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Beware the 'Curse' of the State Quarters
By Dave Kiffer


April 16, 2007

Ketchikan, Alaska - Alaskans have until April 22 to weigh in on which design they think is best for the Alaska state commemorative quarter that the US Mint will produce a year from this fall.

Each of the four designs has something to recommend it.

You can choose either the polar bear/midnight sun coin or the grizzly bear catching a salmon coin.

You can choose either the dog sled/Big Dipper/McKinley coin or the gold panner/McKinley coin. I favor the latter two designs but I'm sure that some of my good friends in the "Save the Sculpin" community would prefer we celebrate an Alaskan free of any human habitation.

jpg quarters

Public comments are welcomed through April 22, 2007.
Submit your comments to the governor, click here.

As someone who was born shortly after Alaska became a state I think it is important to celebrate the fact that people (both Native and White) have created the state that we all enjoy. Without them, Alaska would be about as noteworthy as Greenland.

But, as usual, I digress.

Still, before you reach out and click Governor Palin to her your preference, keep in mind that at least some folks out there think the quarter series is CURSED!

It all started seven years ago when New Hampster, uh, New Hampshire, put its most famous natural rock formation (sorry, John Sununu!) on its coin. "The Old Man of the Mountain" had been a White Mountain tourist attraction for more than 200 years so it seemed like a logical choice.

Suddenly, three years later, the rock face crumbled into a sorry pile of D-1. This, of course, got the coin community all into a twitter and soon it was noted in a variety of publications, blogs and websites that some sort of bad luck or misfortune seemed to striking the majority of the images and icons that were featured on the coins.

Naturally, the demise of the Old Man of the Mountain (who always looked like a cross between New England natives Tom Coyne and George Lybrand to me) was the most dramatic example of the "curse."

But there have been other misfortunes to strike - sometimes quite literally, as in the case of the statehouse in Annapolis that was on the Maryland coin. It's historic wooden cupola was hit by lightning and slightly damaged by a small fire.

Louisiana celebrated its state bird, the brown pelican, the numbers of which took a big dip when Hurricane Katrina rumbled ashore a couple of years later. Louisiana 's coin also celebrated the historic ties between the US and France, which have certainly been a little chilly in the five years since the coin came out. Freedom Fries, anyone?

New Jersey celebrated George Washington's famous "Crossing of the Delaware" on its coin. Since the coin came out in 1999, the reenactment has had to be cancelled several times because of bad weather.

Two states, Vermont and Tennessee, have used the coin to celebrate "engines" of their economies. But is it merely a coincidence that since the coins came out both the Nashville country music and Vermont maple syrup industries have suffered big slumps?

The peach industry that was celebrated on Georgia's coin in 1999 has also had some significant downturns since the coin came out.

In 2002, Indiana's coin focused on its great sporting event, the Indy 500, but television ratings of the "great American race" have dropped precipitously since and no one seems to care about the Brickyard anymore. Don't believe me? Name any of the last five winners!

Both the Ohio and North Carolina coins have referred to the Wright Brother's first manned flight as parts of their heritage. But since both coins came out, there have been disturbing claims from Down Under that New Zealand farmer Richard Pearse may have beaten them off the ground by nearly a year.

As I said, some of these events are likely coincidence, such as fact that Alabama featured Helen Keller on its coin and shortly thereafter a revival of the play about her, "The Miracle Worker" tanked before it even made it Broadway.

Kentucky, of course, celebrated its majestic thoroughbreads and horse country. The next year the "Old Kentucky Home" suffered the indignity of seeing "The Derby" taken for the first time by a horse from - shudder - New Yawk.

The "minuteman" on the Massachusett's state coin is currently under fire (pun intended) as the official symbol of the University of Massachusetts because it is considered too "war-mongering."

Rhode Island celebrated its ocean sailing and America's Cup history and not only have no American (or Rhode Island) boats since reclaimed the cup, but it was most recently won by a sailboat from Switzerland, which I believe still lacks any oceanfront at all.

Like I said some of these "curses" are tenuous at best, but how badly do you really want to tempt fate?

Anyway, we should at least think about what we might happen if we put something on the state coin.

The polar bears are already somewhat endangered depending on which scientists you believe. If we pick that coin, will the ice pack suddenly melt and the breed completely disappear?

I'm not so worried about the grizzly bears. There will always be a steady supply of idiot back country hikers to wander into the bears domain and provide sustenance.

Mount McKinley is featured in two of the designs. I suppose there is always a chance that a major earthquake could turn it into an "Old Man in the Mountain" pile of debris, but I suspect that if a quake that large hit the state, none of us would be around to bemoan the loss of Denali.

What about the gold panner? Probably already on the way out, much like the logger and the commercial fisherman.

The dog sled has been generally replaced by the "iron dog" with the exception of the big races. Even those are under pressure from groups like PETA (People Eating Tasty Animals?) which want the men and the dogs to trade places.

So it just could be that whatever image we put on the quarter could be the last step before oblivion for some cherished Alaskan icon.

Perhaps, Alaska should take the path of Connecticut in deciding what to put on the state coin. The Nutmeg (???) State picked its famed Charter Oak for memorialization on its 1999 coin.

That was smart and safe. The Charter Oak has been dead for more than 150 years.


Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Dave at

Dave Kiffer ©2007

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