NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
Did the Old Man of the Mountain die of natural causes, or was a curse the culprit?
The distinctive rock formation had been famous since Native Americans roamed the White Mountains. More recently, New Hampshire selected it for engraving as the state's contribution to the U.S. Mint's "50 State Quarters" program. When the rock's face crumbled to dust in early May, it was a blow for naturalists and numismatics alike.
Age was cited as the official cause of the Old Man's demise. But conspiracy theorists take note: since the Mint inaugurated the coin series, a string of unfortunate events has befallen many of its subjects.
Call it the Curse of the Quarter.
In 1997, the Treasury Department announced the State Quarters program, to honor various contributions of the 50 states.
The states themselves get to pick the subject of their designs, which are then minted on the backs of quarters and released according to the order by which the individual state joined the Union. Subjects of depiction include history, tourist activities, and flora and fauna.
Since Delaware's quarter came out on January 4, 1999, commemorative coins representing 22 states have been released, and three more are scheduled to roll out this year. Misfortune of some sort has afflicted 17 of the depicted designs.
To be sure, many problems have been minor, even trivial. Still, when bad luck affects three out of every four, one wonders about the nature of coincidence.
Here are some of the more unusual woes:
- Maryland. The quarter depicts the statehouse in Annapolis, America's oldest legislative building still in use as a capitol. Last summer, the historic wooden cupola was struck by lightning, starting a small fire, which had to be extinguished by automated sprinklers.
- New Jersey. Washington's crossing of the Delaware was a pivotal event, justly honored on the coin of the state where he landed. Was something more than meteorology involved when an annual re-enactment of the crossing was cancelled last December? The span is only about a mile wide, but severe wind, snow, and ice prevented the annual event from happening.
- Kentucky. The Bluegrass State takes its equine traditions seriously, so it chose a thoroughbred and the inscription, "My Old Kentucky Home." That theme song was heard at Churchill Downs again this year -- serenading Funny Cide, the first native New Yorker to win the Kentucky Derby. For proud locals, the fact that the horse is a gelding may have proved particularly emasculating.
- Rhode Island. America's Cup was lost two decades ago. Even so, Rhode Island's quarter celebrates open-sea ocean sailing, perhaps in anticipation of the Cup's return to its historic Newport home. The prize did change hands this year -- but it went to a boat from Switzerland, a landlocked country where sea-faring is literally impossible.
- Alabama. Helen Keller appears on Alabama's coin, released in March 2003. Barely a month later, a much-anticipated revival of "The Miracle Worker" was forced to close before it even made it to Broadway, the New York Post reported.
- North Carolina. The Wright brothers are depicted on the quarters of both North Carolina and Ohio. The aviation pioneers have had their wings clipped a bit in recent years. A growing body of evidence supports a claim -- still unsubstantiated -- that New Zealand farmer Richard Pearse may have beaten them to the air by nine months.
A few states honor important local industries. Tennessee fiddles for its music scene, while sales of recorded country music fell for the sixth consecutive year. Georgia promotes the peach, whose 2002 harvest produced much smaller-than-average fruit, the Atlanta Journal reported.
Vermont depicts maple syrup producers. Tapping yields were down as much as 33 percent this winter, according to the Burlington Free Press. Indiana's coin features the once-venerable Indy 500. The event's luster has fallen so far that this year, its TV broadcast attracted fewer viewers than another car race held the same day.
Both New York and Louisiana pay homage to historic ties between France and the United States -- an international relationship that's grown somewhat less cordial recently. The Minuteman of Massachusetts suffered the indignity of a (failed) proposal to eliminate it as the state university's mascot. And a classic Chicago-style brawl erupted over funding and patronage issues related to the Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield. Honest Abe is on the Illinois quarter.
Even the sweet Carolina Wren, which adorns the South Carolina coin, has been affected. The bird's natural habitat is distinctly southern. Yet over the past few years, it has been spotted nesting in significant numbers in Indiana, Ohio, and Rhode Island.
A small colony of Carolina Wrens was even reported to be living in Ontario. Perhaps they're less afraid of SARS than the Curse of the Quarter.