From the Garden of Sex, Drugs, and Rock ’n’ Roll to the Yale English Department

yale

You couldn’t see Skull and Bones from the seminar room in Linsly-Chittenden Hall, though it was directly across the street. But the building was much on my mind the afternoon of the reception and had been from the day I got to New Haven. To my 26-year-old self, it seemed nearly impossible that literature—Keats, Shelley, Shakespeare, Whitman—was sharing space with Skull and Bones. I did not know much about Bones, but I took it to be a bastion of reactionary America. The society reached out its withered hand to tap future Wall Street pirates, CIA agents, and the sort of State Department operatives who had leveraged us into Vietnam, where a number of my high-school buddies had gone to be maimed and worse.

At least the Skull and Bones building looked its part. They called it the Crypt—and it did look like it was designed by Edgar Allan Poe. It was all stone and metal, with no real windows, and doors of enormous weight. Those doors must have closed with the grimmest finality, though never in my five New Haven years did I see them open or shut.

Mark Edmundson, in the Chronicle of Higher Education, on his time at the Yale English department in the late 1970s. Read more from the Chronicle of Higher Education in the Longreads archive. 

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Julia Wick is a contributing editor for Longreads.
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