ABC’s of UMD: Letter T

T is for TESTUDO!

There’s so much that we could tell you about Testudo that it’s impossible to cram it all into one blog post. We’ll just have to hit the high points and encourage you to visit the University of Maryland Archives to learn more.

How did we ever end up with a diamondback terrapin as our mascot? Our sports teams had had multiple nicknames over the years–Aggies, Farmers, Old Liners, even Ravens, believe it or not–but had not achieved a consistent identity. The members of the Class of 1933 felt strongly that the university needed a mascot, and they approached then-Vice President Harry Clifton Byrd about this matter. The student newspaper was already called The Diamondback, beginning in 1920, and Byrd certainly knew about the beautiful terrapins native to the state of Maryland, having grown up in Crisfield, MD, where these turtles can still be found in the rivers and marshes in the surrounding area. Whatever the factors involved, the class decided to gather the funds to create a bronze statue of a diamondback terrapin, and Byrd arranged to have a large, live specimen brought from his hometown to serve as a model.

The Real Testudo.
The Real Testudo.

This terrapin traveled overnight in a Pullman car on the train to Providence, RI, with SGA President Ralph Williams, where it met up with sculptor Aristide Cianfarani at the Gorham Manufacturing Company where the statue was created. Several months later, Williams traveled again to Rhode Island to bring the terrapin back, still alive, and it participated in the unveiling of its bronze likeness, originally located in front of Ritchie Coliseum. Two days after the dedication, sadly, this terrapin passed away, but it was taxidermied and mounted on a board and is today one of the crown jewels of the University of Maryland Archives.

The original Testudo pulls the cloth off its likeness, Class Day, 1933.
The original Testudo pulls the cloth off its likeness, Class Day, 1933.

Originally the statue weighed only about 300 pounds, and its location along well-traveled Route 1 left it vulnerable to capture by rival schools. Testudo took off on many adventures, and you can find more details about one famous incident in 1947 on our story of Testudo page on University of Maryland A to Z. Campus officials moved the statue to the carpenter shop for a time, to put a stop to these shenanigans, but the students insisted that it be brought back out for display. After a brief stop in Byrd Stadium, the original statue came to reside in front of McKeldin Library in 1965, where it remains to this day. The other bronze versions that you see around campus are all copies of this piece.

Our mascot has taken many forms over the years, both physically and graphically. The brothers of Zeta Beta Tau created some of the earliest live versions of Testudo, seen here, and the costume has changed significantly over the years.

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The graphic representation of our beloved terrapin has also changed quite dramatically, and you can find some fun examples of this artwork on our Flickr site Testudo & Company.

Hope you have enjoyed learning a bit about the most important T of them all! Fear The Turtle!

This is the 20th post in our series on Terrapin Tales called ABC’s of UMD! Posts will come out twice a week, on Mondays and Fridays, throughout the semester. If you want to learn more about campus history, check back weekly to see what we’ve picked to highlight, and you can also visit our encyclopedia University of Maryland A to Z: MAC to Millennium for more UMD facts.

Do you have other ABC’s about campus? Let us know in the comments below!

Check back on Monday, November 9, for Letter U!


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