Maine quarter debuts

BRISTOL – Gulls soared high above rocky shores as the fog rolled in over Pemaquid Point Light and a large crowd gathered Monday to honor Maine’s timeless romance with the sea.

The state’s commemorative quarter, the first U.S. currency ever to feature a lighthouse, was unveiled on the same tip of land depicted on the coin.

The quarter features a beacon shining from the lighthouse, flanked by gulls, a pine tree and a three-masted schooner. All that was missing in Monday’s cloudy haze was the Victory Chimes, the sailing vessel shown on the quarter.

“Our vessel tried gallantly to get here, it really did. But this lighthouse was designed to keep us away on a day like today,” said skipper Richard “Kip” Files, the schooner’s co-owner.

Gov. John Baldacci and Henrietta Holsman Fore, director of the U.S. Mint, were among the dignitaries who spoke before a crowd estimated at more than 1,000 people. There were schoolchildren, coin enthusiasts and lots of proud Mainers, even people dressed in moose and lobster costumes.

Members of one family at the coin’s unveiling said they are 11th-, 12th- and 13th-generation descendants of William Furber, one of dozens of indentured servants who survived a shipwreck at Pemaquid Point in 1635.

The British freighter Angel Gabriel, destroyed by a hurricane, was just one of many shipwrecks over the years along this rocky outcropping between Muscongus Bay and Johns Bay.

The point’s first lighthouse was built in 1827, and today’s 38-foot, white stone structure went up eight years later. The lighthouse’s fourth order Fresnel lens dates to 1856. Just this year, the lighthouse tower opened for the first time for public tours.

Maine’s quarter, which went into circulation last week, is the last New England coin unveiled under the U.S. Mint’s 10-year state quarter program. The coins are being launched in the order states were admitted to the union, and Maine, which gained statehood in 1820, is 23rd overall.

“We will mint the Maine quarter for a little less than 10 weeks, and then we will never mint them again,” Fore said.

Baldacci praised his predecessor, Angus King, for allowing Mainers to vote online on the quarter’s design. The other choices featured Mount Katahdin, an outline of the state and another lighthouse.

The governor said the new quarter reflects Maine’s rich seafaring history and the importance of ocean commerce on the state’s economy.

Some of the other speakers were brimming with maritime trivia. Who knew that lighthouse keepers used to be appointed by the U.S. president, or that Pemaquid Point Light once appeared on a Russian postage stamp?

Tom Wilcox, executive director of the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath, said more ships were built in Maine through the end of the 1800s than anywhere in North America. An artist could have captured the scene on Maine’s quarter almost any day in the 19th century, he said.

“A lighthouse and a schooner – very fittingly a symbol for a people who have long followed the sea,” Wilcox said.

Following the speeches, hundreds of collectors exchanged bills for rolls of the commemorative quarters. One of them, Melanie Furber Bachinski, was thrilled to return to the site where her ancestor shipwrecked 370 years ago.

“We’ve been Mainers since before there was a Maine,” she said.

AP-ES-06-09-03 1747EDT

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