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Quarter pick to be quite transcontinental

Published May 10, 2006 12:16 am

Promontory today: Governor will be in the town to re-enact the joining of the railroad
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2006, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

For weeks, Utah leaders have been poised to unveil the design for the state's commemorative quarter.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. is supposed to re-enact the driving of the Golden Spike - the completion of the transcontinental railroad - in Promontory today. "Major Announcement Planned," his schedule says.

Hmmmm.

While still coy Tuesday, Huntsman spokesman Mike Mower pretty much confirmed the governor picked the Golden Spike "Crossroads of the West" design over two other finalists.

"It would be a long way to drive to announce the snowboarder or the beehive - and in front of a crowd that would likely be disappointed with that announcement," Mower said.

The announcement will end a three-year selection process that narrowed 5,000 potential designs down to three final drawings. The quarter will be submitted to the U.S. Mint and released in October 2007.

About 135,000 Utahns voted for their favorite during the past month. Preferences changed with the voter's age - children liked the trains and teens liked the snowboarder. But the majority picked the quarter featuring two trains separated by a giant spike. Huntsman, who has the final decision, is expected to back up public opinion.

"This will be a significant representation of our state for years to come," said Mower.

Perhaps that's why the selection of the quarter was somewhat tense. The beehive - a traditional religious symbol of industry adopted by Mormon pioneers - repeatedly appeared in designs suggested by Utah schoolchildren. And Mint artists sketched a final design incorporating the symbol.

But many Utahns argued the beehive did not belong on currency issued by the government. Others said the symbol was offensive to state residents who are not members of the dominant faith. Some opposed the picture of a female snowboarder catching some air as a blatant marketing tool.

Other state commemorative quarters fall into three categories: representing a state's unique tourism, historical events or state symbols and natural features. Oregon's quarter features Crater Lake. A giant peach backs Georgia's quarter. Tennessee's has a carved guitar, musical notes and a trumpet, for the Grand Ol' Opry. And a Revolutionary War soldier marches across Massachusetts' quarter.

In the end, most Utahns decided to commemorate a more secular, national historical event.

University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank figures Utahns were pragmatic, picking a moment in history that was easy to understand and untinged by politics, religion or economic self-interest.

"In a way, that [beehive] design carried too much baggage with it," Burbank said.