Testudo’s Travels: The History of Kidnapping Testudo

DBK 6-7-33 Statue Unveiling

There are many great stories in college and university lore about kidnapping the mascot of a rival school, e.g. the Army mule and the Navy goat or USC’s theft of UCLA’s Victory Bell, among many other tales. Believe or not, our beloved Testudo was not immune from this phenomenon too!

The first Testudo statue was revealed on the afternoon of June 2, 1933, when a 400-pound replica of a Diamondback Terrapin was presented to University President Raymond A. Pearson by Ralph Williams, President of the Student Government Association (SGA). The original memorial, created at the Gorham Manufacturing Company in Providence, Rhode Island, was placed on a brick and stone pedestal, funded by donations from the SGA, outside of Ritchie Coliseum. Major Howard C. Cutler, the architect who designed the Coliseum, finalized plans for the base initially drawn by D.C.-area artist Joseph Himmelheber.

1933 Image of Ritchie-Testudo-Turner - ACC. 72-182, B. 2
Testudo memorial statue outside of Ritchie Coliseum. Summer, 1933.

The Testudo-nappings began not long after the dedication. According to a short article from the September 23, 1958, issue of the Diamondback, Testudo was stolen from his perch outside Ritchie Coliseum twelve times in fifteen years, between its unveiling in 1933 and 1948. This blog post explores the more memorable kidnappings of Testudo from his perch outside Ritchie Coliseum, before the statue was filled with cement and relocated outside the football stadium in 1951.

DBK - 9-23-58 - Testudo Stolen (12th time)
The Diamondback – September 23, 1958

The statue was first stolen on May 28, 1934, on a Monday night, the last day of the semester. At 8 AM the next morning, SGA President Warren S. Tydings and Ralph Williams, former SGA President who presented the memorial to University President Pearson, ordered a search. The thieves left “J.H.U.” painted in green on the statue’s base, hinting that the thieves were from the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. University Vice President Harry Clifton “Curley” Byrd called Johns Hopkins’ auditor Henry Iddins, informing him of the theft. Through information obtained from a state policeman, the search party learned that the thieves, “who looked like college boys,” may have stopped at a gas station in Berwyn, where one thief acquired iodine and a bandage for an injured finger. Later in the afternoon, administrators were tipped off by a phone call from a University of Maryland student, informing them the statue was located at a Johns Hopkins fraternity house in the 3100 block of North Calvert Street. Ralph Williams called Baltimore Police requesting a search of the fraternity, to no avail. By the time the UMD search party prepared a trip to Baltimore, the statue had been found in front of a dormitory at Hopkins, surrounded by roughly sixty Hopkins students. The crowd was questioned by Iddins, who then demanded that the students return the statue. “Fun is fun, but this is carrying it too far,” Iddins said, adding that the statue “must have cost several thousand dollars–and is a beautiful piece of work.” University of Maryland authorities echoed similar sentiments, suggesting that the theft “transcended the prank stage.” While Johns Hopkins administrators suggested that the thieves, if caught, would be expelled, Hopkins Dean Edward Berry also said he did not expect the thieves to be identified.

Testudo was stolen again by Johns Hopkins students early Saturday morning, May 17, 1941. When Maryland students discovered Testudo missing from his perch at the Coliseum, they immediately gave chase to the fleeing Hopkins students. After an unsuccessful pursuit, Maryland students alerted Baltimore Police of “the crime of the century,” who then notified Johns Hopkins officials of the theft. This time, Hopkins administrators found the bronze Terrapin locked up at the Homewood athletic field, where Hopkins students planned to bring the terrapin onto the field during intermission of a lacrosse match between Hopkins and the University of Maryland the next day. Instead, the Hopkins administrators sent Testudo back to the University of Maryland, much to the chagrin of their students. According to one Hopkins student, “about a hundred of us, certain that we’d beat the Marylanders this afternoon, got in autos and trucks and went to College Park last night to do something about that Terrapin.” For better or worse, by the time this gang of Hopkins students arrived, Testudo had already been taken by another group of “about fifty.” Police, searching for the terrapin, stopped the gang of Hopkins students several times, but, without Testudo, they were let go. “When we got back to Homewood,” one student said, Testudo was “on the steps of Levering Hall. So we locked it up and decided we’d pull it on the field this afternoon and give it back to its owners.”

