Testudo statue.

Testudo the Diamondback Terrapin

Field review by the editors.

College Park, Maryland

Died June 4, 1933

Testudo the Terrapin.
Testudo the Terrapin.

Pet Cemetery.

Testudo, the mascot of the University of Maryland (UMD), sits in front of McKeldin Library. It's a large bronze statue of a diamondback terrapin, an animal known for its ability to bite off the hands and feet of the unwary.

(Science lesson: a "terrapin" spends more time on land than a "turtle" and more time in the water than a "tortoise.")

UMD adopted the diamondback terrapin as its symbol because they're native to the nearby Chesapeake Bay, and the student newspaper was already known as The Diamondback. The Class of 1933 saved its money -- it even held the senior prom on campus -- to pay for the 300-pound bronze statue.

Ralph Williams, president of the Student Government Association, escorted a live diamondback terrapin by train to the Gorham Manufacturing Company in Providence, Rhode Island, to be sculpted, heroic-size, by artist Aristide Cianfarani. The terrapin 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, on Class Day, June 2, 1933, the terrapin crawled away from the statue, dragging off the cloth and unveiling the statue to the appreciative applause of the assembled dignitaries.

The statue, named "Testudo," spent its first 14 years in front of Ritchie Coliseum, where it was frequently vandalized by rival schools. It was kidnapped by Johns Hopkins University students in 1947, which led to a riot on the Hopkins campus and forced the statue into hiding when it returned to College Park.

Class Day, June 2, 1933
Class Day, June 2, 1933

UMD students -- now nicknamed the Terps -- clamored to have Testudo back on display. It was moved to Byrd Stadium in the 1950s, then to a pedestal in front of the library in 1965. The University of Maryland wasn't taking any chances this time; it filled Testudo with 700 pounds of cement. Future kidnappings thus thwarted, Testudo has overlooked the campus Mall ever since. Before exams, students leave offerings at the statue and rub its foot-chomping beak for luck. Testudo's aid is also sought to ward off parking tickets.

Testudo's live terrapin model, stressed from its train travel and away from its natural habitat, died just two days after unveiling the statue. UMD has preserved more than the terrapin'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 terrapin is the first thing to be saved.

According to tipster R. Wood Miles: "There is a legend that when a virgin [male or female] graduates from the University of Maryland, Testudo leaves his pedestal and flies around the quad. There is another legend that he has never flown."

Also see: Mascots | Roadside Pet Cemetery

Testudo the Diamondback Terrapin

Theodore R. McKeldin Library

Library Lane, College Park, MD
University of Maryland. South side of the campus. I-495 to US Hwy 1 south for about 1.5 miles. Right on Campus Drive, then left on Library Lane. The statue is outside the Theodore R. McKeldin Library entrance facing the quad, which is east of the library.
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Kermit the Frog and Jim Henson StatueKermit the Frog and Jim Henson Statue, College Park, MD - < 1 mi.
Library With Flying SaucerLibrary With Flying Saucer, Hyattsville, MD - 1 mi.
Vanadu: Art-Covered House and CarsVanadu: Art-Covered House and Cars, Hyattsville, MD - 2 mi.
In the region:
Nuns of the Battlefield, Washington, DC - 8 mi.

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