Touring the tales of UC Berkeley

Photo of Bowles Hall
Gabriel Nuer/Staff

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How well do you know the ground you walk on around UC Berkeley? Do you wonder what secrets hide in that bell tower, or perhaps a dog graduating from college intimidates you? From worrisome to wholesome, here are campus’s stories and legends that you might have missed on your campus tour.

Tunnels below 

If you ever wished there was a more direct way to get from one class to another, campus’s underground tunnels were once the risky solution. These steam tunnels date back to the early 1900s and are both an underground network and shortcut.

Rumors suggest the tunnels might have also served as an escape route for counter-culture protesters, but entrances have since been locked up. Even if you’re Batman, your safest bet is to avoid these cavernous pathways.

Tower of bones

Before you eat lunch near the Campanile, you might want to know a collection of bones exists close by. Sather Tower is home to more than 300,000 fossils collected from places such as the La Brea Tar Pits. Mammoth tusks, whale bones and dinosaur footprint casts all reside in this clock tower. Fossils might be hidden from you, but the pertinent stories they tell ring a bell.

Bound with human skin

Finding a good book from the library can feel serendipitous, but selecting one bound with human skin might not. The Bancroft Library was said to possess a French prayer book from 1676 bound in human flesh. Further investigation revealed the text was actually bound in horse hide. The confusion raises questions about whether or not any of the UC Berkeley libraries may actually have a book really bound with the skin of a human. After all, anthropodermic bibliopegy turned out to be relevant for a book found at a Harvard University library — all the more reason to choose UC Berkeley for school instead.

The forbidden seals and 4.0 hill 

Be careful where you wander around the area of Memorial Glade. According to legend, stepping on campus seals located near here can ruin the chances of receiving a 4.0. While this GPA jinx might leave you looking down, there is also a good-luck charm that can supposedly bring your mood and grades up.

If you roll down 4.0 hill near the Faculty Club at the beginning of a semester, lore says you will get straight A’s. Just make sure you tuck your head when you roll and watch where you step.

Hakuna matata 

Can you feel the love tonight? If you know about UC Berkeley’s colony of spotted hyenas, then you can. Twenty of these animals were brought from Kenya in 1985 to be studied in the Berkeley area by UC Berkeley biologists, psychologists and animal behaviorists. Findings on socialization, hormonal functions and reproduction were groundbreaking. Artists from “The Lion King” also visited for inspiration to create sketches based on these hyenas, and the results were definitely not something to laugh about.

Secret society 

If you are a secret society that failed to keep your big secret, you might be called the Order of the Golden Bear. This highly prestigious honor society meets at Senior Hall, but you can only attend meetings through invitation — leaving many to consider whether faculty and students involved have UC Berkeley’s holistic interest in mind. We are more likely to not receive a flyer from clubs at Sproul Plaza than join this society.

Man’s best friend 

Graduating from UC Berkeley can sometimes feel impossible, but that wasn’t the case for Igor Fetch. As the only dog to earn a degree at UC Berkeley, Igor was buried next to Bowles Hall, where he resided from 1972 until his death in 1976. The beloved canine’s grave reads “A True Bowlesman And Friend,” and there is no evidence to disprove he was a very good boy.

The most baby bear 

A secret sits hidden within South Hall’s architecture: the smallest statue of a bear on campus. Squint intensely at the third circle starting from the left of the building’s balcony rail, and you can see campus’s mascot in the most fun-sized version. Remember to keep an eye out for this tiny but mighty Golden Bear.


Adriana Temprano is the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion chair. Contact her at [email protected]