Thursday, March 5, 2009

Fear the Turtle - Here's Why

This one is for Sue :)

I dredged my brain for the reason why University of Maryland's mascot is a turtle. I came up empty. Enter good old wikipedia!

Maryland's state reptile is the diamondback terrapin. Duh! Testudo, our mascot, came to life in 1932 after Curly Byrd (football coach at the time) requested students to come up with a new mascot. And Testudo was born.

Diamondback terrapins are endangered due to overhunting for delicacies such as turtle soup (token dumb joke from visiting schools). They range far and wide from Florida to Cape Cod. Lady turtles can grow to 9 inches and the gentlemen turtles tend to be about 5 1/2 inches. This is called being sexually dimorphic (some bird and ducks do this too--sexes within the species are different sizes, colors, etc.)

On with the minutae...

The first bronze Tesudo statue was unveiled by a real live turtle. The Story:

On May 23, 1933, Testudo was unveiled to the world. The live terrapin used as a model had a ribbon attached to it, which was in turn attached to the canvas covering the sculpture. And as the smaller terrapin struggled forward, Testudo was revealed for the first time.

Testudo has seen some rough times with kidnappings and such. He's a hearty soul and has managed to survive many trips off campus. There are now 3 Testudo bronze statues; one located in front of McKeldin Library, one at Byrd Stadium, and another gracing the front of Comcast Center, the Basketball arena.

At first, Testudo had his perch in front of Ritchie Coliseum. Unfortunately, this relatively open spot soon became the scene of multiple crimes against the unguarded mascot, including painting, defacing the pedestal, and kidnapping. In 1947, when Testudo was captured by Johns Hopkins students, many Maryland students rushed to Baltimore and laid siege the building where the mascot was held. Even though 200 police were called to control the riot, the "siege" quickly turned into a party.

Soon after, Testudo was again snatched from his perch. Two years later, Byrd, now president of the University, received a call from a University of Virginia fraternity telling him to please get Testudo off their lawn.

With Testudo safely recovered, he was hidden in a campus carpentry shed until 1951. It had become apparent that greater security measures were needed to protect him. George O. Weber, Director of Physical Plant at College Park, and Class President for the Class of 1933 was determined to protect the campus mascot. So Testudo was filled with 700 pounds of cement and attached to his new perch in front of Byrd Stadium with long steel rods and hooks. While this put a stop to the terrapin-napping, painting was still a problem, especially by Johns Hopkins students. During one episode, Maryland students caught some Hopkins students in the act and promptly shaved their heads.

We all rub Testudo's nose before game time for good luck :)

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