Maine Mineral and Gem Museum

Visitors walk through the Maine Mineral and Gem Museum’s exhibit of meteorites last month. Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald via AP

BETHEL — From an outsider’s perspective, a museum that houses the five largest lunar meteorites may be as difficult to find as a space rock in a field.

The Maine Mineral & Gem Museum, which opens Thursday, is a bit off the beaten path, in the town of Bethel in western Maine.

The 15,000-square-foot museum is displaying more than 100 gemstones, 2,000 minerals and 250 meteorites.

Most of the meteorites on display are from asteroids, but some are known to have fallen from the moon. They were sent hurling into space after asteroids hit the moon, creating the craters that dot its landscape. One of them weighs more than 120 pounds. There also are meteorites from Mars.

Fred Bailey

Fred Bailey, facilities and collections director at the Maine Mineral and Gem Museum in Bethel, holds a pink beryl specimen on Nov. 22 while putting the final touches on a display case. Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald via AP

Meteorite expert Darryl Pitt, a consultant on the project, said the scientific community is surprised that such a collection is in Maine.

“When I tell my colleagues in Europe and Asia that there’s a collection of this pedigree in Maine, the first question they ask is where’s Maine?” Pitt told The Associated Press.


Why Maine?

The museum’s founders, Larry Stifler and Mary McFadden, began coming to western Maine in the 1970s. The Massachusetts couple became interested in the local mining history and bought a tract that included the Bumpus Mine, which had produced feldspar and the gemstone beryl.

“This area is really the central area for Maine mining and gemstones, so this is why we decided to put the museum here,” Stifler said.

Stifler told WMTW-TV that he’s often asked about showcasing space rocks alongside gems mined from the Earth.

“We learn so much about the formation of Earth from meteorites that it’s a good match,” he said.

Despite its rural location, the museum is world-class, Pitt said. “It’s the real deal,” he said.

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