Maine has a lot of official stuff. There’s an official state bird (chickadee), an official state floral emblem (pine cone and tassel), an official state dessert (blueberry pie) and, um, an official state dirt.

I’m not making that up. In 1999, the Legislature designated something called Chesuncook as the official state soil, because, according to the secretary of state’s website, “Soil is important to Maine’s natural resource base.”

As a person whose property is mostly composed of granite ledge, I could express an opposing viewpoint. Granite just doesn’t get the respect it deserves. It’s not even the official state mineral, which is tourmaline. Henceforth, I will only vote for legislative candidates who support making granite the official state something or other.

Engaging in rampant officialifying is usually harmless fun. It keeps legislators busy so they aren’t raising taxes or restricting our rights. And who doesn’t enjoy a lighthearted barroom brawl over whether the landlocked salmon really deserves to be the official state fish, while the eastern brook trout and blueback char are relegated to the lesser status of official state heritage fishes, whatever that means.

Every now and then, though, the discussion over what ought to be official takes a turn from the mildly stupid to the seriously disturbing. Such was the case when the Legislature’s State and Local Government Committee held a public hearing on May 1 on a bill to make a song called “The Ballad of the 20th Maine” the official state ballad.

This stirring little number, written by a member of the band The Ghost of Paul Revere, details the events in the Civil War on July 2, 1863, when the 20th Maine under Gen. Joshua Chamberlain successfully defended Little Round Top in one of the decisive conflicts of the Battle of Gettysburg. The lyrics suggest the opposing Confederates “Go straight to hell with your rebel yell.”


That was too divisive for such a sensitive soul as Republican state Rep. Frances Head of West Bethel. According to the Maine Beacon website, Head told the committee, “I find it a little bit, we are united states, we are not Union, we are united states. And I find it just a little bit – I won’t say offensive, but that’s what I mean – to say that we’re any better than the South was.”

Pretty sure the North won. That’s sort of the definition of better.

Head was joined in her criticism of the song by GOP state Rep. Roger Reed of Carmel, who informed the committee, “Many of them were great Christian men on both sides. They fought hard, and they were fighting for states’ rights as they saw them.”

The right the Confederacy was fighting for was the right to own slaves. Doesn’t seem all that Christian.

“The Ballad of the 20th Maine” is well composed, catchy and deserves the honor of being officially recognized. It’s superior in every way to the state’s official song, which carries the uninspired title of “The State of Maine Song.” (Although, any hardcore Mainer will tell you the state’s real anthem should be “Tombstone Every Mile,” written by Dan Fulkerson and recorded by Dick Curless.)

The wacky objections to the ballad expressed by Head and Reed are unpleasant examples of historical revisionism rife with undertones of racism.

Which continues to be the unofficial state dirt.

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