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4 Secret Societies You (Probably) Don't Know About

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4 Secret Societies You (Probably) Don't Know About
by Stefanie Becker

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You've probably heard about the Order of Skull and Bones at Yale "“ George W. Bush and John Kerry were both members, among many other famous and/or influential men. But the Seven Society? Check out this secret fraternity and three others. But if anyone asks, I didn't tell you...

Flat Hat Club

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Formed in 1750 at William and Mary College, F.H.C. was the nation's first secret society. The "Flat Hat Club" was a name given to the group by outsiders, likely because of the mortarboard caps they wore (caps that we now wear at graduations). F.H.C.'s initials stood for Latin words, but it is uncertain what they were. Some believe them to be "Fraternitas Humanitas Cognitioque" meaning "Brotherhood, Humanity, and Knowledge." The society met regularly at Raleigh Tavern in Williamsburg for drinking and discussion. They were not known for scholarly pastimes; the most famous known member, Thomas Jefferson, wrote in a letter that the society "served no useful object." F.H.C. seemed to die within two decades of its founding due to the Civil War but has seen recent revivals.

When membership and interest waned in F.H.C. in the 1770's, P.D.A. (now referred to as Phi Delta Alpha but called "Please Don't Ask" at the time) imitated F.H.C. and established themselves as a secret society to take its place. A student at the college, John Heath, was repeatedly refused entry, and so in retaliation he created the first Greek-letter fraternity, Phi Beta Kappa, which later spawned chapters in other colleges. Ta-da! Greek Life!

Seven Society

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At the University of Virginia, Seven Society is the most secretive as well as (ironically) the most famous and visible on campus. It's unclear when or how they were founded (one rumor is that seven men gathered for a card game created the society when the eighth man didn't show up), but they first became public in 1905 when a white seven was painted on school grounds. Since then, the group has become a charitable powerhouse, buying a campus carillon, raising thousands of dollars for student loan funds, and awarding their own Seven Society Graduate Fellowship for Superb Teaching annually, which donates $7,000 to a teaching assistant nominated by students. Membership in the fraternity is so secret that it isn't revealed until after a member has died. When this happens, a wreath of black magnolias shaped like a "7" is placed on the grave and the University Chapel's bell tower chimes seven times in seven-second intervals on the seventh dissonant chord at seventh past the hour. The only way to contact the Seven Society is by hiding a letter at the base of the Thomas Jefferson statue inside the University's Rotunda.

Order of the Bull's Blood

rutgersEstablished by five friends in 1834, this fraternity holds the high honor of being the oldest active secret society at Rutgers University. Known for encouraging escalating pranks by new members to "˜prove' their allegiance, the Order caught the attention of nationwide newspapers in 1875 when they allegedly stole a canon from Princeton University. Other secret societies on campus, such as The Cap and Skull Honor Society, have made their activities and memberships public, but the Order is still so secretive that some question it even exists, calling it a hoax. In 2001, Spencer Ackerman wrote an unconfirmed article called "Degenerate Society" about how he had been asked to join the Order's fraternity but refused. Some people who allegedly didn't refuse: former Vice President Garret A. Hobart, former Director of the FBI Louis Freeh, and Nobel laureate Milton Friedman.

Eucleian Society

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The Adelphic Society was created by a group of 16 students at New York University in 1832. Shortly after, they changed their name to Eucleian, after Eukleia, the Goddess of Repute, Glory, and War. It became a literary society "“ with a stable source of money coming in from trusts "“ and hosted open forums and lectures (sometimes held with rival NYU society Philomathean). Although some members were known, most were kept secret, as were the inner workings of the organization. Documents and internal records kept by the group have had information removed, the name of the Society erased, and nearly all of it is written in symbolic shorthand. Regardless, the Society's events were announced in newspapers and became well attended. One early lecturer and repeated guest was Edgar Allen Poe, who became an important influence. This also gave rise to the use of ravens in the fraternity insignia and the nickname "˜Raven Society.'

The Eucleian Society was one of the most progressive, supporting gender equality, abolition, and Native Americans' rights. They printed two publications of their own, The Medly and the Knickerbocker, with articles lampooning and satirizing current events and people. Both became popular well beyond campus. Despite all of this, interest in the Society died down. Members were branded social elitists, and membership diminished as Greek fraternities gained prominence. In current years, the Society has opened up to those without University affiliation. A notable member of the Eucleian Society is John Harvey Kellogg, who invented corn flakes cereal with his brother, as well as Major Walter Reed, MD, a U.S. army physician who confirmed the theory that yellow fever is transmitted by mosquitoes.

What secret societies did (do?) your schools have? Better yet, any secret society members that can spill juicy details?

Check out the rest of our College Weekend festivities.

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How Urban Legends Like 'The Licked Hand' Are Born
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If you compare the scary stories you heard as a kid with those of your friends—even those who grew up across the country from you—you’ll probably hear some familiar tales. Maybe you tried to summon Bloody Mary by chanting her name in front of the mirror three times in a dark bathroom. Maybe you learned never to wonder what’s under a woman’s neck ribbon. Maybe you heard the one about the girl who feels her dog lick her hand in the middle of the night, only to wake up to find him hanging dead from the shower nozzle, the words “humans can lick too” written on the wall in the dog’s blood.

These ubiquitous, spooky folk tales exist everywhere, and a lot of them take surprisingly similar forms. How does a single story like the one often called “Humans Can Lick Too” or "The Licked Hand" make its way into every slumber party in America? Thrillist recently investigated the question with a few experts, finding that most of these stories have very deep roots.

In the case of The Licked Hand, its origins go back more than a century. In the 1990s, Snopes found that a similar motif dates back to an Englishman’s diary entry from 1871. In it, the diary keeper, Dearman Birchall, retold a story he heard at a party of a man whose wife woke him up in the middle of the night, urging him to go investigate what sounded like burglars in their home. He told his wife that it was only the dog, reaching out his hand. He felt the dog lick his hand … but in the morning, all his valuables were gone: He had clearly been robbed.

A similar theme shows up in the short story “The Diary of Mr. Poynter,” published in 1919 by M.R. James. In it, a character dozes off in an armchair, and thinks that he is petting his dog. It turns out, it’s some kind of hairy human figure that he flees from. The story seems to have evolved from there into its presently popular form, picking up steam in the 1960s. As with any folk tale, its exact form changes depending on the teller: sometimes the main character is an old lady, other times it’s a young girl.

You’ll probably hear these stories in the context of happening to a “friend of a friend,” making you more likely to believe the tale. It practically happened to someone you know! Kind of! The setting, too, is probably somewhere nearby. It might be in your neighborhood, or down by the local railroad tracks.

Thrillist spoke to Dr. Joseph Stubbersfield, a researcher in the UK who studies urban legends, who says the kind of stories that spread widely contain both social information and emotional resonance. Meaning they contain a message—you never know who’s lurking in your house—and are evocative.

If something is super scary or gross, you want to share it. Stories tend to warn against something: A study of English-language urban legends circulating online found that most warned listeners about the hazards of life (poisonous plants, dangerous animals, dangerous humans) rather than any kind of opportunities. We like to warn each other of the dangers that could be lurking around every corner, which makes sense considering our proven propensity to focus on and learn from negative information. And yes, that means telling each other to watch out for who’s licking our hands in the middle of the night.

Just something to keep in mind as you eagerly await Jezebel’s annual scary story contest.

[h/t Thrillist]

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