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Q: Skull & Bones architect and architectual style of building ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   3 Comments )
Subject: Skull & Bones architect and architectual style of building
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: maureen44-ga
List Price: $50.00
Posted: 11 May 2003 16:36 PDT
Expires: 10 Jun 2003 16:36 PDT
Question ID: 202475
Who was the architect of the Skull &  Bones Building at Yale University?
What architectural style is this building?
Was it built to resemble any other historical buildings?

Request for Question Clarification by pafalafa-ga on 11 May 2003 20:19 PDT

Whew...tough question.  This is a group that likes its secrets!

I haven't found the architect yet, but there's a wonderful site called
the Making of America's Books, that has a ton of old texts in
searchable format.  One of them happens to be a book called "My Four
Years at Yale" published in 1871 -- it has a whole section on Skull
and Bones.  Here's an excerpt on the building:   

Making of America Books

Author: Bagg, Lyman Hotchkiss, 1846-1911.
Title: Four years at Yale.
Publication date: 1871.

[Skull and Bones]

The hall, erected in I856, is situated on High street, near the
corner of Chapel, about opposite the Yale Art Building.
It is a grim-looking, windowless, tomb-like structure, of
brown sandstone, rectangular in shape, showing a front
of about 35 and a length of 44 feet, and is, at a guess,
35 feet in hight. The entrance in front is guarded by a
pair of massive iron doors, a dozen feet high, finished
off in panels, and of a dark green color; while heavy
clasps of brass close over the key-holes and are secured
by padlocks, beneath one of which the bell-pull is concealed. 

Previous to i864, when these doors were put
in position, their places were occupied by commoner
ones of iron, upon which the society emblems were
displayed. The roof is nearly flat, and is covered
with half-inch plates of iron, which in i867 took the
place of the tin before employed. There is a skylight, similarly 
protected, and the chimneys and ventilators are ranged along the 
edges of the roof. Behind, are a pair of small windows barred with
and close to the ground are two or three scuttle holes, communicating
with the cellar. The building is rapidly becoming covered with the
"Virginia creeper," first planted
there in i864, and stands back a rod or more from the
street, being separated from it by a post-and-chain fence.

The dimensions of the lot upon which it stands are
about 40 feet (front) by 70 (deep); and the total value
of the premises must be upwards of $30,ooo. Before taking possession
of its present quarters, the society for many years,-perhaps from its
original organization,-occupied a low-studded back room in the third
story of what is now the Courant building, opposite the college yard.


I'll get back to you if I find the architect.

Clarification of Question by maureen44-ga on 12 May 2003 03:36 PDT
Does this building resemble earlier monuments?  Any idea of the achitectural style?

Request for Question Clarification by pafalafa-ga on 12 May 2003 06:17 PDT
Judging from a picture of the thing that I found on the web, it is
well-deserving of its nickname, The Tomb.  It has an Egyptian bulk to
it, with some Greek architectural touches, and an overall feel of
something Masonic.

Perhaps if you let us know a bit more about your interest in this, we
can compile the available information into a reasonable answer for
your needs.

Clarification of Question by maureen44-ga on 12 May 2003 09:42 PDT
I am writing a paper for a college level art history course.  I have
limited knowledge of this material (barely passing the course)and need
to get a good grade on paper to pass!  Assignment:  Look carefully and
intelligently at the work of architecture of Skull & Bones and Scroll
& Key buildings at Yale.  Emphasis should be on the visual elements of
the structures, include who was the architect?, Does the architecture
express an ideal?  If so, how does the structure communicate the
ideal?  Does it use a vocabulary of forms that affiliates it with
earlier traditions?  Does it combine traditions to call to mind other
monuments; if so, identify those traditions and forms.  The Making
America reference helped.  Any information would be helpful that would
contribute to this essay.  I found some info on Scroll & Key but I am
really confused about visual elements, traditions, forms and other
monuments.  I will gladly pay more money if needed.  If you can help
with Scroll & Key building that would help as well.  As long as I can
cite my sources I can use the research  of others.  HELP!  I NEED TO
Subject: Re: Skull & Bones architect and architectual style of building
Answered By: pafalafa-ga on 12 May 2003 13:01 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello again Maureen44,

