Testudo the Turtle
College Park, Maryland
Died May 25, 1933
The mascot of the University of Maryland is a bronze statue of a Chesapeake Bay diamondback turtle, an animal known for its ability to bite off the hands and feet of the unwary.
The University adopted the diamondback turtle in the early 1930s as its symbol because Chesapeake Bay diamondbacks are tough. Still, nothing lives forever, and the Class of '33 decided that a permanent turtle was needed. So they saved their money -- they even held their senior prom on campus -- to pay for a 300-pound heroic-size bronze statue.
The statue was unveiled at the May 23, 1933, commencement. Several alumni traveled to Rhode Island with a five-inch-long live turtle to be sculpted, super-size, by artist Aristide Cianfarani. The turtle returned returned safely -- only to have two holes drilled through its shell. These were threaded with black and gold ribbons that were tied to a huge cloth. At a prearranged moment, the turtle crawled away from the statue, dragging the cloth and unveiling it to the appreciative applause of the assembled dignitaries.
The statue, named "Testudo," spent its first 15 years in front of Ritchie Coliseum, where it was frequently vandalized by rival schools. It was kidnapped by Johns Hopkin's University in 1947, which caused a campus riot and forced the statue into hiding.
Testudo reappeared in 1949. This time the University of Maryland was ready. They anchored Testudo with steel rods to a pedestal in front of the Theodore R. McKeldin Library. Two years later they filled him with 700 pounds of cement. Future kidnappings thus thwarted, Testudo has overlooked the Quad ever since. Students rub his foot-chomping beak for luck before exams, and also reportedly to ward off parking tickets.
Testudo's live turtle model, stressed from its travel (and the holes in its shell), died just two days after unveiling the statue. The university has preserved more than the turtle's memory. It is stuffed, mounted on a board, and sequestered in a vault in the University archives (much like the lucky ashes of Jumbo the Elephant). In the event of an emergency, it's understood that the turtle is the first thing to be saved.
According to tipster R. Wood Miles: "There is a legend that when a virgin graduates from the University of Maryland, Testudo leaves his pedestal and flies around the quad. There is another legend that he has never flown."