USC Digital Folklore Archives / Initiations
Tales /märchen

The Drop Bears of Camp Orkila

Artist's rendition of a drop bear

Artists rendition of a drop bear

The summer camp councilor describes the legend of the Drop Bears at Camp Orkila, a traditional overnight summer camp on Orcus Island, WA.

When I was in middle school I went to Camp Orkila three summers. And the second time I was there, we had this councilor called Jim who had me completely convinced that drop bears are real.

Drop bears are a dangerous cousin of the koala bear. Jim described them as looking like koalas except with razor-sharp teeth. They live in trees and at night they drop onto your head, knocking up unconscious. Then they eat you. And he wore this skate helmet at night for protection. He warned us not to leave the cabins at night without a flashlight and he said even with a flashlight we still might be eaten. 

The source explained that the story was that the bears had been brought to the island by the Seattle Zoo in the 1930s after the zoo couldn’t contain them. The helmet is what convinced the source that the councilor wasn’t lying. After all, why would he bring a helmet and wear it every night if the threat wasn’t real.

All the other boys in our cabin didn’t believe Jim at all. They knew he was them but I totally bought it and I was really convinced and I would argue with them about it.

Well long story short, last summer I was the lead Grey Wolves councilor at Orkila—councilor for boys aged ten to thirteenand I brought my bicycle helmet and I told them all about drop bears.

Did they believe you?

[laughs] Well… they said that they did not but I know I scared some of them.

From internet research, it’s clear that drop bears are usually are typically an Australian story. Typically, Australians tell foreigners about drop bears as a prank. The drop bears at Camp Orkila function exactly the same way. The camp councilors and experienced campers are in on the joke and they try to trick newcomers. Because original camp councilor brought a helmet with him a prop, it’s possible that he heard about drop bears on the internet or elsewhere and planned to bring it to Camp Orikila. The camp is an ideal place to spread folklore of this kind because the campers are away from home in an unfamiliar place without access to cell service or the internet, making them much more likely to believe. As with other pranks, the drop bears story at Orkila can also serve as an initiation, or a mild hazing of newcomers.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Bear Statue

At Interlochen in Michigan. There was always a statue of a bear on campus, and it was a tradition for everyone just to pee on the bear. Usually just done at the end of the year cause it’s usually snowy during the rest of the year. Started by academy kids, no idea how it really started. I actually did it once. It was funny because sometimes people who didn’t know would sit on the bear, and it was really gross.

There is a really weird tradition, but it makes sense that it would come from a bunch of kids at an away-from-home school.


Rituals, festivals, holidays

Throwing Pennies

At summer camp—there’s a horn solo in Liszt Les Prelude. People in the orchestra supposed to throw pennies at the horn player. Camp has been around since the 1800s. Heard about it from other people in the orchestra, but I never saw it happen.

This took place at the informant’s high school, Interlochen.

This seems like a really bizarre tradition, and it’s kind of strange that it was talked about and passed along by students, but never followed through during my informant’s time there.


Howard University Graduation

Informant: My sister spent a semester as a transfer student at Howard University.

Original Script: At Howard University it is declared as the Mecca for Historically Black Colleges and Universities. At the Mecca graduating senior must sign their name on the clock tower on the 12th floor of the library. Venturing out to find the clock tower in the library is half the battle but getting up there is worth the journey and the view is amazing. Every midnight the day before graduation seniors find their way to the tower write their names and chant “ HU you know!”

Background: My sister and seniors that went to Howard were taking about what their traditions were when graduating.

Thoughts: I like the tradition of the university because it bonds together the students that made it  through the 4 years of college and you are apart of a ritual that is shared from those in the past. Traditions create memories that can be passed down to generations of students to keep the positive attitude to make it through the 4 years of college, so you can join the tradition.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Sorority Initiations

Informant: My sister spent a semester as a transfer student at Howard University and the campus was heavily into greek life. Most of the student population was apart of the Divine 9.

Original script: Greek organizations have well known stories of their hazing. For the divine 9 sororities, the women are known for intense hazing at Howard. The sorority of delta sigma theta is known for having their pledges swim across the lake across the street from the university. At 7am, the pledges are blindfolded and taken to the lake wearing only under garments and told to race across the lake and the last 3 will not be admitted into the sorority.

Background: My sister asked what delta sigma theta initiations were like when deciding to join a sorority.

