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150th anniversary of golden spike expected to draw 12,000

April 23, 2019 GMT

PROMONTORY, Utah — At a time when the North and South were divided by the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln signed legislation on July 1, 1862, to unify the East and West through the creation of a Transcontinental Railroad.

The transportation corridor Lincoln envisioned when he signed the Pacific Railway Act was completed on May 10, 1869. On that date, business tycoon Leland Stanford drove the final symbolic spike during a ceremony at Promontory Summit, linking the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads.

In recognition of the 150th anniversary of the driving of the last spike, officials associated with the Golden Spike National Historical Park are planning a three-day celebration worthy of such a momentous, historical event.

“All of a sudden, you’ve got a completed railroad and can go from the East Coast to the West Coast in seven days,” said Julie Blanchard, special events coordinator with the park. “It was definitely a big deal. It’s definitely something Utah residents and residents here in Box Elder County, where we’re located, are proud of.”

Blanchard said 12,000 people, including several speakers and dignitaries, are expected to participate in the festivities from May 10 through May 12. Overflow parking will be available to the north and south of the visitors center on a local rancher’s property.

Tickets for the sesquicentennial celebration must be purchased in advance and are available online at https://purchase.growtix.com/eh/Spike_150/21865. Access to the site will be allowed by car or chartered bus only, with a vehicle fee of $20 on May 10 and a $10 fee on May 11 and May 12.

Festivities are being organized by the Spike 150 Foundation. The Golden Spike Association will perform daily reenactments of the original ceremony throughout the celebration.

Visitors will witness demonstrations by the two steam engines that navigate a 2-mile stretch of track within the park. There will also be a dozen food trucks, musical performances, a children’s choir, a frontier village and an innovation summit, in partnership with Hill Air Force Base, where children will consider the “next revolutionary breakthrough.” A new musical about the time period, “As One,” will be performed live at the event and broadcast to watch parties and classrooms. The performance will feature a chorus and band with more than 250 Utah elementary students.

The event’s keynote speaker will be presidential scholar Jon Meacham, who will share a perspective on the historical importance of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. Meacham is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, whose most recent book is The Soul of America.

Blanchard said dignitaries will include descendants of some of the railroad workers, members of Congress, state officials and representatives from the National Park Service.

Blanchard explained a special railroad tie of polished laurel wood and a 17.6-karat gold spike were used in the original ceremony. The tie was moved to San Francisco, where it was lost after the 1906 earthquake and fire. A replica of the polished tie is displayed at the park.

The authentic golden spike was transported to California, and is typically displayed at Stanford University. It’s currently at University of Utah and will be displayed at the Utah State Capitol during the anniversary.

In 1904, the railroad created the Lucin Cutoff, which included a 12-mile wooden trestle across the Great Salt Lake and bypassed the original rail route through Promontory. Blanchard said area ranchers continued using the track to ship supplies to the main rail line. In the 1940s, however, the line was pulled up so the materials could be repurposed for use in World War II. A few of the original spikes and tools used to build the rail line are on display at the park.

Blanchard said visitors to the park occasionally tell the staff they have a relative in the famous “champagne” photo, which shows engineers holding champagne and beer with a group of people following the original golden spike ceremony.

“We even have some people in their 90s who have memories of when the railroad was still coming out here and remember there was a station at one time,” Blanchard said.