Secret societies remain veiled in mystery

by Alice Gomstyn | 5/18/01 5:00am

Power. Mystery. Intrigue. That guy from Dawson's Creek.

Question: What do these terms have in common?

Answer: All have been associated with secret societies.

The last is in reference to last year's teen-centric thriller "The Skulls." Based on Yale's infamous Skull and Bones Society -- which counts among its alumni President George W. Bush -- the movie starred Joshua Jackson (a cast member of the inexplicably popular, aforementioned WB show).

While the cryptic, covert actions of members of the "The Skulls" had Jackson running scared, in reality -- or, at least, at Dartmouth --secret societies appear to lack the same degree of scandal.

"Across the board, they're all supportive of the College," explained Philip Harris '89, an alumni adviser to Sphinx, an all-male secret society at Dartmouth.

In fact, the societies' good deeds may be the reason behind their anonymity, according to Gabrielle Lucke, Director of Health Resources at the College. Lucke served as the adviser to Abaris -- a coed secret society -- from its inception in 1996 up until this past winter.

There are currently six secret societies at the College. Although all are senior societies, they differ in respect to gender composition: Sphinx and Dragon are both all-male organizations, Cobra and Phoenix contain exclusively female memberships and Abaris and Griffin are coed.

Lucke said her work with Abaris, in addition to her experience with the society's occasional collaboration with Cobra and Phoenix, leads her to believe that at least some organizations "seek to do service in anonymous ways."

In the past, Abaris has served refreshments to students building the bonfire structure during Homecoming Weekend and organized an event which recognized the hard work of staff members at the Hinman Post Office.

The record of secret societies at Dartmouth is not completely without blemish, however. In the spring of 1989, members of the Sphinx senior society admitted to stealing approximately $12,000 worth of artwork from the College during a traditional scavenger hunt, according to the Aegis.

Isolated incidents aside, membership within secret societies is considered an honor. Each society elects to invite only 35 to 45 students a year, according to Lucke.

While procedures and preferences amongst the societies may vary, the main criteria Sphinx used to select its new members was community leadership, said the treasurer of the Sphinx corporation, Jeff Sassorossi '75, in a previous interview with The Dartmouth.

Potential members are informed of their invitations through a process known as "tapping," in which the society's upperclassmen discretely inform their junior-year counterparts that they have been selected to join the society. Tapping usually occurs the week of Winter Carnival, Lucke said.

The societies usually hold meetings once every one or two weeks, according to Lucke. Unlike Greek houses, none of the organizations have residential facilities, but some do have physical plants which serve as meeting places.

The Sphinx physical structure located on East Wheelock Street has stood as a mystery and source of rumor for students since its construction in 1903.

The concrete building was designed by architect William Butterfield to resemble an Egyptian tomb.

The facade of the Dragon society greets viewers from Lyme Road near the house of former sorority Zeta Beta Chi, where Dragon has had its privately-owned social space since 1995.

The Dragon members previously had a house on Elm Street but relocated, taking the elaborate wood paneling of the structure with them for their new house, when the College revealed its proposal to expand the library system with the Berry library project.

The Cobra society occupies the former Hillel House on Summer Street across from Thompson Arena.

Phoenix, Abaris and Griffin do not have their own houses. Making their actions even more secret to the Dartmouth community.

In addition to the secret societies, the College also has two open coed senior societies -- Casque and Gauntlet and Fire and Skoal. Students must also go through a tapping process to gain admission to non-secret societies as well.

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