Preservation Maryland staff and partners with a UMD Terp at the Hornbake Library, 2017.

Why are Maryland’s Sports Teams Called Terps?

05/23/2017
By Waxter Intern

The history of the diamondback terrapin turtle in Maryland can be traced at least as far back as the Native Americans with two important contemporary milestones that led to the University of Maryland mascot and team name – the Terps.

What’s a terrapin? These turtles can be identified by their beautiful and unique shells, marked with a pattern of concentric circles. They thrive in brackish water, like the Chesapeake bay, hence their abundance along Maryland shorelines.

MAKING IT OFFICIAL

The Testudo statue was unveiled in 1933 by an actual diamondback terrapin. Photo from the UMD Archive.

While the state made it official in 1994 when the diamondback became Maryland’s state reptile, the terrapin’s relationship with the University of Maryland began in 1933. The senior class that year decided the school needed a mascot, after having gone by a number of names over the years – the Aggies, the Farmers, and the Old Liners, to name a few.

Vice-President of the University, Harry Clifton Byrd, was well aware of the terrapin’s Maryland connection, as a native of the Eastern Shore, where they were numerous. He wrote to Holland Sea Food Company of Crisfield, Maryland, and requested a true Maryland diamondback terrapin to be sent for use as a model for a new campus statue. Archbishop, or “Archie,” as the turtle was known, then traveled to Rhode Island, where artist Aristide Cianfarani sculpted his likeness in bronze. Archie even returned for the unveiling of the statue, which became known as Testudo.

Today, Testudo holds court outside McKeldin Library, where students rub his nose for good luck, and leave offerings during finals. Although the real Testudo passed away just two days after the unveiling of the statue, his taxidermied remains belong to the University of Maryland archives, and can be visited at any time.

Explore the UMD archive

Terp logo historic variations

This post was written by Maggie Pelta-Pauls, a Waxter Intern with Preservation Maryland. A graduate of The College of William and Mary, Maggie is primed to research and write about Maryland history – especially culinary history. Learn more about Maggie and our The Waxter Memorial Internship program here: presmd.org/waxter.

Waxter Intern

A legacy gift from William D. Waxter, III established the Waxter Memorial Internship to help Preservation Maryland support the next generation in historic preservation.

Meet Our Team
Our Story Donate Press & Media Resources Contact Us Site by Younts Design Inc. © Preservation Maryland, 2018.