HODGENVILLE — Malcolm Fife received a penny for his attendance, if not his thoughts, during the ceremony marking Abraham Lincoln's birth.
On Thursday, the birthplace of the nation's 16th president was the launch site for the first of four new pennies. And Malcolm, accompanied by his father, Todd, dressed for the occasion by wearing a stovepipe hat and black beard. The coin met Malcolm's satisfaction.
"I really like it," he said as he clutched the shiny new Lincoln penny. "This is the first one of these I've ever touched. Abe Lincoln is my favorite president."
The new penny still features Lincoln's head, but the reverse side shows a log cabin like the one in which he was born on Feb. 12, 1809.
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Three other pennies, to be released at three-month intervals, will show Lincoln's formative years in Indiana, his career in Illinois and the presidency in Washington D.C.
Andy Brunhart, deputy director of the U.S. Mint, doled out pennies from a jar to schoolchildren. He said during his formal remarks that the pennies came directly from the mint for the ceremony at LaRue County High School.
"Keep that penny. Cherish it. Put it away," he said. "And in 60 or 70 years, give it to your children or grandchildren and remember this day."
The only other places where the penny was introduced Thursday were in the chambers of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, Brunhart said. He said millions were being shipped Thursday to the Federal Reserve, and banks should have them in a couple of weeks.
National Park Service officials estimated that 1,500 people attended the ceremony, and many took part in a "penny exchange" to purchase the new pennies. All $5,000 worth of new pennies were sold, said Doc Meredith, president of Lincoln National Bank in Hodgenville, which handled the distribution.
Initially, people were told they could spend a minimum of $1 and a maximum of $5 for new pennies. But because the crowd was not as large as anticipated, people were allowed to go through the line more than once, and at least one man claimed to have looped through four times.
Toward the end, as the crowd thinned and everyone had had a chance to go through at least once, officials allowed people to buy $25 boxes of penny rolls.
Marsha Ladner of Rineyville in Hardin County went through the line twice to buy rolls of pennies "for every single grandchild."
"It's the first day of issue," Ladner said. "How could we not?"
Sonna Young of Crossville, Tenn., said she planned to put her pennies for sale on eBay. She has specialized in the sale of Lincoln coins for nine years.
"It's not easy to get the new circulated coins, especially at face value," Young said. "The penny market is very hot right now," in part, because there is talk of possibly discontinuing the penny.
The Lincoln penny has been around since 1909, but this is the first design change since 1959. The reverse side of the Lincoln cent has featured the Lincoln Memorial building since then.
The Hodgenville post office was also busy Thursday as people bought four new Lincoln stamps that depict him as railsplitter, lawyer, politician and president. The stamps went on sale Monday, but Hodgenville had a special cancellation mark ("Abraham Lincoln Birthplace Station, February 12, 2009, Hodgenville, Ky. 42748") that would only be used on Thursday.
Others came to the Hodgenville because they just love Lincoln. Take, for example, Joe Bowen of Stanton, who admitted that he is enthralled with Lincoln.
"I've read probably two dozen books on him," he said. And he has bicycled "thousands" of miles to many Lincoln sites in Kentucky, Illinois, Ohio and elsewhere.
"This man was so incredible, and it's almost like we are starved for that kind of leadership now," Bowen said.
Jerry and Karen Dean, and Chance, their 8-year-old son, drove from Lafayette, La., to be at the ceremony. Karen Dean is distantly related to Nancy Hanks, Lincoln's mother, but Chance became enamored with Lincoln after a visit to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.
"Being here for the 200th is extra special," Karen Dean said. She told Chance that "if he eats all his vegetables, he might make it to the 300th."
Meanwhile, visitation was up at Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site. Daniel Baker of Russellville brought his 8-year-old son, Zachary, to see the park's "symbolic" birthplace cabin.
"This is an important historical day commemorating Mr. Lincoln," Daniel Baker said, "and I just want him to have a little piece of history to go along with his childhood memories and that he could share with his young ones when he gets older."
Willard Smith of Louisville took his son, Alex, 9, to the birthplace. Willard Smith said his ancestors were among the first settlers in Harlan County, and that's part of the reason Lincoln resonates with him.
"It's always been interesting to me that somebody that came from humble beginnings, like my family, could make it as high as he did. It gives me goose pimples thinking about it."