What Is Bohemian Grove? The Secretive Camp Visited by Clarence Thomas.

Bohemian Grove has all the hallmarks of an eyebrow-raiser: The men’s-only retreat in Sonoma County has a massive owl statue, a reported history of public urination, mysterious ceremonies and a top-secret guest list that has included presidents, wealthy businessmen, international power players and other newsmakers.

That list also includes Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who has reportedly attended the retreat with billionaire friend and Republican donor Harlan Crow. An investigation by ProPublica found that Thomas accepted luxury trips from Crow for years without disclosing them. The travel included a private flight to Indonesia, superyacht sailings and visits to Crow’s East Texas ranch and private Adirondacks resort.

It’s just the latest unwelcome moment in the spotlight for the extremely tight-lipped group that owns Bohemian Grove, San Francisco’s 150-year-old Bohemian Club.

Founded by a group of artists, newsmen and others in 1872 “for the association of gentlemen connected professionally with Literature, Art, Music, Drama” and those who appreciate those subjects, the membership has evolved to include Henry Kissinger, Richard M. Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Charles Schwab and, yes, writers like Mark Twain and Jack London, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Today, there are roughly 2,600 active members and a “sizeable waiting list for admission,” according to the club’s website. Two representatives declined to comment on membership, guests or the club itself, though they did direct a reporter to the official website for basic information.

The club has been using the 2,700-acre Bohemian Grove property – a collection of buildings, dining venues, theaters, camp structures and redwoods – since the 1890s. The main event at the Monte Rio site is the annual Midsummer Encampment, a two-week festival of concerts, lectures, performances, camp-like activities and other artistic ventures.

Three productions serve as the centerpieces, according to the club: a ritual called the “Cremation of Care” that celebrates “members’ brief but welcome midsummer escape from life’s cares,” an original musical comedy called the “Low Jinks” and an original musical, the “Grove Play.”

The cremation event in particular has drawn scrutiny, especially since Infowars founder Alex Jones snuck into the encampment and filmed the ceremony in 2000. Mainstream journalists are also fans of trying to pierce the veil: A Washington Post reporter was escorted back to his car after trying to get in. A writer for Spy Magazine snuck in for several days in the 1980s. And a Vanity Fair contributing editor was arrested for trespassing.

Perhaps appropriate for a campground that has been called “exclusive,” “mysterious,” and “the very definition of the old boys’ club,” Bohemian Grove has been a magnet for conspiracy theorists on the right and protesters on the left, though the demonstrations have shriveled in recent years.

Despite the club’s reticence to disclose much of anything about itself, the website does seek to dissuade outsiders from the notion that members get together to make deals or decisions away from the public eye. Put aside that some planning for the Manhattan Project happened there in the 1940s, as The Washington Post reported in 2011.

“One of the exaggerated notions about the Bohemian Club is that it is a gathering and decision-making place for national and international ‘power brokers,'” the site says. “In fact, the Club is a refuge from decision-making and other pressures. The Club’s motto, ‘Weaving spiders, come not here,’ conveys the Club’s character and purpose as a social, avocational organization. Conducting business is prohibited.”