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.

Something Worth Playing For

Maryland’s decision to move to the Big Ten Conference has raised a multitude of questions since the switch was announced in late 2012. While many have bemoaned losing the traditions the Terps will leave behind in the ACC, we thought it would be fun to look at the opportunities Maryland has for new traditions to develop in the Big Ten. One of the chances being discussed, of course, is the formation of a new football rivalry, a real rivalry. Maryland hasn’t had a true conference rival since the days of playing Virginia with none other than the Tydings Trophy on the line. Maryland and Virginia played for the Tydings Trophy from the 1920s until 1945, when the series between the two schools went on hiatus until 1957. There was talk of reviving the trophy in recent years, but Virginia backed out, citing scheduling concerns.

Just two of the Tydings Trophies we have here in the archives.
Just two of the Tydings Trophies we have here in the archives.

Aside from being a material award, one could argue that rivalry trophies bring a little something extra to the game, something to play for and take pride in. The Big Ten already has a plethora of rivalry trophies that are grounded in many years of history. Some of them include: Minnesota vs. Wisconsin – Paul Bunyan’s Axe Michigan vs. Minnesota – The Little Brown Jug Indiana vs. Purdue – The Old Oaken Bucket Iowa vs. Minnesota – Floyd of Rosedale Illinois vs. Northwestern – The Land of Lincoln Trophy Michigan vs. Michigan State – The Paul Bunyan Trophy

It’s only fair to wonder where Maryland will fit in as one of the newest members of the conference. Rivalries tend to develop themselves over the years, and only time will tell which match-ups we will be circling on our calendars. So we want to ask you–Who do you think will be Maryland’s new rival heading into the Big Ten? What trophy would they play for, and what would it look like?