‘The slow but sure sort always wins’

Picture No A182 (type number into search box to view)

This report of a highly unusual race appeared in the Chicago Tribune, 7 December 1902:

‘Seven huge turtles racing at a snail’s pace across a lawn, cheered on by an interested and excited crowd of spectators, and urged to their highest speed by their enthusiastic riders furnished an amusing spectacle on the Hagenbeck Lawn in Hamburg, where the contest was run.

‘The element of uncertainty, believed requisite in all really good racing, was never more strongly in evidence than in this unique competition. It was for a long time doubtful if any one of the racers would ever cross the mark which meant victory for the young rider.

‘The steeds, all properly groomed with a hose and scrubbing brush, had been carried to the starting line by a band of attendants versed in turtle lore and deeply absorbed in the outcome of the test about to be made. It cannot be truthfully said that the steeds were excited over the prospect, as they gave none of the usual symptoms of racing zeal shown by more nervous organisations on such occasions. They simply clawed about or else remained absolutely quiet, as if they meant to remain in that particular spot an indefinite length of time.

‘It was a different matter with the seven young riders who were to strive for the turtle race championship. Each one was eager to be off and doing. Each rider, armed with a stick from the end of which dangled a piece of cabbage, mounted his steed at the signal to start, and the race was on. Pounding and kicking on the impenetrable shells of the steeds was simply a waste of valuable energy, and shouting or coaxing was equally futile. The turtles appeared to be the most irresponsive mounts imaginable, but they did display a real interest in the cabbage temptingly dangled before their noses and actually developed a suggestion of speed as they stretched out their necks and tried to get a nip at the bait.

‘If by chance any young rider carelessly permitted the cabbage to come too close to the nose of the turtle it would be snapped up in an instant, and then there would be a long wait until that particular turtle had finished its cabbage luncheon and was ready to strive again for another course. While eating cabbage it is useless to ask a turtle to race, the proposal is received with the silent scorn it deserves.

‘The race was a long and weary one, and exceedingly trying on the nerves of all except the steeds. It was not won by the swiftest either, as the swift ones simply would not hold to the course. They would bolt off to the right or to the left in a most illogical manner, only to be shooed back to the proper track by the attendants, who sometimes had difficulty in persuading them of the error of their ways. These sprinters wasted an awful lot of time in expeditions off in sidewise directions and really covered the required distance several times over, but their efforts were misdirected and counted against them rather than in their favour. In the language of the racing man, they literally ran rings around the actual winner, which was one of the slow but sure sort that always wins in turtle races even when a hare is among the entries.

‘The foolish turtles with a disposition to go on perfectly pointless explorations used up their speed idly, but not so the winner. At the outset this one, which was the second from the right in the row, centred its attention on a piece of cabbage which was directly ahead of it in line with the goal. The rider was skilful and showed rare judgment in keeping the inducement just out of reach of the extended nose.

‘The turtle was a single minded, one purposed sort of a creature, and aspired to nothing but that piece of cabbage. So it went ahead and patiently plodded along with that single end in view. The result was victory for the young rider and a liberal amount of cabbage for the steed. The time of the race was not taken.’

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