Revelations That Leading Candidates For The US Presidency Were "Skull And Bones" Members Have Provoked Claims Of Elitism
The "tomb" stands dark and hulking at the heart of the Yale University campus, almost windowless, and shuttered and padlocked in the thick snow of winter storms.
Built to mimic a Greco-Egyptian temple, it is the headquarters of the Order of the Skull and Bones, America's most elite and elusive secret society - and it has become the unlikely focus of this year's presidential election. It turns out that four leading contestants for the White House in November's election were 1960s undergraduates at Yale: President Bush and Democratic rivals Governor Howard Dean, Sen John Kerry and Sen Joseph Lieberman.
What is more, two are "Bonesmen". Both Sen Kerry, now the Democrat front runner, and President Bush belong to the 172-year-old society, which aims to get its members into positions of power. This presidential election seems destined to become the first in history to pit one Skull and Bones member against another.
The phenomenon of the "Yalies", as Yale alumni are known, has provoked an intense debate over apparent elitism among Americans amazed that - in a democracy of almost 300 million people - the battle for power should be waged among candidates drawn from the 4,000 who graduated from Yale in four different years of the 1960s.
"To today's Yale undergraduates it seems quite extraordinary," said Jacob Leibenluft, a student and a reporter on the Yale Daily News, the campus newspaper. "For some it's a source of pride, to others it's a source of shame."
In fact Yale, with annual tuition fees of $28,400 (£16,000), has long sent graduates to the top of all professions from the campus in New Haven, Connecticut, where it was founded in 1731.
The Skull and Bones is the most exclusive organisation on campus. Members have ranged from President William Taft to Henry Luce, the founder of the Time-Life magazine empire, and from Averill Harriman, the businessman and diplomat, to the first President George Bush.
Alexandra Robbins, a Yale graduate and author of a book on the Skull and Bones, Secrets of the Tomb, said: "It is staggering that so many of the candidates are from Yale, and even more so that we are looking at a presidential face-off between two members of the Skull and Bones. It is a tiny club with only 800 living members and 15 new members a year.
"But there has always been a sentiment at Yale to push students into public service, an ethos of the elite making their way through the corridors of power - and the sole purpose of the Bones is power."