By: Anne S.K. Turkos
Today, June 2, marks the 90th anniversary of the dedication of the original statue of Testudo, which originally stood in front of Ritchie Coliseum.
The ceremony was the highlight of Class Day for the 268 members of the Class of 1933, who had gathered enough funds for the sculpture by holding their prom on campus, rather than in a fancy hotel in downtown Washington, contributing their profits from the 1932 Reveille yearbook, cancelling the publication of the Old Line magazine, and collecting other donations. Senior class president Ralph Williams then took a live terrapin overnight on the train to Providence, Rhode Island, to be captured in bronze by sculptor Aristide Cianfarani and the Gorham Manufacturing Co., which cast the statue. Upon its return to campus, that same terrapin helped unveil the statue. Following its demise, this terrapin was taxidermied and mounted on a board and today holds a place of honor in a custom-designed display case in the University of Maryland Archives.
Although not a light-weight at 300 pounds, the original statue was subject to capture by students from rival schools, usually before major athletic contests. One of the most memorable such incidents occurred before the Maryland vs. Johns Hopkins national lacrosse championship game in 1947. A group of Hopkins students kidnapped Testudo and carted him off to Baltimore, where they buried him for safekeeping. They then prepared their Alumni Memorial Residence for battle by stringing barbed wire and laying in a supply of fire hoses and soap chips. When the contingent of approximately 250 University of Maryland rescuers arrived at 2 a.m. on the morning of the game, they were soaked by the fire hoses, and those Terps that succeeded in entering the dormitory slid all over the soap-slicked floors. Over 200 Baltimore policemen
fought for almost two hours to control the chaos, in the process arresting eleven students, three from Hopkins and eight from Maryland, for disorderly conduct. Hopkins dean G. Wilson Shaffer finally put an end to the battle by ordering the excavation and return of Testudo before the opening face-off of the big game. The Hopkins students complied, but painted a large, blue “H” on him before his trip home. Some of the Maryland students later shaved the heads of the Hopkins offenders as punishment.
To avoid a repeat of such incidents, campus officials later filled Testudo with cement and steel rods, bringing his total weight to approximately 1,000 pounds, and permanently attached him to his base. They also decided to move Testudo to a more secure location, and, after several shifts, positioned him in front of McKeldin Library in 1965, where he remains to this day.
The tradition of rubbing his nose for good luck has given Testudo quite a sheen since 1933! More recently, beginning in the early 1990s, students have begun to leave Testudo offerings of any imaginable kind–food, cigarettes, soda, beer, poems, computer discs, candy, flowers, coins–at final exam time.
So strong is his power that five exact copies of the original statue have been installed on campus: outside the Xfinity Center, inside the Stamp Student Union, one on either side of the Gossett Football Team House, and outside the Samuel Riggs IV Alumni Center–to spread his magic. An additional Testudo, which is not an exact replica of the original, was installed in the courtyard of Van Munching Hall in April 2018. Thank you to the Class of 1933 for creating such a powerful symbol of the University of Maryland spirit 90 years ago!
And long live Testudo!
Anne S.K. Turkos is the University Archivist Emerita for the University of Maryland. She has been a part of the staff of the UMD Libraries’ Special Collections and University Archives since January 1985. Before retirement in July 2017, she worked with campus departments and units, student groups, and alumni to transfer, preserve, and make available permanent university records. She continues to support the Archives through her work on special projects and fundraising. Follow Anne on Twitter at @AnneTurkos.