Suicide Club (secret society)
The Suicide Club was a secret society in San Francisco credited as the first modern extreme urban exploration society, and also known for anarchic group pranks. Despite the name the club was not actually about suicide.
The club was founded by Gary Warne and three friends: Adrienne Burk, David Warren, and Nancy Prussia. It began in Spring 1977 as a course that Warne taught at the Communiversity in San Francisco, part of the Free School Movement, and it lasted until shortly before Warne's death in 1983. Events generally started and ended in Warne's used paperback bookstore, Circus of the Soul.
The name of the Suicide Club was inspired by three stories written by Robert Louis Stevenson, where men who want to die belong to a club, where each evening one of them is randomly selected for death. The name belied the gentle albeit zany nature of its members, who had a predilection towards light-hearted practical jokes.
Membership in the San Francisco Suicide Club was attained by attending an "initiation" ceremony that took place sporadically. Any member could propose any type of event, and it would be listed along with a writeup in the Club's monthly mailer, sardonically named the "Nooseletter." There were five or so general categories that most events fell into:
- Street theater, Pranks (30 members riding the San Francisco cable cars naked and making post cards commemorating the event was perhaps the best known)
- Elaborate games in odd locales (cemeteries, sewer tunnels, the financial district late at night are a few of the places used)
- Explorations—Urban and otherwise (abandoned industrial buildings, sewer and other tunnels, waterways, bridges, etc.)
- Infiltrations (the Unification Church and the American Nazi Party were the two most daring and involved)
- Sometimes, types of events were conjoined, such as the "infiltration" of the National Speleological Society undertaken in 1979. Club members converged on the NSS monthly confab at the Palo Alto Grotto, wanting to join. NSS members soon determined something was a bit odd about the new recruits. The two groups ended up working together on several extreme expedition caving trips, the most prominent being a two-week trip to Sótano de las Golondrinas in Central Mexico, the deepest free pit cave in the world.
Legacy and members
The Suicide Club was probably best known at the time for its bridge climbing exploits. The Club, though secretive during its lifespan, influenced many future cultural and artistic endeavors. The Billboard Liberation Front began as a Suicide Club event hosted by Gary Warne in 1977. Author Don Herron's Dashiell Hammett Walking Tour, the longest lived literary tour in America began in the Suicide Club in 1977. The Chinese New Years Treasure Hunt was created by Gary Warne and Rick Lasky in 1977 and continues (albeit in a different form) to this day. John Gilmore, co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation was a Suicide Club member. Sexologist Dr. Susan Block was also a member. The Cacophony Society was founded by ex Suicide Clubbers in 1986. Members of the Cacophony Society organized San Francisco's first SantaCon, adopted later and spread throughout the world by the Cacophony Society. There are now Cacophony Societies throughout the world. The Burning Man Festival was influenced by Cacophony and many former Suicide Club members were crucial organizers in the early days of the desert event. The "leave no trace" mantra of Burning Man was borrowed from the Suicide Club and the philosophy of Warne.
- John Jurgensen (2001-05-20). "Urban Explorers Are Picture of Stealth". Associated Press.
- Leander Kahney (2003-07-05). "E-Mail Mobs Materialize All Over". Wired Magazine.
- Maureen Ryan (2003-07-24). "A Mob Scene Just Made For Being There". Chicago Tribune.
- "Drunk Santas Take Over San Francisco". Fog City Journal. 2010-07-25.