Thoughts: I don’t agree with the hazing if it crosses an inappropriate boundary, but having traditions and rituals in a organization bring members closer together because they are bonded by the memories and hardships they went through to be accepted.



Initiation Ritual in Bakeries

Informant worked in the bakery belonging to his grandmother and father to put himself through college.  While there, he encountered this initiation rite that every new employee had to ‘pass’ before they were officially one of the guys.  It is a variation on the idea of snipe-hunting, or the naval ‘steaming the deck’ trope.

Informant: We used to give the new guy a ten gallon cream can and send him three blocks down, a new guy when he came, started, and send him three blocks down to another bakery to get a can of steam.

Interviewer: Why?

Informant: Just kind of initiation.The milkcan, the cream can, the thing weighed like forty fifty pounds, they had to be heavy or they’d get dented.

Interviewer: Empty?  Thirty pounds empty?

Empty. Ten gallon can? It’s huge, it’s made of metal, I used to carry em around full.  By the time the guy figured out it was a, I guess, a hazing thing, he was one of the family, you know.

Folk Beliefs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Kitab – ekteb (Wedding Ritual)

Kitab- ekteb translates into “to write the book.” It is the agreement in the marriage. It happens in someones house, making it very home-oriented. It is when the Islamic priest, Sheik, comes. The family of the man needs to go to the family of  the woman and ask for permission from her father. They ceremony happens either  before the wedding ceremony or the day off. The groom and bride read from the Quran. This is to state that “this is the marriage.” After the ritual they are married under Islam.  Before the kitab-ekteb the groom is not allowed to touch the bride.

My informant is from a Lebanese family. She is a college student at the California State University Northridge. She is very close with her father, often helping him run the family store. We sat down at a coffee shop to talk about folklore from her family.

I found this interesting because it was different yet similar to the American wedding. The idea that a couple can be wed before the huge wedding ceremony is very interesting. It also hints that sometimes the wedding party is just to show off wealth. I also found it interesting that the ceremony took place in an intimate setting. It really showed how humble and sacred the marriage agreement is.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Breaking of the Glass

Nationality: American

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): None

Age: 62

Residence: New York City, USA

Performance Date: April 8, 2017 (Skype)


Alan is a 62 year old man, born and raised in New Jersey who is a 2nd Generation American whose ancestry is Austrian and Russian.


Interviewer: Good Evening. When I asked you about Jewish Wedding Traditions, you told me about your personal experiences with that of Breaking of the Glass. Can you explain further.


Informant: I would be very happy to do this. I remember when I was eight years old at my Uncle Jerrys wedding that I was the ring boy.  It was a traditional Jewish Wedding and Uncle Jerry and his bride stood under a tent called a Chuppah. I later learned about what the meaning was. I am not going to get into ah here…you can read all about it online.  It is well documented. So anyway, getting back to the breaking of the glass.  So when my job as ring boy was over, the ceremony was ending and then um, Uncle Jerry stomped on this white cloth on the floor and then I heard this sound which sounded, um like glass breaking. Then all the crowd of people at the wedding shouted. At the time I didn’t know what they shouted, however I would latter learn it was Mazel Tov, um which, I mean is a Jewish word for good luck.  At that moment I was so taken by how happy the people were and I thought the glass breaking caused everyone to become so happy.  I remember when everyone left where the wedding ceremony took place I went and very carefully to pick the white cloth up containing the glass. I remember carrying this cloth with the glass like it was the most valuable thing I ever held.  Anyway after everyone ate, I found Uncle Jerry and his new bride Audrey, who later divorced, and I presented the glass in the cloth.  They asked me what this was and as typical eight year said don’t you remember it is the glass you broke and then everyone cheered.  I um then told them that I thought you might want to keep the glass to remind you of the happy times. They looked puzzled and then laughed and took the glass and went on talking to other guests. Upon later learning of their divorce many years later and um speaking to Uncle Jerry I mentioned that the glass didn’t bring them any happy memories. He looked at me like he didn’t understand what the heck I was talking about.


As I got older I learned and understood more about Judaism I learned about the meaning of the glass breaking was all about.  There are a lot of interpretations about this, but one fact which is agreed that it commemorates uh the destruction and, sorry, destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.  Of course all the sorrows that brought but also remember for the wedding aspect of this tradition that you know that there will be good and happy times. Other sects of Judaism have other beliefs as well and it is open to many different um shall we say schools of thoughts. Such as the couple comes together by the smashing of the separate bonds or another is the reuniting of the two souls as ah lifelong mates.  I always felt that it was a beautiful thing in that it announces to the world the couple’s union as husband and wife and announces the journey in life as one united. I am very sorry I am going on and on.


