- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 17, 2002

Testudo thought he'd take a trip
To Reno, loaded up his grip
(Lines from "Travels of Testudo," a poem that appeared in the 1949 George Washington University yearbook after students kidnapped the University of Maryland mascot)


In a land of more than 40,000 terrapins, Testudo, the diamondback mascot of the University of Maryland at College Park, is undisputed king.He is loved, revered, even worshipped. Come exam time, the 1,000-pound bronze turtle that stands before the university's McKeldin Library gets offerings of flowers, food, computer discs and even beer. His nose shines from 70 years of rubbing by students who wish some of his luck would wipe off on them.
Collecting turtles came naturally to Anne Turkos, 47 who became university archivist in 1993 as it does, she says, to many people on campus.
"They just happened to catch my eye. I thought it would be fun to start collecting them," she says.
During the past nine years, her terrapin collection has grown and now occupies every nook and cranny in her office. She has a turtle foot scraper made of coconut fibers, a terrapin quilt, a turtle sewing kit, a turtle ashtray and even a turtle cheese tray, all of which her successors at the university will inherit and, she hopes, add to.
This month, she is spreading her love for the diamondback terrapin. An exhibition of turtles from around the world, contributed by university faculty, staff, students and alumni, is on display at Hornbake Library in College Park until Aug. 23.
The "crown jewel" of the collection, as Ms. Turkos calls it, is the real Testudo, stuffed with lead and arsenic and encased for eternity in a glass cage. "Usually he just hangs out in a vault upstairs," Ms. Turkos says, adding that this is the first time in 20 years the diamondback has been out for a length of time.
The exhibit contains 160 turtles, including one of Ms. Turkos' terrapin quilts, a gift from a student, and a red helmet that she bought from EBay. Crystal turtles, a turtle with a gazing ball and a turtle sundial all are among the displays contributed by more than 100 university family members, including President Dan Mote and his wife, Patsy.
Inside Ms. Turkos' office upstairs are more terrapins. On her cabinets are turtle drawings and sketches made by her nephews and nieces. Turtle candles, boxes and crystals are perched at her table, on shelves and on cabinets. "People bring them back to me from all over the world," she says.
Gifts include a label for Baby Turtle brand raisins that a friend found in an antiques store, and a plaque that reads, "Beware the Attack Turtle," which a colleague found at the National Cathedral.
Ms. Turkos goes to great lengths to get her turtles. She found the red helmet, sold by the university store in the 1980s and no longer in production, on EBay, where she often logs on to look for turtle artifacts. She conducted a bidding war with a woman who turned out to be another terrapin collector at the university. "I went to meet her and begged her to back out," she says.
Ms. Turkos wears little silver turtles on her ears just one example of the many pieces of terrapin jewelry she owns. In her spare moments, she knits woolly turtle bookmarks in black and red that she hands out to visitors from a big red terrapin box.
"Everybody that knows her and goes anywhere brings her a turtle," says colleague Jennifer Evans, who has a collection of miniature turtles.
"It is making us broke because we can't walk past a turtle without buying it," jokes another colleague, Jennie Levine.
Ms. Turkos says she was not particularly fond of turtles before she started her collection. "I thought they were interesting, but I was never deeply enamored," she says.
Now, the Baltimore native is full of turtle trivia. Turtles, she says, can be extremely fierce. She also is quick to point out their importance worldwide: "Native Americans believe the turtle created the world, and in Japanese culture, they are considered a symbol of long life," she says.
The diamondback and the university go back a long way.
The campus newspaper, the Diamondback, has been called that since 1921, Ms. Turkos says. Football coach Harry Clifton Byrd, who later became the university's president, first suggested the diamondback terrapin as the university's mascot in 1932.
The real Testudo, then alive and kicking, was brought in from the Chesapeake Bay as a model for a bronze statue that the class of 1933 wanted to donate to the university. The turtle was transported to Providence, R.I., where a former student cast it in bronze.
The bronze Testudo, weighing 300 pounds and several times larger than the original, was placed in front of Richie Coliseum on campus. University officials, however, had not bargained on its popularity.
During the next few years, Testudo was "turtle-napped" several times. The kidnappers included students from George Washington University, who featured him in a poem that appeared in the 1949 yearbook about Testudo's gambling trip to Reno. The poem and a picture from the yearbook also are on display.
Earlier, athletes at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore stole the turtle before the national lacrosse championships in 1947 and buried him. As many as 200 students from the University of Maryland landed in Baltimore in the middle of the night to rescue him, starting a riot.
Tired of the thefts, university officials stuffed the bronze statue with cement and lead bars, bringing his weight to 1,000 pounds. They then mounted him on a pedestal in front of McKeldin Library in 1965, where he stands to this day.
He continues to be a legend, and a lucky one at that.
Earlier this year, the Terrapins, the college's basketball team, took home the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I championship. Testudo's popularity scaled a high as he put in an appearance on T-shirts, pennants and car stickers warning "Fear the Turtle."
New students, such as Friedrich Smith from New York state, hear of him long before they even get here. Stopping at the exhibition one afternoon, Mr. Smith said one of the first things a friend back home asked him when he called was, "Have you rubbed Testudo's nose yet?" He hadn't, but that was his next stop.


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