I purchased a copy of the Yale secret society Skull & Bones Class of 1966 photo album in December 2011. This is one of those iconic Bones’ classes whose members include US Secretary of State John Kerry ’66, Fedex founder Fred Smith ’66, and many prominent Yale graduates. Members of Bones, or Bonesmen, refer to the albums as “Black Books.”
My album came from the estate of Richard Warren Pershing ’66, who died in February 1968 during the Vietnam War. Pershing was then a 25 year old grandson of World War I General John Pershing. Richard Warren Pershing, along with his brother John Warren Pershing III, are buried in Section 34 of Arlington National Cemetery near their grandfather along Pershing Drive. Upon Richard Warren Pershing’s death, the album became the property of John Warren Pershing III (died 1999).
I shared this find with a Skull & Bones member and friend. He responded, “Unbelievable! This one is iconic. Good for you for saving it. I didn’t know Dick, but his portrait was up in our building by the time my senior year started.”
A New York Times 2004 article explored in detail then US Presidential candidate John Kerry’s reaction and struggles with his best friend Pershing’s death which influenced Kerry’s rise in politics.
I timed my gift to coincide with the Class of 1966 50th reunion and the conclusion of Secretary Kerry’s tenure at Department of State. When I emailed the Yale Library in April 2016, I asked that the item have restricted access until five years after Kerry was out of office. The Yale Library was hesitant to honor this request, and the timing at the conclusion of the Obama administration allowed the item to be donated and made available soon after the next presidential administration had begun.
I mentioned the book and provenance in a chance encounter with Secretary Kerry at President Salovey’s reception before the 2015 Harvard-Yale Game. He was most intrigued (startled really, “You’re kidding!”) by this information and we spoke briefly about Pershing and Pershing’s brother. Clearly, his security detail was not as excited about our conversation as I was!
Original seller’s description: “Up for auction is an extremely rare Yale 1966 Skull & Bones yearbook in very good condition. One small smudge on the “1966” on the cover (see first photo), might be able to clean? Only 16 photographs of members mounted on thick cardboard pages. 20 pages in all, no text. This edition belonged to the late Richard Pershing, I salvaged it from his late brothers estate. I purposely did not post the photo’s of the individuals.” (With the exception of Pershing’s photo, I also have refrained from posting other members’ photos online)
Provenance (from seller to me in email dated December 16, 2011): “This 1966 Yale Skull and Bones book was salvaged by me from the estate of the late John Pershing, brother of Richard Pershing. I had the pleasure of knowing John Pershing before his death in 1999 and was recently charged with disposing some of his stored books at my discretion. There is not much more I can tell you about this item, neither John or Richard Pershing had any children and without my intervention this copy was destined for destruction.”
The Yale Skull & Bones Class of 1966 includes successful politicians, businessmen, physicians, educators and collectors which can be found through other links.
The album will be added to three sets of documents at Yale’s Manuscripts and Archives and become part of the “Ravi D. Goel Collection on Yale” (2008, 2011, 2012). (As of August 2017, with Yale Manuscripts & Archives undergoing renovation, the 1966 Skull & Bones album has still not been accessioned in the database online) In November 2016, the 2008, 2011 and 2012 documents were added to the Yale Digital Collections. They include a scrapbook of 100+ letters among members of the Skull & Bones Delegation of 1874. Also included is letter written by then US Appeals Court judge & future 27th President of the United States William H. Taft (1878) signed “Yours in the Bones.” There is also a “Ravi Goel collection of Reuven Kosakoff” at Yale’s Irving S. Gilmore Music Library (2013). In addition, “The Ravi D. Goel collection on Henry Roe Cloud” of Yale’s 1st known Native American was donated to Yale’s Manuscripts and Archives in 2014.
Some of these items are referenced in Kipling collector, Yale Library Development Council vice-chair, and Skull & Bones Trustee David Richards ’67 upcoming book, “Skulls & Keys: The Hidden History of Yale’s Secret Societies.“Richards is reported in a June 19, 2000 NY Times article as the outgoing senior who tapped 43rd U.S. President George W. Bush ’68 for Skull & Bones. His extraordinarily well written and researched 800 page book will soon become the starting point for future generations interested in Yale history.