The Book

Uncovering Mysterious Sites, Symbols, and Societies

The doors of some of the world's best-hidden places and most secretive organizations have now been thrown wide open! Some of the names are familiar: Area 51, Yale's Skull and Bones, Opus Dei, the Esalen Institute. Others are more obscure, hidden by fate or purposeful deception, such as the Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center, the super-secure facility where Vice President Dick Cheney was secreted after the 9/11 attacks, and Germany's Wewelsburg Castle, which was intended to become the mythological centerpiece of the Nazi Regime. Readers can take an unprecedented look deep inside the off-the-map military installations and shadowy organizations that operate in the murkiest corners of our world.

August 8, 2014

Rosa mystica, ora pro nobis

Ostra Brama

A century after 1914, Europe’s Eastern Borderlands have every reason to be on edge…

Honor i Ojczyzna



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May 24, 2013

Hardly a garden of earthly delights: Michelangelo’s St Anthony


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August 18, 2012

Gentlemen, draw your swords

In the event you missed it, last year Warsaw was the host of the 48th Baltic Nations Kommers, a gathering of Europe’s gallant young members of the colour-wearing fraternity bodies (“corporations”) of Central and Baltic Europe (the attractive website is still live). The patron was His Excellency Count Bronisław Komorowski, President of Poland.

An excellent book on the Polish Baltic Fraternities before 1918 was published for the meeting, in Polish, German, English, Latvian and Estonian.

Chivalry is clearly not dead in old Europe.

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February 25, 2012

In historic St Andrews, a club falls — but a fraternity rises?

600 year-old St Andrews University is a place with rich tradition to go with its academic excellence and Anglo-Scottish international flair. However, in recent days, it has become a place of Clubland intrigue: it appears the venerable all-male Kate Kennedy Club will now split into two entities: an official university-recognized coed Kate Kennedy Fellowship and a continuing gentlemen’s Kate Kennedy Club as a purely private body. Ah, but who gets control of the important Kate Kennedy Trust?

St Andrews (along with Oxford) is already the site where Zeta Psi Fraternity of North America has established a chapter, and Delta Kappa Epsilon Fraternity is rumored to be considering similar beachhead plans. Will masculine camaraderie live on in this fabled university town, but under different auspices? Then again, perhaps the style of Germany’s and Central Europe’s “corps” (not all duel, by the way) might suit St Andreans well, eyeglass (er, monocle), cap, sash and all?

(With reporting from St Andrews’ parent Stephen Klimczuk)

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December 26, 2011

Our Strictly Hush-Hush New Year’s Eve Miscellany

Yes, it has been far too long since our last update. So please pour yourself a generous glass of something bubbly, don a dinner jacket or white tie, fire up a good recording of Die Fledermaus, and get ready for New Year’s Eve (Sylvester for our European friends!), Curated Secrets-style…

Mysteries behind mysteries: the Copial Cipher (above, and detail at bottom) is finally cracked
It seems better than fiction: in East Berlin, an undecipherable manuscript was found, with some 75,000 handwritten characters over 105 bizarre pages dating to the late 18th Century. The code was thought to be unbreakable until this year, when a team of scientists from USC and Uppsala University used the very latest computer decryption techniques to unveil its words, and reveal a hitherto unknown German secret society. What they found has left them and us scratching our heads. What were the purposes and activities of this “High Enlightened Oculist Order”? Does this strange fraternity still exist?

The initiation rites detailed in the decoded manuscript display a strange fascination with eyeballs and spectacles. At one point in the ceremonies, initiates undergo an “operation” involving the plucking of an eyebrow. Neophytes are meant to be frightened, and are told “prepare yourself to die.” Some passages display an Illuminist-like political slant. Modes of recognition are taught: if a member asks how “Hans” is, the other responds by mentioning a name that begins with the second letter of the first name (eg, “He is with Anton”).

If by chance you meet an Oculist, be very afraid.

“Whom to call for a hidden stairway–or a personal crypt”
When you need a secret lair built into your house, we’ve found the right folks to do it: Creative Home Engineering, with a list of some 150 happy clients to date. We like their special touches, including passages that open when certain piano keys are depressed or when chessboard pieces are arranged a specific way. Doors made with “Kevlar-steel ballistic armor, blast-resistant hinges, and multiple redundant locking systems” are also no problem. “To the Batmobile,” as they used to say…

Going to Lloyd’s of London to insure against the unthinkable
Some of you may recall that, as a publicity stunt, the makers of Cutty Sark whisky once offered a £ 1 million reward for the capture of the Loch Ness monster. What’s perhaps more interesting is that it turns out they obtained insurance coverage from Lloyd’s in the unlikely event that some punter actually arrived on their doorstep with Nessie in tow. That’s what we call risk management.

