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South Valley Journal

All aboard for a historic event: The Golden Spike’s sesquicentennial celebration

May 07, 2019 01:32PM ● By Christy Jepson

A picture of the reenactment of the Golden Spike historic event of May 1869. (Photo Golden Spike National Historical Park)

By Christy Jepson | [email protected]

It is one of the greatest moments in US history and it happened at Promontory Summit, Utah. On May 10, 1869 at 12:47 p.m. the final spike was driven into a railroad tie that joined the Central Pacific and Union Pacific rail lines. A telegraph was immediately sent to President Ulysses S. Grant, that read D-O-N-E. This year celebrates the 150th anniversary of that historic event.  

Governor Gary Herbert has declared 2019 as the Year of the Train. There will be more than 150 statewide events and activities that will occur throughout the year, celebrating this sesquicentennial anniversary, under the theme of Spike 150. Places all over Utah are hosting art exhibits, concerts, lecture series, bike races and train exhibits to help educate community members about Utah’s part in railroad history. 

The culminating event and celebration will be at the Golden Spike National Historical Park May 10-12 and will include three days of fun and educational activities for visitors of all ages.    

On the morning of May 10, two replica engines, Jupiter and #119 will arrive, which will kick off the event. The sesquicentennial celebration ceremony will follow which will include remarks by local dignitaries with the keynote address by renowned presidential scholar, Jen Meacham, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, contributing writer to The New York Times Book Review and contributing editor at TIME.  

A musical presentation and world premiere of “As One” will then be performed by a chorus and a band of more than 250 elementary school students from 29 counties in Utah. The new musical is composed and produced by Stephen Nelson, lyricist and vocalist Anjanette Mickelsen, and directed and choreographed by Jennifer Parker Hohl, and the executive producer is Craig Jessop. KSL Channel 5 and Utah Education Network (UEN) will broadcast “As One” live from Promontory Summit to classrooms and homes throughout the state.

“Spike 150 was created to commemorate and celebrate the 150th anniversary of the historic completion of America’s First Transcontinental Railroad. Spike 150’s goal is to educate, inspire and unite all Utahns. Offering school kids a chance to watch the anniversary celebration at Promontory is one way to do this,” said Cindy Gubler, the media and communications director for Spike 150.

Following the musical production, visitors will be able to participate in other festival activities such as: storytelling, concerts, an immersive railroad worker’s village, a mountain man camp, interactive exhibits that compare 19th century innovation, a steam train demonstration, and a Native American camp. Food, drinks, commemorative merchandise and souvenirs will also be for sale. 

According to Gubler, this is a historic moment for Utahns. “The anniversary celebration offers people an opportunity to step out on the site where history was made in 1869 and be a part of history in 2019. It is a memory and experience they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.”  

It was the great race between the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroad companies to see who could get to the meeting spot first. The race started in 1862 and was finally completed in 1869. Before the First Transcontinental Railroad was built the cost to travel across the country in the 1800s was about $1,000. The price dropped to around $150 thanks to the new east to west railroad line. 

Coming from the east by Omaha, Nebraska the Union Pacific Railroad Company laid 1,086 miles of track.  The track from Sacramento, California to Promontory Summit was only 690 track-miles. The hardest and most dangerous part of the work was blasting a dozen tunnels, one that was 1,659 feet long and 20 feet high through the Sierra Nevada mountain range with gunpowder and nitroglycerine to help blast through the granite. This incredibly hard intense labor wouldn’t have happened without the 20,000 Chinese immigrants that were hired to help work on the Central Pacific line.  

What did the completion of this First Transcontinental Railroad mean for the United States? This event would forever change how people and freight traveled, it would enhance economic growth and unify the nation. What once took a few months to get across the country now would take only a few days. 

The public is invited to join the celebrations of this historic anniversary at the Golden Spike National Historical Park May 10-12.  Access to the park is by private car or chartered bus only with each car requiring a ticket purchased in advance online. The fee per vehicle is $20 on May 10. On May 11 and 12 the fee per vehicle is $10 per day. There is no additional fee to enter the Golden Spike National Historical Park. The park is 32 miles west of Brigham City via Utah Highway 83. It is noted on their website that some GPS maps have misdirected visitors. To get detailed directions visit the Golden Spike page on the National Park Service website or spike150.org/events.