One of the lesser-known but still beloved Grateful Dead logos, is the terrapin turtles. First pictured in the cover art for the 1977 album Terrapin Station, the symbol is said to be inspired by the lyrics to the album’s title track, the classic live jam “Terrapin Station”. It was designed by the same Stanley Mouse and Alton Kelley that brought us Bertha the Skeleton, the Europe ’72 ice cream kid, and more.
Like many Grateful Dead songs, “Terrapin Station” was written as a collaboration between Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia, with Hunter penning the lyrics and Garcia developing the music. The song explores an abstract vision of inner peace, with the words “Some rise / some fall / some climb /to get to Terrapin” suggesting that everybody has different challenges in life, but are all searching for their own version of this mystical Terrapin Station.
Take this with the actual animal, the terrapin turtle, unique because of its ability to survive equally as well both on land or in water. Perhaps Hunter imagined a place where one could handle anything that life may present to it with the ease and grace of the terrapin. And so, by extension, the logo of the Grateful Dead terrapin turtle represents this ease and grace, which the band embodies both in this song and across most of their existence.
The Dead first played “Terrapin Station” on February 26th, 1977 at Swing Auditorium in San Bernadino, CA. The album was not released until later that year, in July, but 2/26 was when it first entered the ethos. It wasn’t long before it joined the dancing bears and the stealie in the lineup of Grateful Dead merch, both officially and in the lot.
Listen to the “Terrapin Station” from 2/26/77 below, which Heady Version currently calls the best-ever version of the song.