Terminal 5 hideaway
Speaking of London, look for the unmarked white door at Heathrow’s T-5 — if you can find it. “If you’re supposed to be there, you won’t need directions,” says the manager of the officially sub-rosa Windsor Suite. Until 2011, only VIPs named by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office were offered the minimalist amenities within, but budget pressures mean that in principle anyone can now use it for one departure or arrival at the cost of £ 1,800. For that you get serenity amid the Eames chairs and bonsai trees, plus the peace of mind that comes from a bomb-proof glass roof. There is a private entrance and security screening, immigration formalities are handled by staff, and then you’re whisked to your aircraft door by a 7-series BMW. The right crowd, and no crowding?

Viribus Unitis?
Given economic pressures on both sides of the Atlantic, perhaps it’s time to resurface a long-forgotten proposal. In 1947, US Senator Richard Russell Jr. of Georgia put forward the offer that England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland should be admitted to the United States as four new states. The reaction was frosty (something about Georgia owing money to the UK, borrowed during Confederate times and still unpaid). Still…

The greatest Ghost Town ever built
It sounds outlandish (and right out of some spy thriller or perhaps The Prisoner), we realize, but a company called Pegasus Global Holdings is planning to build a full-size, 20-square mile model of an American town in New Mexico. It is being called “The Center,” and will be used for scientific, military and commercial testing. If you go, will they allow you to leave?

Ever come across the members of the Cambridge Association for Spiritual Enquiry, popularly known as the Ghost Society? Founded in 1851, the society once included a future prime minister (Arthur Balfour) and archbishop of Canterbury (Edward White Benson) among its members. Their present website (if you can find it) includes an audio recording from Michelham Priory in East Sussex, with sounds of ghostly rapping. You can decide for yourself.

Other oddities
Of course England is famous for its odd places, one of which we stumbled across recently en route to Downside Abbey: an “anonymous building in a cobbled backstreet” of Bath. Inside, curious interiors befitting the first Royal Theatre outside London, a post-Emancipation Roman Catholic oratory where bishops were consecrated, and a present-day provincial Masonic lodge claiming to be the oldest of its kind. There is an admittance charge, supposedly payable in Half-Crowns.

Gallic conspiracy theories
The French are probably second only to the Italians in their fondness for conspiracy and secret society-tinged news and opinion, and in the recent past France has overflowed with new material for aficionados. This bonanza includes a public, bruising Civil War within “regular” (ie, non-Grand Orient) Freemasonry that is frequently splashed across the major media. (Those who read French can read regular updates on the website of newsmagazine L’Express.) Secondly, Robert Eringer, a Los Angeles-born writer with intelligence links, has come forward saying that he was founding chief of the M.I.S. (the Principality of Monaco Intelligence Service), with not-so-nice allegations about the place and its reigning family. Finally, there is the case of disgraced (and hardly praiseworthy) former IMF head and onetime Presidential candidate Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the curious matter of his missing BlackBerry. This is more interesting than you may realize, and we recommend the Financial Times‘ piece (“One Afternoon in Manhattan”) of 26 November for its gripping investigative reporting.

Nota bene
A devoted reader has alerted us to the existence of the “Sinister Sites” website (no comment), and then there is the case of the mysterious shortwave radio signals that have been emanating “from a lonely rusted tower in a forest north of Moscow” for decades… Of course we have to save some enigmas for 2012. Happy New Year.

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August 11, 2011

New health warning on Templar myths

Our Dan Brown-tinged era has put a kind of “full-employment act” in place for spinners of Templar myths. Some of these entrepreneurs cater to the desire for escapism and fantasy (which, given the state of the world at the moment, is perhaps understandable). Much of it is less benign, from the dozens of murders and suicides connected with the so-called Order of the Solar Temple in the 1990s, to the ruthless Caballeros Templarios drug gang in Mexico that split off from the equally fearsome La Familia cartel. The latter has produced a 22-page “Templar code” for its criminal members, including a pledge not to use or sell narcotics on Mexican territory. How chivalrous.

What is it about the Templar myth that seems to beguile both the general public as well as those who are unhinged or engaged in nefarious activities? With the horrific bombing and shootings in Norway on July 22nd, that question has taken on greater urgency — though the world’s media are having difficulty making sense of it.

