The ceremony for the first of the America the Beautiful quarters, the Hot Springs National Park, could not have taken place on a more perfect day. It was a beautiful, sunny day and the temperature was warm but not hot.
Park rangers walked through the crowd passing out programs and souvenir fans. The ceremony took place in front of the Administration Building. The ornate façade around the building entrance and a bubbling hot fountain are depicted on the quarter. Bleachers and chairs were set up facing the building with the speaker podium being on the front steps. There was a special area just at the foot of the stairs for school children to sit, and there were several hundred in attendance.
Off to the right of the building in the parking lot was a Loomis armored car and three red tents from Bank of America. This was the area of interest for many people as it was to be the place they could purchase $100 worth of the new quarters.
The ceremony did not start until 10 a.m., but the bleachers were mostly filled by 9:30. To the right of the main entrance the Hot Springs Community Band played. Around 10 a.m. there was a flurry of people running in and out of the main door as the U.S. mint director and other dignitaries came out to be seated for the start of the ceremony.
The Hot Springs High School Junior ROTC Color Guard marched out with the U.S. and Arkansas flags. We were ask to stand for the national anthem. The Pledge of Allegiance was led by three local school children. A group of hearing impaired children attended the ceremony, and I assume their teacher stood before them and translated each word into sign language from the beginning to the end of the ceremony.
Josie Fernandez, superintendent of the Hot Springs National Park, was the master of ceremonies, or perhaps I should say the mistress of ceremonies. She was a tall, thin lady in a crisp ranger uniform and hat who spoke with great pride as she thanked everyone for their attendance and gave us a brief history of the park. I was so enjoying the ceremony and listening to her tell about the creation of the park that it was not until about halfway through her speech that I realized I really should take some notes of what she was saying.
A letter from former President Bill Clinton was read by his step-sister Kathy Farrar. Clinton had moved to Hot Springs, Ark., at the age of 7, and in his letter he recounted some fond memories of the area and what the park had meant to him.
The Hot Springs superintendent introduced her boss, Ernie Quintana, who is the Midwest regional director of the National Park Service. He thanked everyone for coming and said he was pleased to be a part of the ceremony to honor Hot Springs.
Fernandez then announced that the time had come to introduce the man we had all been waiting to see, Edmund Moy, director of the United States Mint. He thanked everyone and launched right into how much he had enjoyed the area. He said he had arrived on Sunday and enjoyed some “Southern hospitality.” He said he had the chance to eat barbecue and enjoy one of the baths. Hot Springs is known for its therapeutic hot baths. In fact, right behind the park headquarters is a collection of bath houses known as Bathhouse Row.
Mr. Moy spoke about the creation of the American the Beautiful series of quarters and how they were to honor the conservation of public lands for all the people to enjoy. He said that new lesson plans had been developed for teachers and were available free to them. They were designed, he said, to inspire students to learn more about conservation. He invited all Americans to come on this journey.
Moy spoke about the design of the quarter. He spoke about the designer initials of “JF” on the front under the bust of Washington and said that while it was supposed to be for James Fraser he joked with the Hot Springs Park superintendent saying he knew it really stood for Josie Fernandez. She blushed, laughed and beamed with pride all at the same time.
Mr. Moy then said he had a presentation to make to the park. He presented the superintendent a Philadelphia and Denver Mint Hot Springs quarter from the first day of striking, March 4, 2010. As Ms Fernandez accepted the framed quarters, she said it was ironic because March 4 was the date the name of the park had been changed in 1921 from Hot Springs Reservation to Hot Springs National Park.
A fountain-like container was set up in front of the actual fountain and this was the site of the formal launch of the quarter.
The mint director, the Hot Springs Park superintendent and the National Park Service Midwest regional director each were given a large bag of quarters. They simultaneously poured them into the container and announced the quarter as officially launched. Following the ceremony, Director Moy stepped into the crowd to give each child a free Hot Springs quarter. He then had pictures taken with people and signed programs, fans and even some rolls of quarters but not a dollar bill. I had a crisp dollar and asked him to sign it and he quite quickly said he was not the Bureau of Engraving and he doesn’t sign dollar bills, but he did sign a roll of quarters.
Immediately at the close of the ceremony, the lines opened up for the quarter exchange. Many people had waited in the line for an hour before the ceremony started and during the ceremony to get their quarters. Each person could have 10 rolls or $100 worth of the new quarters. Once they started selling the quarters, the line moved quickly. Bank of American had it well-organized. There were three tents set up with two tellers (for lack of a better word) at each tent. The tables behind them were stacked with quarters, most already in bundles of 10 with a rubber band around them.
The armored car sat next to the tents along with several armed guards. As you approached, you were directed to an available person to get your quarters. Person after person walked away with a bundle of 10 rolls. I saw one man with a wife and three children in tow walk away with a full box.
Of course, the next line was across the street at the post office where rolls were stamped and postmarked. At noon, the tents folded and the quarters moved across the street to the Bank of America. However, at the bank you could only get five rolls or $50 worth.
Following the ceremony there was also a Hot Springs National Park birthday cake. I did not realize I had missed getting a piece until about halfway back to Memphis. Once the ceremony was over and the quarters obtained and stamped, the next order of business was finding a bathroom and some lunch before heading back to Memphis. I have to admit we did stop at some antique malls on the way back and I picked up a set of mugs decorated with coins and currency.
All in all it was a delightful day and if you have the chance to attend one of the ceremonies near you, I suggest you do. I know I am already looking forward to the Tennessee one, and it’s several years away.
Gayle K. Pike is a professional numismatist in Memphis, Tenn.
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