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Recognizing the Bicentennial of Tourmaline in Maine

Floor Speech

Date: Nov. 17, 2020
Location: Washington, DC


Ms. COLLINS. Madam President, this year, in addition to celebrating the bicentennial of the State of Maine, we are also commemorating the bicentennial of the first major find in North America of the treasured semiprecious stone tourmaline in the mountains of western Maine. It is a fascinating historical coincidence that the State of Maine and the discovery of its official State gemstone share the same anniversary.

Maine became our Nation's 23rd State on March 15, 1820. In late autumn of that year, college students Elijah Hamlin and Ezekiel Holmes were pursuing their studies in mineralogy on an expedition to Mount Mica in Paris, ME. As they headed down the mountain at sunset, they spotted a vivid green sparkle amid the tangled roots of a fallen tree. The beautiful crystal was an exciting find, but the encroaching darkness prevented further exploration.

Their plan to continue their search the next morning was cancelled by an overnight snowfall that blanketed the ground until spring. When the two students did return months later, they were astonished by the amount and variety of the crystals among the rocky ledges. The many shades of green, red, white, and yellow translucent stones they found explain why the word ``tourmaline,'' which comes from an ancient language of Sri Lanka, roughly translates to ``many colors.''

News of the discovery spread, and the region soon became the foremost hunting grounds in North America for these remarkable gems, rivaling famous sites in South America and Asia. Among the early Maine rock hounds was Elijah Hamlin's younger brother Hannibal, who four decades later would serve as President Lincoln's first Vice President.

Today, Maine tourmaline is treasured by jewelers, artists, and collectors. Our distinctive watermelon tourmaline, which combines pink, white, and green in one stone, is especially prized. Residents and visitors alike delight in searching for these gorgeous stones amid the marvelous scenery of our western mountains.

The Hamlin Necklace, containing stones of various colors from the original find, can be seen at the Harvard University Mineralogical Museum. In 1972, a spectacular discovery in Newry, ME, yielded hundreds of pounds of red and green crystals, including the ``Jolly Green Giant,'' a 10-inch crystal now in the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History collection. The State of Maine tourmaline necklace was designed using Newry gems and presented to the State in 1975 by the Maine Retail Jewelers Association.

On Presidents Day 2010, a major discovery included a 120-carat blue tourmaline crystal, among the most rare of hues. This was named ``The President'' and was cut into nine gems. The largest was presented as a gift from the State of Maine to President Barack Obama when he visited that year.

How and why such large deposits of tourmaline are found in Maine, so distant from the usual locales, remains a puzzle for geologists to solve. It is worth noting, however, that tourmaline is said to bestow on its bearer fearlessness, happiness, and self-confidence--qualities that define the people of our State.

Mr. President, Maine is renowned for the stunning beauty of its mountains, forests, and seacoast. The 200th anniversary of the discovery of tourmaline is a reminder that some of the most beautiful things are not as readily apparent but are well worth looking for.