Tag Archives: Olympics

USC Campus Legend: Secret tunnels to the Coliseum


EL: “The Olympics were here, long ago, and there’s the Olympic Village, which is housing where the Olympians stayed. Supposedly, there are underground tunnels from the Olympic village to the Coliseum that people used to party in, and apparently there was a party drug problem down there in the eighties so they sealed them all up and you can’t get into them anymore. But no one knows where the entrances are. And they’re spooky.”


The informant is a 20-year-old college student from New Jersey. She learned this legend while exchanging lore with other students who rushed a sorority with her. One of her peers, who is now a friend, told EL that these tunnels, which were supposedly intended to provide athletes with discrete transportation to the stadiums, was co-opted by students as a secret party space in the 1980s.

         USC’s Coliseum, which was first constructed in 1923 and now seats approximately 80,000 individuals, hosted the Summer Olympics in 1932 and again in 1984. Many USC students and alumni have competed at the Olympics, which is a source of school pride for some. School folklore around the Olympics includes the legend there is a tree on campus which was donated to the university by Hitler in celebration of the USC athletes who participated in the 1936 Olympics in Munich.


This legend pieces together interesting parts of USC’s culture and history and creates a compelling mystery. Members of the school community can take pride in the Olympics, a globally and historically significant event which garners attention from around the world, took place at the Coliseum. Moreover, USC has a longstanding reputation for partying, and the 1980s is notorious for its culture of drug use around LA and around the country. To some students, the idea that these tunnels were sealed makes the legend of the secret underground tunnel both believable and exciting, since they can cite it as evidence of the intensity of the school’s party culture. 

While this legend has the elements of mystery and seediness which tends to make stories universally compelling, I think that it provides a mode of social bonding particularly for USC students. Because the legend is so specific to the school, it takes on more significance to members of the community because it is more relevant to their lives. This shared interest gives USC students something to bond over. People can connect with one another through telling the story, through arguing or sharing conspiracies about its existence.

I have never heard of students actually trying to find the sealed off entrances to the underground tunnels, but if people have, I imagine that they were motivated by a sense of connection to the school and a desire to access this epic part of the school’s history. However, I think the main intrigue of this legend is its social function and the fun of talking about it. 

USC Nazi Tree


My informant is a 21 year old student from the University of Southern California. This conversation took place in a university dining hall one evening. The informant and I were in an open space, and the informant’s significant other was present and listening to the conversation, as well. The SO’s presence, is the most likely reason that the informant was much more dramatic and told the legend quite jokingly, as if for the purpose to get laughs out of both me and the SO.In this account, he explains an urban legend from USC. This Nazi Tree was recently mentioned in an LA Times article.  This is a transcription of our conversation.



Urban legend turned truth at the University of Southern California, is that there on our premises lies a single Nazi Tree. Before you say, “What? The USC institution—gilded in white privilege—has a Nazi tree on campus?” Well, when you have Von KleinsSmid as a president for a decade, wild shit happens.

So essentially, at the 1936 Munich Olympics, there are obviously lots of USC athletes there, and, you know, in celebration and in giving thanks, the Nazi regime gave saplings to all the athletes. And so one sapling made it back to USC, and it was planted right in between the back of Bovard and the back of PED [the Physical Education Building] over by the Book Store, and so now enshrined on our campus is a gift directly from Hitler himself.”



Though this is the first time I heard a formal telling of this USC urban legend, I did hear word of it in the first few weeks that I came to this school. The informant and I are in an organization together, Trojan Advocates for Political Progress, so discussion of this tree began again in our meetings due to the relevant name change of VKC (which is happening upon the discovery that Von KleinSmid was in support of of eugenics). Looking this up, I saw that the LA Times also mentioned “one of two [saplings] planted on the USC campus survives to this day.”

My informant proceeded to tell me that, after doing some research on Reddit, he decided to explore the campus area of where the tree is possibly located; sure enough, he found the tree, which he stated was “unmistakably the tree because there was a plaque in front of it dedicated to the 1936 Munich Olympics.” He’s not the first I’ve met one to search for this tree— this tree seems to have the same reputation as ghosts, where people hunt around to see if its existence is true. I surmise that, just like ghosts, it’s tied to our shame or guilt of our school’s racist and corrupt history. The official existence of this tree is just another factor that reinforces the notion that USC is racist, both past and present.


For the LA Times article mentioned above, please refer to this citation:

Crowe, Jerry. “To Protect and Preserve a Tree Rooted in Games.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times,                         20 Aug. 2007, www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2007-aug-20-sp-crowe20-story.html.