Camps in Pop Culture: Camp Tamakwa’s famous T-shirt

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As summer camps go, few can claim the kind of worldwide exposure Camp Tamakwa has received thanks to some alumni in high places.

The Algonquin Park, Ontario, camp had an entire movie, Indian Summer, filmed on its grounds in the early ’90s but the film starring Alan Arkin as inspired-by-real-life camp director “Unca” Lou Handler isn’t the only brush the camp has had with Hollywood. The movie about eight former campers invited back to the camp as adults was written and directed by camp alum Mike Binder and his camp friend Sam Raimi played handyman Stick Coder.

Raimi, an actor, film director, producer and writer, payed homage to his summer camp in his 1981 horror film The Evil Dead by hanging a Tamakwa T-shirt in the closet of the haunted cabin where the film is set. The practice of sneaking the iconic shirt with the beaver logo and the block-lettered Tamakwa has made its way to other films involving Tamakwa alums.

Below is a rundown of Tamakwa T-shirt cameos.

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The Evil Dead, a 1981 horror film written and directed by Raimi, features a scene with a Camp Tamakwa shirt hanging in a closet of the haunted cabin where five college students vacation.

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A Tamakwa T-shirt is seen hanging in a closet again in the 1987 horror sequel Evil Dead II, directed and co-written by Raimi.

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Though the 1993 film Indian Summer was filmed on location at Camp Tamakwa, only brief glimpses of the shirt are seen in the film.

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Jason Biggs’ character, James “Jim” Levenstein, wears a Camp Tamakwa shirt in the 1999 film American Pie. Camp alumnus Warren Zide was one of the producers of the teen comedy. Prior to starring in American Pie, Biggs appeared in 1997 summer camp movie Camp Stories as a camper named Abby.

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A green long-sleeve shirt appears in the 2002 movie Spider-Man, which Raimi directed. In the scene, Peter Parker/Spider Man (Tobey Maguire) is hiding from Norman Osborn/Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe) and as he looks down from the ceiling the Tamakwa shirt can been spotted on the floor.

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Adam Sandler wears a Tamakwa shirt in hospital scenes in the 2007 movie Reign Over Me. In the film, Sandler plays 9-11 widower Dr. Charlie Fineman, a dentist who winds up being hospitalized after attempting suicide by cop. Tamakwa alumnus Mike Binder wrote, directed and acted in the film.

In addition to Binder and Raimi, Tamakwa’s alumni include Gilda Radner, Chevy Chase, film producer Shauna Robertson, singer-songwriter Amy Sky, child psychiatrist Dr. Paul Steinhauer, politicians Sander and Carl Levin, Bruno Mars manager Brandon Creed, ROOTS clothing owners Michael Budman and Don Green and federal judge Avern Cohn.

Matt Ralph

Matt Ralph

I'm the editor of Summer Camp Culture and also blog at Tangzine.com and MatthewRalph.com. I live in the Philadelphia area and went to camps and camp meetings growing up in Ohio, Maryland and New Jersey.

7 Comments

  1. Background on the Indian Summer pic for anyone who cares: I was an extra in that film (as were a lot of the campers, who came back up to came a week after the last session in 1992), and a lot of us were given 1970s Tamakwa shirts to wear for flashback scenes, most of which didn’t make the final cut. The filmmakers were very careful that we all be in period clothing, which meant short shorts and t-shirts. Remember these are all ’90s kids from Detroit accustomed to wearing Fab 5-style mesh shorts past the knees. Everyone’s underwear had to be cut down several inches to not show under the high-thigh polyester short. That would have been highly uncomfortable even if it had been warm out; in fact it was rainy and low 50s. If you watch the running flashback scenes you can look carefully and see piles of flannels and sweatpants and blankets we brought to the set to keep warm and dry between takes, and more than a few kids doing some thigh-rubbing.

    The actors in the shot with Alan Arkin are Brad Deutch (left) and Gabe Gunsberg (right, background). They and the rest of the kids playing the young versions of the main characters were all Tamakwa campers, except I think one of them was Kimberly Williams’ younger sister. As actors they were treated with all Hollywood royalty, including a banquet feast every meal. On the other side of the rope were a hundred extras living on potato chips and RC Cola. My friends on the actors side didn’t want to break the rules, but Kimberly would stand at the end of the buffet near the rope and feed us turkey slices and cheese.

  2. Maybe someone should investigate Camp Manitou Canada’s co/director Jeff Wilson. He’s had his hand in 3 major Hollywood movies in his camping career. Bet you can’t guess all 3?!?!?

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