Throwback Testudo Buttonmaking Party celebrates the evolution of everybody’s favorite Terrapin

To celebrate the history of the ever-evolving Testudo mascot, as well as to encourage funding for University of Maryland Archives to fully digitize The Diamondback, the UMD community gathered at McKeldin Library Nov. 29 for the ultimate Throwback Testudo Buttonmaking Party.

“We wanted to connect The Diamondback history with the history of Testudo, and target undergrads so they can learn about the new database,” said Aaron Ginoza, McKeldin Library’s social media coordinator.

The University Archives has digitized the student newspaper up until 1985, but they still need donors in order to complete the project and share the history of UMD with online viewers, said Kendall Aughenbaugh, a University Archives graduate assistant.

“Instead of buying a coffee today, give to The Diamondback,” Aughenbaugh said. “We know students don’t generally have a ton of money to donate, but every gift counts.”

At the Buttonmaking Party, students browsed through the archives database to explore old issues of The Diamondback, as well as Testudo’s long-lived past.

According to University Archivist Emerita Anne Turkos, the original Testudo was a real-life diamondback terrapin. Feeling that the University of Maryland could use a stronger sense of identity, members of the Class of 1933 went to Vice President Harry Clifton Byrd with their mascot idea.

Byrd had already given The Diamondback its name back in 1921, to honor the local reptiles he had grown up with in his hometown of Crisfield, Md., Turkos said.

Together, Byrd decided with the Class of 1933 to pay homage to the diamondback terrapin, and requested that the largest diamondback terrapin be brought from his hometown to become their official mascot.

According to Turkos, this terrapin traveled overnight on a Pullman railroad car to Providence, R.I., where it served as the model for sculptor Aristide Cianfarani to create the iconic bronze Testudo statue.

Testudo dedication 1
Testudo unveils his statue on June 2, 1933. Pictured from left: Raymond A. Pearson, President of UMD; Harry Clifton Byrd, Vice President of UMD; Ralph Williams, SGA President in 1933; and Edward Quinn, President-elect of the SGA. Photo courtesy of Anne Turkos, University Archivist Emerita.

After Cianfarani had sketched the terrapin, it was sent back to Maryland by railroad, where two small holes were punctured in the back of its shell.

“They tied a black and a gold ribbon to those holes, and the other ends of the ribbon were attached to the cloth that covered the statue,” Turkos said. “That terrapin crawled away and pulled off the cloth, unveiling the statue.”

The terrapin, according to Turkos, died two days following the statue’s unveiling. Today, it sits in a vault in the University Archives as a taxidermy. Turkos said students are welcome to visit the University Archives and ask to see the terrapin any time.

FullSizeRender
The real Testudo in the vault of the University Archives.

 Through advertisements, yearbook depictions and student-produced illustrations, the symbol of Testudo has changed immensely over the years.

“It’s been a very flexible symbol,” Turkos said. “Now that it’s this ninja, ‘pumped-up’ thing, to me, it’s flexible graphically.”

Older versions of Testudo can be viewed on the archives website. In an effort to keep the history of Testudo and The Diamondback alive, the University Archives invites students to donate to their digitizing project by visiting go.umd.edu/dbk_finish.

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