Subscribe via RSS Feed Connect on Instagram Connect on Pinterest Connect on LinkedIn

Deer Island

Written by on January 5, 2016 in Island Life Magazine

 

By Kim Lunman

This rustic island has been shrouded in mystery for more than a century as a summer retreat for America’s most famous secret society. It’s a  hideway for Yale University’s Skull and Bones, an elite society that counts U.S. presidents among its members known as “Bonesmen” and has been the subject of several Hollywood movies.

This cottage at the tip of Deer Island is a summer retreat for the secretive Skull and Bones Society. Photo by Kim Lunman/Island Life Magazine/islandlifemag.ca

This cottage at the tip of Deer Island is a summer retreat for the secretive Skull and Bones Society. Photo by Kim Lunman/Island Life Magazine/islandlifemag.ca

The Skull and Bones was founded in 1832. Its roots on Deer Island date back 160 years ago. Samuel Miller bought the 50-acre island near Alexandria Bay in 1856 for

$175 – decades before George C. Boldt starting building his opulent castle on Heart Island just upriver during the Golden Age. It was the summer residence for Miller’s son, Yale Alumnus and Skull and Bones

An osprey that has made a nest out of ruins watches over boaters on the south side of Deer Island. Photo by Kim Lunman/Island Life Magazine/islandlifemag.ca

An osprey that has made a nest out of ruins watches over boaters on the south side of Deer Island. Photo by Kim Lunman/Island Life Magazine/islandlifemag.ca

member George Douglas Miller, a millionaire from Albany N.Y.

 

Deer Island was one of the first islands in what has become known as The 1000 Islands region to have been sold as a summer retreat. The island’s southern shores face the U.S. shipping channel while the northern side faces the Canadian channel near the international boundary of the St. Lawrence River.

Today it is owned by the Russell Trust Association, which oversees the Yale organization.

Its members include former U.S. Presidents Howard Taft, George Bush Sr. and George W. Bush as well as George Bush Sr.’s father, Prescott Bush. It has been widely reported Prescott was
among a group of Bonesmen who dug up the grave of Native American warrior Geronimo and absconded with h is skull during World War I.

The Ledges, is a cottage on the southwestern tip of Deer Island, used by the Skull and Bones Society. Photo by Kim Lunman/Island Life Magazine/islandlifemag.ca

The Ledges, is a cottage on the southwestern tip of Deer Island, used by the Skull and Bones Society as a summer retreat. Photo by Kim Lunman/Island Life Magazine/islandlifemag.ca

Other prominent Bonesmen include conservative columnist William F. Buckley, Heinz Ketchup heir H. J. Heinz II, Time Magazine Publisher Henry Luce, Percy Rockefeller and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. About 15 undergraduates are chosen annually to join Skull and Bones and it’s estimated there are about 700 alumni in the world. It  was founded at Yale University in New Haven Connecticut in 1832. The society has a legendary code of secrecy. Both Bush presidents refused to publicly discuss the historic fraternity, which first started allowing female members in 1991.

George Bush Sr., the first standing at he left in 1947, with Yale's Skull and Bones Society.

George Bush Sr., the first man pictured here standing at he left in 1947, with Yale’s Skull and Bones Society. Presidents George W. Bush and Howard Taft were also members of this society linked to the 1000 Islands.

But Skull and Bones has attracted its share of publicity in more recent years. The movie The Good Shepherd, about the birth of counter-intelligence in the CIA stars Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie. Damon’s character is depicted as a member of Yale University’s Skull and Bones. The Skulls, a psychological thriller, focuses on conspiracy theories surrounding Skull and Bones. It has also been featured on 60 Minutes, Time Magazine, and is the subject of a book, Secrets of the Tomb. It’s iconic secrecy involving America’s top Ivy League power players has even been spoofed on an episode of the Simpsons.

Deer Island has been a summer retreat for Yale University's Skull and Bones Society for well over a century. Photo by Kim Lunman/Island Life Magazine/islandlifemag.ca

Deer Island has been a summer retreat for Yale University’s Skull and Bones Society for well over a century. It was purchased in 1856 for $175. Photo by Kim Lunman/Island Life Magazine/islandlifemag.ca

The secret society’s tranquil setting, located on this private U.S. island near Alexandria Bay and Rockport Ontario and a stretch of River known as Millionaire’s Row  is located just across from Boldt Castle and isn’t exactly secluded as tour boats rumble pass it with frequency during the summer months. Rumours of Skull and Bones and rituals have long swirled around Deer Island. An Osprey nests on one of the granite ruins on the south shore of the island keeping territorial watch over passing boaters.

Another cottage on Deer Island's southern shores. Photo by Kim Lunman/Island Life Magazine/islandlifemag.ca

A  cottage on Deer Island’s southern shores. Deer Island was one of the first 1000 Islands to be sold as a summer retreat when the area was discovered as a cottage colony. Photo by Kim Lunman/Island Life Magazine/islandlifemag.ca

Driving past on a boat ride off the shores of Rockport on a beautiful summer’s day, I spotted a group of men enjoying coffee on the porch of a cottage which has a skull and bones painted on the cabin called Ledges featuring the Skull and Bones symbol. They seemed to blend in with most 1000 Islanders  enjoying dockside living with evidence of drying beach towels and a small sail boat.  I couldn’t help but notice a docked motor boat nearby curiously named Madam.

A boat docked at Deer Island. Photo by Kim Lunman/Island Life Magazine/islandlifemag.ca

A boat docked at Deer Island. Photo by Kim Lunman/Island Life Magazine/islandlifemag.ca

The  182-year-old society made headlines when Bonesmen voted to allow women as members 26 years ago. Today women are members but its enigma of this elite secret society lingers.  This  idyllic island steeped in history remains mostly a mystery to most of us even though it is located in the heart of the world famous 1000 Islands.

Tags: ,

Top