Perhaps you’ve seen the photos above and below: confessed murderer Anders Behring Breivik in his self-designed “Templar” military uniform, with the flair of a third-world generalissimo (NB the uniform appears to be based on that of the US Marine Corps); and in full evening dress as a Master Mason of the Norwegian Order of Freemasons. The curiosities in these pictures include an Idi Amin-like jumble of self-awarded medals on the former, and the odd presence of a pen in his breast pocket on the latter — sort of like an old-fashioned primary schoolmaster. Perhaps one commentator is right: the man has above-average intelligence but below-average sanity, his mind awash with a hodge-podge of influences.

Admittedly, it’s not easy to make sense of Breivik: a bogus Templar; until recently a genuine Freemason (he was expelled immediately by that fraternity following his capture); a member of the Church of Norway who advocated reunion with Rome; an agnostic (as he himself has written); a self-proclaimed defender of European civilization against Islamism; a child of privilege who proudly states (accurately or not) that he was the most notable hip-hopper and graffiti artist of his teenage generation in Oslo… Not to mention his rambling blogs about the threat of pollution from venereal disease (rather Dr. Strangelovian?), combined with his stated plan to treat himself to the ministrations of a prostitute prior to his attack. The reputable Atlantic has written “Whatever the case, he may be the only Freemason, Rome-leaning, Protestant fundamentalist in the world.” That not entirely correct statement shows how far we still have to go in coming to grips with all this.

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June 6, 2011

Evidence of time travel to the year 2041

Your humble curators have found that it’s possible to travel to the year 2041. Sort of. In the bowels of the Harvard University archives is one sealed copy of the bicentennial history of the fabled Porcellian Club, with strict instructions that it is not to be opened until 2041 — a year when most or all of those whose names and stories appear in it will be dead. However, as enterprising sleuths, we have been able to see the book: and it’s charming. Anecdotes abound from the Long Room at 1324 Massachusetts Avenue, as does the witty ode composed in 1948 by literary maven and man about town George Plimpton. Interestingly, the membership includes some with a definite Central European flair, including financiers (the late) Michael von Clemm and Stanislas Yassukovich (Jasiukowicz), and several generations of Colloredo-Mannsfelds.

As the preface puts it, “The Club flourishes, not as a relic of the past, but as a living band of Brothers which grows each year as it accepts within its fold new members drawn from the ranks of Harvard College. It is one of the unique features of the Club that it can initiate young men from all places and backgrounds and mold them quickly into Porcellians appreciative of its rich history and ready to enhance its glory in the future…” (The “brothers” bit makes it seem more of a fraternity that we expected, and less of a private club.)

Anyway, look for the book sometime in early 2041…

The Immortalization Commission

Speaking of books, perhaps you’ve also seen London School of Economics professor John Gray’s new book, “The Immortalization Commission: Science and the Strange Quest to Cheat Death
— a fascinating and chilling read. Who knew that Soviet morticians and scientists anticipated the 1960s cryonics fad by several decades, initially freezing Lenin in hope he could be resuscitated in the future? The details are fairly gory, not to mention the antics of the Soviet Committee for Psychical Research. Liverpool-born, Cambridge-educated, Pulitzer-prize-winning journalist Walter Duranty of the The New York Times is also shown for the scoundrel he was, principal apologist for Stalin’s atrocities and disciple of Aleister Crowley too (who knew that?). Reassuring to know that he received his comeuppance, eking out his last days in near-penury, struggling to buy groceries (a luxury never offered to the millions of deliberately starved Ukrainians whose sorrows he worked so hard to cover up). By 1951, “even the FBI… had lost interest in him.” His remaining worldly possessions were two old suitcases.

Make mine a Truth Serum, stirred not shaken

If all this is too rich a concoction for you, we might recommend a cooling drink at San Francisco’s retro, speakeasy-style Wilson & Wilson Private Detective Agency bar. Ask for a Truth Serum.

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April 13, 2011

“Catnip for Conspiracy Theorists,” and other Bunga-Bunga tales

We are pleased to report that your humble curators are still alive and well, even if not blogging frequently. We realize we are overdue for an update, especially since the recent successful launch of the Italian edition of Secret Places. The original cover design is shown above, which some suggested looked like an entrance to a nefarious den of ill repute. Thanks entirely to some stupendous media coverage in Italy, the book is selling briskly from Rome to Milan and Naples and beyond.

Bilderberg secretariat launches its official website
However, all editions of our tome need updating now, given the recent launch of the official website of the Bilderberg Meetings. No worries, though: everything Bilderberg remains “catnip for conspiracy theorists,” and that is unlikely to change anytime soon.