I've pulled together a goodly amount of information for you.  In
addition to the link I provided earlier:

there is one other fairly extensive discussion of the Skull and Bones
Building here:

Halls, Tombs and Houses:    Student Society Architecture at Dartmouth

Actually, this entire document is worth a read, since it looks at the
architectural styles of a host of student societies, and places them
in the context of the images and values of the societies themselves. 
I've included some excerpts below:


"This paper traces the evolution of society buildings at Dartmouth
College in Hanover, N.H., U.S.A., proposing that a shift in
iconography took place at the turn of the century in which societies
abandoned the tradition of mysterious meeting-places and took up a new
grandly-scaled domestic paradigm. This second mode only reached its
full fruition in the 1920s when societies built their second
generation of houses, this time in brick. Several broad chronological
themes can help us see the buildings in some context: starting with
the literary societies (I), the paper moves to the early secret
societies or Greek-letter fraternities as they modified the form of
their predecessors (II). The following topics are then taken up in
turn and deal most heavily with the architecture: the earliest
freestanding society halls beginning in 1860 (III), the class
societies that continued the abandoned hall tradition (IV), the mass
migration to houses beginning in the 1890s (V), and the change that
occurred when the fraternities moved into brick houses in the 1920s


Contrary to its nominal purpose, one of the goals of the secret
society is usually to make its existence known to the public, to be
the subject of public speculation. Though buildings required more
resources than a rented hall, they gave the advantages of being both
more permanent and more prominent. Secret societies build meeting
halls as much to proclaim their existence as to have a simple place to
gather. But very few American college societies had their own
buildings before the Civil War. Historians seem to regard Delta Kappa
Epsilon's 1853 occupation of a cabin at Kenyon College of Gambier,
Ohio as the first freestanding fraternity hall in the country.89 The
first substantial society building seems to be the Skull & Bones tomb
at Yale of 1856.


[photo of Skull and Bones]


The first society and a close chronological follower on the heels of
the original Union College societies was Skull & 1856
alumni incorporated as the Russell Trust Association and built a
blank-walled tomb on High Street...Robertson & Potter added the
righthand wing to the front of the building by 1903, writing "the
simplest solution being to practically reproduce the existing wing and
separate the two members by an open porch in the mysterious style (so
far as we could interpret) of the original work."

[NOTE that the architects in 1903, Robertson & Potter, are identified,
but not the original architects.  They may be unknown.  I suspect the
building may have been designed by the students themselves, but
there's no hard evidence of this one way or another.]


The site also has some history of the Scroll and Key, as well as a


There are a number of other well-known buildings that resemble the
Skull and Bones to various degrees.

The Skull and Bones Building is strange, odd, bulky and mysterious. 
The fact that the building is called "The Tomb" reflects many of the
qualities of the structure itself.  It borrows freely from classical
Greek architecture, and in fact, most closely resembles several
buildings in the Classical Greek or Greek Revival style:

Athenian Treasury 
Delphi, Greece
U.S. Custom House

Both buildings (above) are obviously meant to be secure, fortified,
and off-limits -- themes valued by the fellowship of the Skull and
Bones and other so-called "secret" societies.

Similar architectural style can also be seen in several Masonic
Temples, another group valuing secrecy, ritual and an air of mystery:
Masonic Hall- Nauvoo, IL

Masonic Lodge, Dublin


I hope this information is enough raw material to give you a good jump
start on your project.  If there's anything else you need, please let
me know through a Request for Clarification and I'll be glad to assist
you however I can.

Request for Answer Clarification by maureen44-ga on 12 May 2003 21:47 PDT
The information has been very helpful.  I did not have all those web
sites, and the ones I did have, I had difficulty accessing  for the
information I needed.Your information got me to the spots I needed.
Just a few other questions - in  the Skull and Bones building what
would  be the name of specific spots in the design such as the
triangle part of the roof or above the porch?  I have found quite a
bit of information  on the Scroll and Keys, but what would that style
be and any buildings it resembles.  Again, thanks.

Clarification of Answer by pafalafa-ga on 13 May 2003 06:37 PDT
Hello again,

One of the notable features of the Skull and Bones building is its
lack of features -- it's basically a group of big blank blocks.  But
there are a few architectural touches that I've noted below, along
with links to illustrations.