Interviewer:  No that’s OK. This is a great story, please.


Informant: OK then. Glad you are still interested. So oh where, oh let me see, yes, so I liked this tradition so much that at every Jewish Wedding that I attended that I would collect the glass, this time being smarted about things and carry a plastic zip lock bag, so to keep everything intact. Then I would present it to the couple afterwards and explain what I told you before and all the time the couple was thrilled to have it.  I vowed that when I got married that I would save my glass and if I could turn it into something which could be displayed.


Interviewer: What does this piece mean to you?


Informant: While this meaning of the tradition of the glass breaking has multiple other meanings other than the one everyone agrees about the destruction of the temple, the meaning for me always holds great optimism about a couple coming together to hopefully live a joyous and loving life together.


Thoughts about the piece:

A surprising number of manufacturers create vessels for this ceremony of destruction, similar to inexpensive plates sold to be broken at Greek weddings. Another Jewish fable about remembrance; two souls reunited as one, at:

Some other Jewish wedding day traditions at:





Dance Team Initiation

Background: Anna Lim is a 21-year-old student living in Los Angeles, CA. She is a student at USC. She is currently studying electrical engineering.

Original script: “I had an initiation for my dance team in my sophomore year of college. It was probably one of the funniest and most ridiculous things I’ve had to do during my time here at USC. They basically gave us a huge laundry list of things to do around campus – tasks to complete, basically. It included dabbing in McCarthy quad, ordering a drink at Starbucks with a fake name, finding a DPS officer’s scooter and taking a picture on top of it, etc. So they told us we had to finish all the tasks by a certain time and meet at one of the dance team member’s apartments. When we got there, we were told to get into a single file line and close our eyes. They led us into the apartment room – which was pitch black by the way – and when I opened my eyes, I could see the team members holding candles and chanting something underneath their breaths. They gave us a piece of paper that held an oath to the team on it and we had to memorize three paragraphs of this oath in 10 minutes. It was incredible nerve wracking and so much pressure because the team members were literally in the room with us looking hella intimidating with their candles and deadpan faces. Then when we completed that task, we had to kneel before the captain and swear our allegiance to our captain’s dog, Maggie. It was honestly such an otherworldly experience, but absolutely hilarious at the same time.”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: My informant was on Break Through Hip Hop at USC and this was her sophomore year of college

Thoughts about the piece: This initiation sounds hilarious and like a lot of fun. I like how they didn’t force you to drink or do things you didn’t want to; rather, the whole thing sounds pretty silly and just a great way to bond with your fellow new initiates. .



Haunted house

Background: Shivani Patel is a 19-year-old student living in Los Angeles, CA. She is a student at USC. She is currently studying Business Administration.

Original script: “Back in my neighborhood, there was this really old, abandoned house that all the neighborhood kids swore was haunted. Like, really. It was creepy even in the day, because the fence was all broken, the grass was dead, the door was open all the time because the hinges were broken… it looked terrible. People would walk past it and there were rumors that there was a girl at the window sometimes. Ugh, I can’t even think about it without getting a little spooked again. Anyways, once I got into high school, there was this whole thing where groups of friends would go to this haunted house at night and camp out there for the entire night. After one group had done, more and more groups of friends were doing it and at this point, it was almost like a ritual because groups that had done it were deemed ‘cool’ and ‘independent’ like adults, basically. We were just in high school but I remember everybody just wanted to be seen as cool adults. So, the answer is yes, I did go to the haunted house with my group of friends. I didn’t personally stay the night and none of my friends did. To be honest, I’m not sure if any group of friends actually did stay the night or if they lied and said that they did. Either way, once we had said we had done it, upperclassmen were willing to talk to us and share about their experiences when they camped out at this haunted house.”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: My informant went to a school in Georgia. She was born and raised in Atlanta with her parents and younger brother.

Thoughts about the piece: This ritual sounds absolutely terrible. I doubt that any of the kids actually stayed the night and if they did, major props to them. I don’t know how staying overnight in a haunted house makes you an adult, but I can definitely see how high school kids would see this as just another challenge/dare to prove themselves to their peers.