Testudo was stolen several times in 1947. In the first instance, Johns Hopkins students captured the terrapin in May before the national championship lacrosse game. Sidewalks on the Johns Hopkins campus were painted by individuals who believed Maryland would beat Hopkins in the upcoming game. In retaliation, Hopkins students traveled to College Park and stole Testudo. As many as 25 Hopkins students were caught, “scalped,” and held hostage by University of Maryland students until Testudo was returned.

Later that same year, Testudo was stolen on Halloween night by University of Maryland students who resided in West Virginia. According to news accounts, on the evening before the theft, a student asked a police officer about the penalty for stealing Testudo. “Don’t know,” the officer replied, “it has never happened to a Maryland student.” In this case, Testudo was not painted or damaged, but temporarily removed and left “camouflaged in the greenhouse shrubbery.”

Only a month later, Testudo was stolen again from his pedestal outside Ritchie Coliseum, this time by students from Loyola College. Maryland students, less than excited by this specific kidnapping of Testudo by Loyola students, cited a lack of an athletic rivalry between the two schools as the reason for their indifference to his disappearance. In this case, Testudo allegedly attended a Loyola pep-rally and spent an evening on “The Block” on East Baltimore Street in downtown Baltimore. He was returned undamaged and without Loyola’s colors painted on him. Loyola students also sent a letter back with Testudo, thanking University President Byrd, for his “generous hospitality” in loaning them the statue and even wrapped Testudo in a blanket for his trek back to College Park.Maryland's Testudo, Abducted Again, Gets Police Escort Home - Sun - Dec 13, 1947

After the abundance of kidnappings, Testudo was moved from his perch outside of Ritchie Coliseum into storage in the General Services Department on the east side of Route 1 for several years. Upon the completion of the new football stadium at the University of Maryland in 1950, Testudo was brought out of storage, relocated outside of the new stadium, and filled with cement to prevent future thefts. Seeking a more central location for the statue, students requested that it be moved to the front of McKeldin Library, where Testudo has resided safely since 1965.

Maryland defense stops "Turkey" Jones of Johns Hopkins, Maryland Agricultural College football, 1919

Leroy Mackert Stuns Maryland-Hopkins Rivalry, 1920

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we thought it would be appropriate to share a bit of Maryland athletics/Thanksgiving history. In a 2012 blog post, we told you about the bitter athletic rivalry between Maryland and Johns Hopkins in the early twentieth century, including the annual football contest between the two. This game was nearly always held on Thanksgiving day, and usually determined the state championship. No single game better exemplifies the rivalry than the 1920 Thanksgiving Day matchup.

Maryland Agricultural College vs. Johns Hopkins Football Game, 1919
Maryland Agricultural College vs. Johns Hopkins Football Game, 1919

The year is 1920, Thanksgiving Day, state title up for grabs, and Hopkins hasn’t scored a touchdown against the Maryland squad since 1910. Just when you thought the rivalry between Hopkins and Maryland couldn’t get any more exciting, enter Leroy Mackert.

Leroy Mackert
Leroy Mackert

Leroy Mackert was Maryland’s star tackle and fullback, a true force to be reckoned with on the field. What makes Mackert so controversial, however, is the simple fact that he had attended Lebanon Valley College before transferring to Maryland where he would play the 1919 and 1920 seasons. In the weeks leading up to the big Thanksgiving game, Hopkins Athletic Director Ronald Abercrombie suddenly began making claims questioning the eligibility of Mackert. Hopkins accused Maryland of playing an athlete who had used up all of his collegiate eligibility in Junior College. In response to the accusations, Maryland coach Curly Byrd fired back that Mackert had been and was still eligible to play.

