A star was born 85 years ago today, June 2, 1933! As part of Class Day festivities celebrating the graduation of the Class of 1933, our beloved “real Testudo” completed her final task and unveiled the original bronze statue created in her likeness that stood in front of Ritchie Coliseum. But what led up to all this hoopla?
Athletic teams at the Maryland Agricultural College/ University of Maryland had had various nicknames over the years–the Farmers, Aggies, Old Liners, even the Ravens at one point–but the university had never had a mascot. Members of the Class of 1933 decided they wanted to correct this and worked with then-Vice President Harry Clifton Byrd to choose the appropriate animal and create the first bronze representation. While the students diligently gathered the necessary funds, Byrd wrote the owner of the Holland Sea Food Company in Crisfield, MD, his hometown, asking him 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
When this beautiful creature arrived in College Park, SGA President Ralph Williams took her off on a train trip to Providence, RI, to meet up with sculptor Aristide Cianfarani for multiple modeling sessions. The Gorham Manufacturing Company, led at the time by former UMD quarterback Edmund Mayo, created the statue and dispatched it to College Park, where our plucky terrapin participated in the unveiling.
The original statue stood in front of Ritchie Coliseum, but, at 300-400 pounds in weight, was subject to frequent turtle-napping by rival schools. When university officials tired of tracking down the missing bronze and arranging for its return, they filled Testudo with cement and steel rods, bringing its total weight to approximately 1,000 pounds, and permanently attached the piece to its base. They also decided to move Testudo to a more secure location, and, after several shifts, positioned the statue in front of McKeldin Library in 1965, where it remains to this day.
The popularity of this university symbol has led to the creation of additional replicas, located across the campus. You can find Testudo near the information desk in the Stamp, at two different spots in Maryland Stadium, at the top of the south stairs at Xfinity, on a brick pathway at the Riggs Alumni Center, and now in the Robert L. and Gertrude M. Edwards Courtyard at Van Munching Hall.
So when you pass one of the statues today, give Testudo’s nose a vigorous rub for good luck and wish our beloved mascot “Happy Birthday!”