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.

A legendary politician visits campus

With the 2016 Presidential election in the rearview mirror, the presidency has been on all of our minds lately. But back in 1959, the students got to hear from one of the country’s most iconic presidents: John F. Kennedy.

front-pageThen a Senator representing Massachusetts, Kennedy hadn’t even declared his intent to run for President in 1960 when he visited campus on April 27 to speak to 5,500 students at the Spring Convocation held in Cole Field House. He was joined on stage by University of Maryland President Wilson Elkins and Dean James Borreson. 

Kennedy “called for  more students to enter politics and stressed the need for the American people to do their duty in these days of world crisis.”

While many in attendance enjoyed the speech and Kennedy’s charisma, others reportedly articlefelt the Senator should have taken a harder stance on civil rights and foreign policy issues. 

Kennedy visited the campus once more, on May 14, 1960, before his assassination in November 1963. In that appearance, Kennedy spoke on the eve of the Maryland primary and left Ritchie Coliseum holding on to a stuffed Testudo.

pictureThe Diamondback is the university’s primary student newspaper, and its coverage of campus events provides an invaluable perspective on the university’s history. Thanks to generous donations and a successful Launch UMD campaign, the University Archives is digitizing the entire run of the newspaper, which is currently available on microfilm in the University Archives and McKeldin Library. This post is the part of a series based on information collected during the Diamondback Digitization Project. Check out the Twitter hashtag #digiDBK or the DigiDBK tag on our Terrapin Tales blog for previous posts. Look out for more DigiDBK posts from our team throughout the coming months!

JFK’s Challenge to UMD Students

Uncle Sam Says - jfk wants you to get involved in politics

On March 14th, we left a teaser for you about a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts who delivered the 1958 convocation address. We hope you were able to guess the name of this illustrious campus visitor: none other than John F. Kennedy! In the spirit of primary season, we thought we would share Kennedy’s message leading up to the primaries for the 1960 election.

First of all, The Diamondback reported that Kennedy claimed to his audience of 5,500 at Ritchie Coliseum on April 28, 1958, that “he has no plans to enter the Maryland primaries, or any other primary.” Ironically, “[h]e stated that he is not to be considered a candidate for the presidency.”

Instead, Kennedy specifically directed his message to the students in the audience. He encouraged them to apply their talents to political life. He described politics as “a most neglected and abused profession” and stressed that it was the duty of the American people to commit their talents to solving world crises. “Every man sent out from a university today should be a man of his nation,” he claimed, in reference to concerns about the loyalty of college students in the midst of the Red Scare.

Applause for JFK at convocation 1958
Kennedy delivered his commencement speech 58 years ago this Thursday. #tbt

Kennedy, who did not officially announce his presidential campaign until 1960, returned to the Ritchie Coliseum one year after his convocation address. On May 17, 1959, the University of Maryland presented Kennedy with a stuffed Terrapin in gratitude for his return visit.

JFK with stuffed Terrapin 1959

The Diamondback’s reporting on famous visitors to campus, including these two historic visits by a future president, is essential to the history of the University of Maryland. As the university’s primary student newspaper, The Diamondback provides a critical student voice. For this reason, the University Archives is digitizing the entire run of the newspaper; it is currently on microfilm in the Special Collections and University Archives. Thanks to generous donors and our successful Launch UMD campaign, The Diamondback will be online and searchable in 2016.

In the meantime, keep checking our blog every other Monday for updates from graduate student assistant Jen Wachtel, who is compiling the metadata for this digitization project. This post is the seventh in a series; follow the #digiDBK hashtag on Twitter and check the DigiDBK tag on Terrapin Tales for updates and previous posts.

Musical Showdown

Duke Ellington gif
Duke Ellington with his band. Source

Ritchie Coliseum is a well-known fixture on our campus (see University of Maryland A to Z under letter R). We know the coliseum as one of the many campus venues for recreation and wellness and as the home of our men’s basketball team from 1932 to 1955 –- but it has also hosted historic campus performances! Imagine in 1956 one of the world’s most famous jazz musicians, Duke Ellington, bringing the “Big Band” style of music to the University of Maryland in a spectacular showdown. For the fall 1956 season opener, Ritchie Coliseum hosted a Jazz vs. Classics Pop Concert. As reported by The Diamondback, the cost to students to witness this historic concert was only $1 (that’s just $8.72 today with inflation)!

Duke Ellington
Announcement of the Ellington performance at Ritchie Coliseum, October 25, 1956

Duke Ellington is known for elevating the perception of jazz music to spectacular heights. He posthumously earned a 1999 Pulitzer Prize for music “in recognition of his musical genius, which evoked aesthetically the principles of democracy through the medium of jazz and thus made an indelible contribution to art and culture.” [1] In October 1956, when he came to campus, Ellington was in the midst of a career-making world tour. Only a few months prior to his campus visit, he had performed at the Newport Jazz Festival – an annual music festival held in Newport, Rhode Island – in one of the festival’s most historic performances. You can listen to recordings from that 1956 festival performance via the Internet Archive.

Duke Ellington’s campus performance is just one of the many important and interesting records of campus history found in The Diamondback. In order to facilitate online access to the entire run of The Diamondback, from 1910 to the present, the University Archives is in the process of digitizing the student newspaper from microfilm. Thanks to a successful Launch UMD campaign, we can look forward to accessing these newspapers online in 2016! This post is the fifth in a series about the Diamondback Digitization project written by graduate assistant Jen Wachtel. Check the Twitter hashtag #digiDBK or the DigiDBK tag on the Terrapin Tales blog for previous updates.

If you love political trivia, stay tuned for the next post!

[1] http://www.pulitzer.org/prize-winners-by-year/1999