For nine decades, Our State has made its way into homes across North Carolina, the United States, and the world. To celebrate, every month this year, we’re paying tribute to the readers who inspire us, offering a taste of our earliest recipes, and revisiting old stories with new insights. Follow along to find out how our past has shaped our present.
On your mark, get set, slow!
Leave it to small-town Mayberry — er, Mount Airy — to host one of the South’s first-ever turtle derbies, a race to find the most fleet-footed, turbo-charged turtle in North Carolina and Virginia.
Inspired by its more famous Kentucky counterpart, the turtle derby took place on June 15, 1940, at the city’s Reddick Field, where some 2,000 spectators — and a
live radio broadcast crew — turned out to watch 43 turtles trudge to the finish line. The contestants’ sizes ranged from less than a pound to 16 pounds, and they all had whimsical names, from Jitterbug and Jasper to Little Bit and Can’t Quit.
The race began with the turtles being plopped onto an electrically wired board in the center of the field. Drawn around the board were a series of circles; the outermost ring — the finish line — was approximately 32 feet from the board. At the starter’s signal, a gentle current of electricity prodded the turtles to start plodding.
The crowd hooted and hollered from the grandstand as the turtles lumbered toward pay dirt. Several of the reptilian racers remained neck and neck through much of the race, until a small turtle named Leopold nosed out his rivals at the finish line, earning a $20 prize for his owner and glory for himself on the sports page of The Mount Airy News.
The State also covered the Turtle Derby, publishing a three-page spread on June 29, 1940. The magazine’s tongue-in-cheek account raved about the racing reptiles and, in a bit of hyperbole, “the thunder of their galloping feet.”
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