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UNC Medallion Orbits the Earth

Among the large body of historic material preserved in the North Carolina Collection are thousands of coins and specimens of old paper money, along with hundreds of tokens, medals, and medallions.
UNC medallion
This high-relief bronze medallion was produced in 1993 during celebrations marking the 200th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone for “Old East,” the first building constructed at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The medallion’s obverse is decorated with two campus landmarks: the Old Well and the Davie Poplar, which is positioned to the left in the background. Both the well and this tree have been popular gathering spots for students and many important events in the school’s history. The old poplar, now heavily patched with cement and supported by wire cables, continues to bloom and shade a portion of McCorkle Place. Standing not far from it is “Davie Poplar, Jr.,” a tree planted in 1918 by students, who grafted a shoot from the senior tree onto a poplar sapling. Concerns for the Davie Poplar’s health prompted that planting. Lightning had seriously damaged the tree in 1873, and a windstorm in 1902 had inflicted additional injuries.

This thick, three-inch-wide medallion is exactly like another one preserved in the North Carolina Collection. That piece traveled over 4,500,000 miles aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in September 1994. Dr. Jerry Linenger, a UNC alumnus and Discovery crew member, took the medallion with him on the ten-day orbital mission (STS-64). In compliance with NASA policy regarding astronauts taking personal belongings aboard the shuttle, the university keepsake had to be vacuum-sealed in plastic to prevent any possible contamination to the space vehicle. The medallion remains preserved today in NASA’s original protective packaging.