While browsing The Cary Collection last month, we discovered a most curious book in Cary’s voluminous inventory. Simple in appearance, bound in black Moroccan leather with four names stamped in silver leaf across the cover. It is a yearbook of sorts—Thomas William Ludlow Ashley’s Skull and Bones yearbook to be exact. Founded in 1832, the secret society at Yale university in New Haven, Connecticut is infamous for tapping campus leaders and other notable figures for its membership. The family names on the secret society’s roster read like an elite party list—Lord, Whitney, Taft, Jay, Bundy, Rockefeller, Goodyear, Kellogg, Pillsbury, Vanderbilt, Bush and so on. Though Ashley went on to enjoy a longstanding political career in Washington, it is another politician’s membership that shrouds this yearbook with bated breath—a one George Herbert Walker Bush.
Bush men have been Yale men and Bonesmen for generations. Prescott Bush (’17), George H. W. Bush (’48), and George W. Bush (’68) are joined by a proud line stretching from great uncle George Herbert Walker Jr. to uncle Jonathan Bush to cousins George Herbert Walker III and Ray Walker. Upon initiation, Bonesmen are appointed secret names by which fellow members will forever know them. The club often pulls from literature, religion and myth for aliases such as “Thor”, “Baal”, “Hamlet” and “Odin”. “Long Devil” is reserved for the tallest member; “Boaz” for the varsity football captain. George H. W. Bush was given the moniker “Magog.”
As for the number 322 that peppers the book and the society’s stationary, it embodies mythical overtones. One legend has it that 322 stands for “founded in ’32, 2nd corps”, referring to the first Corps in an unknown German university. Others suggest that 322 refers to the death of Demosthenes and that documents in the society hall have purportedly been found dated to “Anno-Demostheni”.
Ashley’s annuary found its way into Cary’s hands through a channel of rare book dealers and Yale alum. Upon graduation from Yale in 1948, he went on to serve thirteen terms in Congress as a U.S. representative of Ohio (D) from 1955 to 1981. Several years ago Ashley’s son contacted Cary about his father’s yearbook, not in an attempt to recover it but more so out of curiosity. Lud Ashley (as he was commonly known) had retired to Leland, Michigan until his recent death this past June. As for his yearbook, it lives on in his memory and is currently available for purchase from The Cary Collection.