre island was given to the organization around 1949 and has continued to serve as its private retreat ever since. While details of the trip are scarce due to the tight-lipped Bonesmen, each new initiate is made to visit the island as part of their long introduction ceremony. There are at least three ruins on the island, each of a burnt down cottage, and seemingly the only structure still standing is one wooden cottage on the water. Unverifiable stories have surfaced telling of wild parties where the Bonesmen engage in all manner of sin, but these are tempered by leaked Facebook photos of normal-seeming college kids, getting normal-level college drunk in the dated confines of a Catskills lodge. Even the Bonesmen themselves, usually reticent to speak about their secrets admit to the island being a disappointment, stating, “It’s a dump, but it’s beautiful.”        

Whether the decline of Deer Island is a sign of Skull & Bones’ dwindling fortunes and influence or just a cleverly leaked program of disinformation to make the organization seem more innocuous is, like much of the group, a mystery.   

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