Maryland defense stops "Turkey" Jones of Johns Hopkins, Maryland Agricultural College football, 1919
Maryland defense stops “Turkey” Jones of Johns Hopkins, Maryland Agricultural College football, 1919

After the game Hopkins demanded that Maryland had to apologize for playing Mackert and if not, they would cut off athletic relations with Maryland. Needless to say, neither happened. Leroy Mackert went on to play football professionally and serve in the military. He also returned to his alma mater as an assistant coach and physical education instructor. He will always be remembered by Terps fans as the guy who abruptly turned the world of Maryland collegiate sports upside down.

Diamondback banner

90 Years Ago in The Diamondback: Maryland Preps for Battle Against Hopkins

Diamondback headlines

90 years ago today, everyone at the University of Maryland was busy gearing up for the weekend’s big football game against Johns Hopkins at Homewood Field. While Duke has been our biggest rival for decades, in the early 20th century it was Maryland and Hopkins’ athletic battles that defined the term “bitter rivalry.” The epitome of the rivalry was the football matchup, which was played on Thanksgiving Day nearly every year from 1915 to 1934.

In 1922, the issue of The Diamondback before the big game (held on Saturday, November 18th; 1922 was one of the only years that the game was not played on Thanksgiving itself) was stuffed to the brim with pre-game coverage, including the front page, alumni column, staff editorial, and other articles.

Maryland-Hopkins football record
Maryland-Hopkins football record, 1892-1920

In the early days, when the school was Maryland Agricultural College and had a student body of less than 200, it was rare for the team to get on the Hopkins schedule, and when they did, they usually lost badly. The first eight times the teams met (over a period of 17 years, from 1892 to 1909), Hopkins routed Maryland. And yet, as the staff editorial proclaimed,

Football history quote

The tide finally began to turn in 1910, with an 11-11 tie. The next year, Maryland lost again, but scored a field goal while holding Hopkins to just one touchdown. This was followed by the “era of success,” including six shutout wins by Maryland and just one loss. 1922’s game, however, didn’t look to be so easy, with The Diamondback predicting that it would be the “closest and hardest football battle” since 1915, and warning that “it is not going to be easy, and it is not going to be a walkover for us; it will require the same old fighting spirit, but then we certainly have our private stock of that around College Park.”

The paper exhorted everyone at the University to attend the game and cheer loudly, proclaiming that “Maryland can’t beat such an opponent as Hopkins unless she has the wholehearted, unreserved support of every man on the Hill.” Students were reminded that “these are the events which will be remembered long after the knowledge so painfully absorbed has been forgotten” and alumni, too, were urged to “Get your “yellin’ togs on”!

Diamondback exhortation

Even the New Mercer Literary Society got in on the act. Their weekly meeting began with a “strong and urgent appeal to the members of the society for their whole-hearted and unreserved support in the coming Hopkins’ game,” which met with an “instantaneous and very demonstrative response. The Diamondback approved, noting that the New Mercerites could be “counted on individually and collectively for some real College spirit.”

Indeed, a campus-wide surge in school spirit was already on display, with 700 out of 750 students participating in a Monday-night rally where students of all years “yell[ed] their fool heads off, and then grieve[d] because they can yell no more.” The rambunctious energy would continue on Saturday before the game, when students planned to march through Baltimore to Homewood Field, waving pennants, banners, and signs alongside the University band, “showing Baltimore what’s what and preparing themselves for the fray, in which Maryland is going out to do Hopkins on her home field.” Students were also encouraged to shout a variety of dark but clever slogans during the parade, such as:

Anti-Hopkins slogans
(Ray Van Orman was the John Hopkins coach, while the final slogan refers to the high profile murder conviction of Walter Socolow in Baltimore the previous month)

For Maryland, this game wasn’t just about winning in football, but about the growing status of the school as a whole: “Every fellow who can make a noise should be in the Homewood stands on the day of the game not only to show the team that we are giving them our fullest support, but also to show the Hopkinites and the people of Baltimore that the University of Maryland is anything but the insignificant little school it used to be.”

 So, did “Curley’s boys” reign victorious over their rival? Come back next Friday to find out!

(Additional information in this post from the Wikipedia article on “Johns Hopkins-Maryland rivalry.”)

Beat Hopkins!