Golden Spike Anniversary

Golden Spike Anniversary

May 10
This reenactment of the completion of America's transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869, at Promontory Summit, Utah, has been held since 1952. It is supposed to be historically accurate, but differs from accounts of the time, which greatly varied because the crowds kept the members of the press from actually seeing the ceremony. Complicating efforts to reconstruct events, some reporters wrote their stories days before the event occurred.
The building of the transcontinental railroad was a prodigious feat. It was started in 1863, with the Central Pacific working eastward from Sacramento and the Union Pacific laying tracks westward from Omaha. The Central Pacific crews faced the rugged Sierras almost immediately, and also had to have every rail, spike, and locomotive shipped around Cape Horn. Union Pacific had easier terrain, but its crews were harassed by Indians. The Union Pacific crews were Irish, German, and Italian immigrants, Civil War veterans, and ex-slaves. California's labor pool had been drained by the gold rush, so the railroad imported 10,000 Chinese who became the backbone of the labor force.
Today, preliminary events start at 10 a.m., and at 12:30 p.m. two trains—the Central Pacific's "Jupiter" and Union Pacific's "119" (reproductions of the original locomotives that were present in 1869)—steam from opposite directions on the track and meet at the site of the ceremony where men in period dress speak. Then the Golden Spike and three other spikes are tapped into a special railroad tie; at 12:47 an ordinary iron "last spike" is driven into the last tie to connect the railroads and the message "D-O-N-E" is sent by ham radio to the California State Railway Museum in Sacramento. Originally the message "D-O-N-E" was telegraphed (along lines strung beside the railroad) to San Francisco and Philadelphia. There is then much noise of train whistles, bands playing, and people shouting and hurrahing. A second reenactment is performed at 2 p.m.
There were four ceremonial spikes at the original ceremony. One was the famous Golden Spike; it was engraved on the top, "The Last Spike," and on one side, "May God continue the unity of our Country as the Railroad unites the two great Oceans of the World." That spike was made by San Francisco jewelers from $350 worth of gold supplied by David Hewes, a contractor friend of Central Pacific President Leland Stanford.
The other spikes were a second gold spike, not engraved, a silver spike from Nevada, and an iron spike from Arizona that was clad in silver and topped with gold.
There was also a polished laurel-wood tie for the ceremonial last tie. Four holes had been augured in it, and the ceremonial spikes were tapped into the holes. (Nobody tried to drive a soft gold spike into a hardwood tie.) The engraved Golden Spike and the silver spike are in the possession of Stanford University, and the iron spike from Arizona belongs to the Smithsonian Institution. The second gold spike and the hardwood tie have been lost, probably during the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. The spikes used in the reenactments are replicas.
CONTACTS:
Utah Office of Tourism, Council Hall
300 N. State St.
Salt Lake City, UT 84114
800-200-1160 or 801-538-1030
www.utah.com
Golden Spike National Historic Site
National Park Service
P.O. Box 897
Brigham City, UT 84302
435-471-2209; fax: 435-471-2341
www.nps.gov
SOURCES:
AmerBkDays-2000, p. 354
AnnivHol-2000, p. 80
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