Full-employment act for purveyors of oddities
It’s also been a busy season for all the categories that we cover, from MI6’s newly commissioned art (we like the painting “Waiting in the Hotel Room”) to reports that cocaine traffickers have been building rather good small submarines to ferry their contraband. Perhaps you also heard about the bruising civil war in New York’s Clubland, with members of the Century Association (“Centurions”) fighting over whether to end reciprocity with the all-male Garrick Club in London? (Relations are now severed, you’ll be unsurprised to learn.)

Only in America?
Anyone read R.R. Reno’s amazing description of the US landscape? “Where else in the postmodern West can you find snake-handling preachers; earnest middle-aged women at Unitarian churches who talk about astrology; bookstores full of novels about the rapture; entire seminaries given over to dispensational scholasticism; men with long beards, fur hats, and yarmulkes; priests in cassocks; camp meetings; church suppers with cabbage and lime Jell-O salads; stolid Presbyterians, sweet Methodists, fire-breathing Baptists, and home-schooling Catholics; liberal Jesuits; Jewish Buddhists, Black Muslims, and more…”

Awaiting the Apocalypse underground, but with the latest appliances
Last but not least, new real estate development concepts are back. We’re thinking of software engineer Larry Hall’s redeveloped former Atlas F Missile Base bunker in Kansas: $900K will buy you a posh underground condo with hardened concrete walls, Kohler bathroom fixtures, simulated view windows and a five-year food supply. As far as bunkers go, this one’s a “dream silo.”

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December 13, 2010

From Templar revivals to private intelligence services…

Force of Habit

Your curators have noticed that habits, uniforms and ceremonial dress never go out of fashion. Have you come across the Militia Templi, a Templar revival that actually has ecclesiastical approval? Or perhaps the recently-founded Evangelii Praecones (Heralds of the Gospel), created in Brazil and also enjoying an official status with the Church? Above is a shot of lay members of the latter fraternity (or rather confraternity?), in their cowls and cavalry boots. (Readers may recall that Brazil is also the centre of the not infrequently controversial worldwide TFP movement – Tradition / Family / Property.)

In a different, yet similar vein are the much more ancient surviving European marksmen’s guilds, brotherhoods and militias — some dating back to the middle ages in Austria, Bavaria and the Low Countries. They are grouped together in a federation called EGS (European Community of Historic Guilds), with members of the Habsburg family as patrons.

The fate of the “Special Office Brief”?

If you’ve never picked up the memoirs of the late Sir John Wheeler-Bennett, we can only recommend them. He ran his own private intelligence service out of his grand bachelor flat at Albany in Piccadilly, and managed to interview just about every world leader of the 1930s.

On that note, we recently came across a file on the “Special Office Brief” published in Dublin as late as 1990. Described as “an early warning intelligence system – originated 1935,” this curious publication has presumably ceased to exist. Does anyone know what it really was or what became of it? To quote from the last issue we’ve seen, the annual subscription price was listed as $10,000: “Special Office Briefs are assisted by the second Marquis of Verneuil Trust as a duty. But even so expenses cannot wholly be so provided.” The unnamed Trustee was shown with a Gloucestershire address, but the publisher was Kilbrittain Newspapers Ltd, 52 Merrion Square, Dublin 2. Odd.

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December 4, 2010

Apocalypse 1957, and other frightening thoughts

Your curators have been nudged to provide a bit of an update on the eclectic variety of subjects we cover.

Armageddon: we recently came across some interesting reportage on Mao’s address to the 1957 world confab of Communist leaders in Moscow. It seems that the Great Helmsman boldly advocated global nuclear war, unnerving and shaking a audience not normally thought of as squeamish. Well, one does have to break a few eggs to make an omelette, as they used to say? Deo gratias, the assembled thugs didn’t think that was such a good idea.

Square and Compasses: the newswires have been alight with things Masonic, from the EU’s forthcoming “Atheists and Freemasons” Summit (no joke) to the recent death of Admiral Emilio Massera, a member of Italy’s clandestine P2 lodge who went on to serve as a key figure in Argentina’s military government of the 1970s. The notoriously political Grand Orient of France has decided to go co-ed, and it recently renovated its museum with French government support. And have you heard about the proposal for a “Universal Temple of Freemasonry” to be built in Jerusalem? (The architect has posted a YouTube video here.)

In other news… Secret Places, Hidden Sanctuaries has been reviewed recently in New Dawn and The Square, and features are upcoming in Inside the Vatican and the New Oxford Review.

Your Italian friends might want to know that our Italian edition will be out in January, under the evocative title Guida ai luoghi più segreti del mondo.

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Andrew Cusack

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