|Steam Vents in the Desert|
|The sign says "Danger, Scalding Water"|
Promontory Summit Utah – 66 miles north of Salt Lake City
On May 10, 1869 the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads joined their rails at Promontory Summit, (not Promontory Point as I thought) Utah Territory and forged the destiny of the nation.
The Golden Spike National Historic Site shares this historic event through displays in the visitor's center and reenactments. We were able to catch one of the reenactments.
First they bring out the trains:
The Jupiter pulled Central Pacific’s President, Leland Stanford’s, special train to Promontory Summit, Utah Territory, for the Golden Spike Ceremony.
|Replica - but as exact as possible|
The Jupiter Arrives
Engine No. 119
Engine No. 119 received the call to pull Union Pacific Vice- President Thomas Durant and his contingent of dignitaries to Promontory Summit.
|Engine 119 Arrives|
Again - a replica but as close to the original as possible
Then the reenactors give short speeches (as opposed to what the actual verbose oratory of the day would have been), and provide a feel for how the ceremony proceeded (if there had been a few hundred more people here)
|The engines nose to nose as they would have|
been in 1869
Then it is time to drive The Ceremonial Spikes
4 of them – A golden spike from San Francisco contractor David Hewes, friend of Leland Stanford; a silver spike from Nevada, a gold and silver plated spike from Arizona Territory, a second golden spike from Frederick Marriott, owner of the San Francisco News Letter. None of these were actually “hit” but placed and tapped with a ceremonial silver maul.
|"Thomas Durant" tries to stay upright when driving the final spike.|
(The first gold spike and the silver spike now reside at Stanford University. The Arizona Spike is owned by the Museum of the City of New York. The location of the 4th spike is unknown - so check your attics)
After the precious metal spikes were removed, an ordinary pine tie was placed to be driven with normal iron spikes. Leland Stanford took a mighty swing at the final spike and struck the tie instead. Durant, not feeling well (drunk) swung and missed even the tie. Finally a regular railroad worker drove the last spike and the Western Union telegraph operator sent the message D-O-N-E.
The building of the transcontinental railroad is a fascinating story and if you would like to learn more I highly recommend: Nothing Like it in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869 by Stephen E. Ambrose and to follow that Rival Rails: The Race to Build America's Greatest Transcontinental Railroad by Walter R. Borneman.
It is my hope that someone reading these blogs will be inspired to learn more about United States history!
We also recommend visiting this national historic site and witnessing the reenactment.