I'm afraid I don't have much to add on the Scroll and Key, however, as
I haven't done the type of extensive research that I have for Skull
and Bones.  There is a link to an article on restoring the Scroll and
Key that might be helpful, however:

The other links I'm giving you here are to architectural
"dictionaries", and they should be a help in identifying any other
features/styles of interest to you on either building.

Best of luck with your project.  

Pediment Roof

Engaged column
A column attached to, or partly sunk into, a wall of pier. Also called
an "applied column" or "attached column."

[See also "post and lintel" below -- for Skull and Bones, the posts
are carved to resemble columns]

Small drop-like projections carved below a triglyph or below a Doric
Also called a "gutta"



post and lintel construction, a basic element of almost all
architectural styles, used to make, e.g., doorways

Request for Answer Clarification by maureen44-ga on 13 May 2003 18:05 PDT
You have done an incredible job of helping me.  Thank you very much! 
As soon  as  I get the project done I'll send off my comments to
google.  Thanks again!

Clarification of Answer by pafalafa-ga on 13 May 2003 18:14 PDT
Thanks...and all the best with your project.  

Ratings and comments mean a great deal to the researchers here, so I
look forward to hearing what you have to say.

Clarification of Answer by pafalafa-ga on 27 May 2003 19:27 PDT
Hi there,

I don't know if you have ANY INTEREST in the question any longer, now
that your project if probably done, but believe it or not, a librarian
at Yale, contacted long ago, today cam through with some more

In a book called "Yale University:  The Campus Guide" from Princeton
Architectural Press (1999), there's a write-up on S&B on pages 41-42. 
Here are some excerpts taken verbatim :

--Yale's version of the Great Sphinx...

--Seen from High Street, the left hand block was the first building,
its door in the center where there is now a window.  A second piece
was added onto the rear in 1883, then...the original chunk was
faithfully duplicated in another expansion in 1903.  A new entrance
was put between the old and new...wings.

--The architect of the original wing is usually said to be Henry
Austin and very occasionally A.J. Davis...both architects did work in
the area at the time..

--...the bluntness of the Egypto-Doric detailing would suggest

There are other tidbits of interest.  Just thought you'd like to know.



Request for Answer Clarification by maureen44-ga on 28 May 2003 05:19 PDT
Thanks again.  I  turned in the paper, haven't gotten a grade yet, but
find the topic very interesting.  I could not locate the book you
referred to but maybe it was just as well. I may have relied on that
book too much and not learned of this service at google.  Again, your
help was great and appreciated.

Clarification of Answer by pafalafa-ga on 28 May 2003 06:02 PDT
Good luck with your paper, and have a good summer.
maureen44-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $25.00
I entered my question on a Sunday and received responses immediately. 
 Actually, they were comments.  I am  a first time user, uncertain
about how much confidence  to have, but by  Monday I received an
incredible amount of information.  The researcher encouraged me to
clarify  my question and as I did I was directed to sites I had not
been able to find on my  own.  The research also aided me in how to
better understand the material I was researching.  I wasn't just given
an answer, but the background on  the answer.  I would highly
recommend the researcher who assisted me.  Thank you

Subject: Re: Skull & Bones architect and architectual style of building
From: justaskscott-ga on 11 May 2003 17:23 PDT
Even the architecture and architect seem to be secret!

This is the best I could find; perhaps it will be useful to you and
assist another Researcher.

"Halls, Tombs and Houses: Student Society Architecture at Dartmouth"
[first paragraph]
DArch: The Buildings of Dartmouth College [Scott Meacham]
Subject: Re: Skull & Bones architect and architectual style of building
From: ragingacademic-ga on 11 May 2003 22:57 PDT
Pafalafa -

Thanks for the great link to "Making America"!
Was not aware of this source - too bad they seem to have stopped
updating a couple of years back!

Subject: Re: Skull & Bones architect and architectual style of building
From: jackburton-ga on 12 May 2003 13:49 PDT
My understanding is that most of the structure is below the ground and
would include caverns and secret tunnel systems in which ritual
ceremonies take place.

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