Utahns pick railroad quarter
Huntsman unveils choice at Golden Spike re-enactment
Laura Seitz, Deseret Morning News
GOLDEN SPIKE NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE, Box Elder County The winning design for Utah's new state quarter was unveiled Wednesday at the remote location it depicts, the place where the nation's rails were joined 137 years earlier.
Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. made the announcement at the celebration of the historic day when the golden spike was driven to connect the rails at Promontory Summit and the choice was greeted by cheers from the crowd gathered for the annual re-enactment.
"I don't see why they would choose anything else," said Jay Taylor, a retiree from Brigham City who attended the event in coveralls and a railroad engineer's cap. "That's part of the history of Utah. My ancestors came here by covered wagon; my mother came by railroad."
The "Crossroads of the West" coin design beat out two other contenders to represent Utah: a female snowboarder with the 2002 Winter Olympics motto, "The World is Welcome Here," and a beehive with the words, "The Beehive State."
Huntsman had the final say, but he went along with the popular vote. Of the nearly 136,000 people who voted online for their favorite, just over 52 percent wanted the golden spike. Slightly more than 27 percent liked the beehive and nearly 21 percent, the snowboarder.
"It was my pick. I thought it represented historically one of the most significant contributions that any region or state has made to the development of the United States," the governor told reporters.
Still, Huntsman said, "I wanted to see, a little bit, where the popular vote went. Not that I was playing politician but I was interested." He said he thought the snowboarder would have won more support, but the golden spike "was the leader from Day One."
The hip young snowboarder shredding against a mountain backdrop did have strong support among the youngest voters, a group that put the golden spike in last place. But for everyone over 23 years old, the golden spike was the top choice.
The beehive, a solid second place in every age category, was not without controversy because of its link to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, according to Margaret Hunt, chairwoman of the Utah Quarter Commission.
"Some people respected and appreciated that," Hunt said. "Others felt it had too close a tie to religion." The U.S. Mint forbids outright religious symbols on money, she said, ruling out designs depicting, for example, the LDS Temple.
For the re-enactment crowd, there was no contest. Eleven-year-old Aslee Taylor of nearby Corinne, dressed in a straw hat, shawl and long skirt for the occasion, said the golden spike quarter will remind her of participation in the annual event.
"It brings it to life," she said of the coin design. "It feels like I'm an actual part of it."
Brigham City's Wayne Johnson, 89, agreed. Decked out in period gear including a genuine beaver top hat, Johnson said he loves the design chosen. "I think that's the only one that really qualifies. It's such a significant occasion."
Huntsman said in his speech that the completion of the transcontinental railroad in Utah "turned what was called the great American desert into the great American West," with the help of Chinese and Irish laborers.
The governor showed the crowd the means he's using to communicate the design preference a replica of the golden spike inscribed with the message, "Our choice!" complete with his signature.
He and his 20-year-old daughter, Abby, arrived at the ceremony aboard one of the two steam locomotives used in the re-enactment, the No. 119. The locomotive met up with the Jupiter to re-create the moment when the rails were joined.
It's the scene anyone picking up one of the 450 million coins that will be minted beginning in January 2007 will see and associate with Utah. About 99 percent of the coins are expected to be circulated outside the state.
The U.S. Mint is producing quarters for each of the nation's 50 states in the order in which they were granted statehood. Utahns were asked to submit ideas and came up with more than 5,000, nearly all from schoolchildren.
Those ideas were reduced to nine categories, which included landscape, red rock, pioneer heritage, Native Americans, dinosaurs and state symbols in addition to the specific proposals selected by the commemorative quarter commission.
The actual design of the quarters was done by U.S. Mint artists, Hunt said. The online voting, held over a 25-day period that ended Monday, attracted an average of 5,000 people a day."People were so passionate," Hunt said. "They had really strong feelings about their preferences."
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