37 is for the number of sections on (the original) Testudo’s shell
Testudo, we all know him. Whether as the mascot who tirelessly cheers our sports teams to victory, or the subject of statues and artwork throughout the campus and the College Park area, or maybe even as the dapper guy on the right asking out three sorority sisters at once, he is a constant presence in our lives at the University of Maryland. But did you know that the University Archives at Hornbake Library has the preserved remains of the real-life diamondback terrapin who served as the model for the Testudo statues, like the one in front of McKeldin? This treasure is the subject of today’s post!
Our story begins in January 1933, when Harry Clifton “Curley” Byrd, then an assistant to University President Raymond A. Pearson, wrote a letter to the Holland Sea Food Company in Crisfield, Maryland, his hometown. Byrd instructs Mr. Holland to send:
“one big diamondback terrapin of Maryland variety, and not one of those that come from North Carolina. I want it to use as a model for a sculpture.”
The impetus behind acquiring this turtle originated with the Senior Class of 1933, which wished to leave behind a terrapin statue as a class gift. Consequently Dr. Byrd purchased “Archbishop,” aka “Archie,” (soon to be re-christened Testudo) and sent him on to Providence, Rhode Island, to be modeled in bronze by the Gorham Manufacturing Company under the direct supervision of Maryland Agricultural College Class of 1904 alum — and former quarterback — Edmund C. Mayo. “Archbishop” traveled overnight on the train in the company of Senior Class President Ralph Williams, who was also responsible for bringing “Archie” back alive to participate in the statue’s dedication.
According to the May 27, 1933, issue of the Old Line student magazine, Mr. Mayo, now president of Gorham Manufacturing, produced the statue at cost, after Aristide Cianifarani made a model of the live terrapin in clay, based on designs by Joseph Himmelheber. The base of the statue was a separate gift from the Student Government Association, and was likewise produced at cost by Bunt Watkins based on designs by Major Howard Cutler, who had previously designed Ritchie Coliseum, where the statue was to reside.
As to the reasoning behind the gift-giving, the unsigned article continues:
“The memorial has been erected for two purposes. First, it will perpetuate the symbol that the University has adopted, and second, it is to serve as an award to the class winning the annual Freshman-Sophomore struggle. The name of each victorious class is to be engraved each year on a bronze plaque on the base of the memorial, for ten years. After that, bronze plates will be placed around the top of the base, to perpetuate the conquering classes in name at least.
The bronze Terrapin is five feet long, twenty inches high and three feet wide. The original, who measures ten inches, will help unveil his own image on June 2.”
On the day of the big reveal, “Archie” was again called into service. As reported by the Diamondback, “with a string attached to the cloth covering the bronze image and tied about his neck, he ambled off at the precise moment and unveiled his image.”
Unfortunately, the strain of his duties and a particularly hot summer proved too much for Testudo née Archbishop, and he died shortly thereafter. Again, the Diamondback reported, “Dr. R.V. Truitt, head of the Zoology Department, has kept ‘Archie’s’ remains in a state of preservation and now the S.G.A. has essayed to finance the mounting of the terrapin so that he may repose in the Coliseum to arrest the curious gaze of future generations of Maryland students.”
“Archbishop” no longer lives at Ritchie Coliseum, but instead enjoys a quieter after-life, preserved in a humidity-controlled case in a vault in the University Archives at Hornbake Library.
Many classes that tour the Archives and all visitors to Hornbake on Maryland Day have the chance to count the number of sections on his shell and take selfies with the university’s most famous diamondback terrapin! The campus community is forever grateful for his brave sacrifice. Happy Maryland Day, everyone! Don’t forget to stop by Hornbake and visit the real Testudo!
This is a post in our new series on Terrapin Tales called UMD123! Similar to our “ABC’s of UMD” series last semester, posts in this series will take a look at the university’s history “by the numbers.” New posts will come out twice a month, on Wednesdays, throughout the semester; search “UMD123” or check out Twitter #UMD123to see the rest. If you want to learn more about campus history, you can also visit our encyclopedia University of Maryland A to Z: MAC to Millennium for more UMD facts.