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Happy 50th, Diane!

Bristol's resident reptilian celebrity basks in the glow of birthday celebration

Wearing her party hat and smiling for the camera, Diane the Turtle was ready to celebrate her 50th birthday at Twin Designs Gift Shop in Bristol last weekend. (Photo by Donna Rhodes) (click for larger version)
December 05, 2018
BRISTOL – Friends and fans of Diane the Turtle, who lives at Twin Designs Gift Shop in downtown Bristol, flocked to the store on Dec. 1 to help their favorite reptile celebrate her 50th birthday.

Diane was adopted five decades ago as a tiny, quarter-sized turtle by the store's co-owner, Jim Tonner, when he was a child, and together, he and his twin brother Brad have enjoyed her company ever since.

As Diane and their business grew over the years, Diane has become an icon to people from all over the world who have stopped by their shop. The brothers also combined Jim's story telling talents with Brad's artistry and created a delightful book about Diane the Turtle and she even caught the eye of camera crews from Boston when they came to do a television feature story about the Newfound Region.

Diane's fame doesn't stop there though.

Over the past several years, she has had visits from local school children who want to learn more about turtles and their lifestyles. Diane has been followed through social media by other school children around the country and has friends from around the world who also follow her online through a live Web cam.

In the days leading up to the party, wishes began pouring in from all over. A whole class in Indiana read the Diane the Turtle book then sent the Tonners a photo of themselves holding up a large "Happy Birthday Diane" banner. Another fan sent a turtle "Tic-Tac-Toe" board and they even received a song written by Henry Hopf of Pennsylvania. Hopf met Diane while on vacation in New Hampshire and was so impressed that he went home and wrote "The Ballad of Diane the Turtle." In it he mentions his chance encounter with Diane then goes on to sing about her happy home, lined with hundreds of photos of she and all her friends. It ends with the verse, "Diane now has a birthday and my gift is this song/I hope you find it likeable and want to sing along/And if you're ever in Bristol and have some time to spare/Please stop by and say hello, you'll leave without a care."

There were also dozens of other cards and greetings that were dropped off at the store by local children.

"What's Diane's favorite color? I want to make her a card," one young child asked.

The reply? "Green."

Brad and Jim's sister Suzanne said it isn't just children who love her. Proof of that came Friday afternoon when people began coming in to wish Diane a Happy Birthday in person, too.

"I can't come to the party tomorrow but I had to come wish her a happy 50th birthday," said one woman, while another out-of-state visitor also felt compelled to stop in before heading home.

"Diane and I have something in common. I'll be 58 tomorrow," he said.

The Tonner family said they have always celebrated Diane's birthday and have a lot of fun with she and all of her friends. Suzanne even created a "Flat Diane" that has been out on travels around the world. So far Flat Diane has been photographed out on the Appalachian Trail, in Florida, at Loch Ness in Scotland, and other countries like Italy and Iceland.

"In this crazy world, Diane is something to make you smile," said Brad. "We've had people here from China, Spain, all over. For a few minutes people from all walks of life just have a good time visiting her."

When the store opened its doors Saturday morning, young and old arrived for the celebration. Some traveled from as far away as Cape Cod just to attend the party where there were specially made Turtle Donuts, Turtle Cookies, cupcakes, face painting and goody bags for all of Diane's guests.

"It's been a wonderful 50 years so far with Diane," Jim said. "Not everyone gets to grow up and still have a pet like this."

Martin Lord Osman
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