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Golden Spike Celebration Marks Significant Anniversary In US History

Spike 150 .org

The second Friday in May will mark the 150th anniversary of the driving of the Golden Spike. Doug Foxley, who is heading up the state-wide celebration, says it’s one of the most significant dates in American history.

Foxley is the chairman of the Spike 150 Foundation. He told KPCW that the joining of the transcontinental railroad on May 10th, 1869 was a huge event not just for Utah, but the whole country.

“This was really the equivalent of the moon shot,” Foxley explained. “It was the greatest technological advancement of the time.  Prominent American historian Steve Ambrose said that it was really but for the civil war the most significant event of the 19th century because all of a sudden you could travel from New York to Sacramento in 7 days instead of literally taking months instead of spending literally thousands of dollars you could travel for under $100 I mean this not only that not only the rails that connected the telegraph I mean it made us really we are today.”

He said that Brigham Young would have preferred that the railroad had been routed through Salt Lake. But the planners, mindful of the fate of the Donner Party who traveled through the Great Basin, decided it was easier and safer for the railway to be placed north of the Great Salt Lake.

The Central Pacific, coming from Sacramento, and the Union Pacific, coming from Omaha, were joined at Promontory Point.   But, said Foxley, the Central Pacific were actually aiming for a site in Summit County.

“Central Pacific wanted to have the meeting of the rails, they wanted to get all the way to Echo, or as they called it Echo Junction and because they got slowed down in the Sierras basically you know going through those granite rocks they ended up not meeting at Echo Junction,” Foxley continued. “Most people thought they’d meet at Ogden but U. P.  was moving a little faster and so that's why they ended up at Promontory Summit out in western Box Elder County instead of in Summit County or in Ogden Utah   

The rail alignment from Omaha to Sacramento is still in use today, with the exception of one section.

“It pretty much follows the same route,” Foxley said. “Except for that portion of the track which was abandoned from Corinne, Utah out to Lucin because in 1902 they built the Lucin cutoff to go across the Great Salt Lake.”

The celebration is also important because Promontory has just been upgraded, by federal legislation, from a Historic Site to a National Historic Park.

Foxley said that, of the four important Spikes that were a part of the event, they have three of them on hand.

“The Golden Spike, the Nevada Silver Spike, the Arizona composite spike and all three of those will be on display there was a fourth spike,” Foxley explained. “A golden pike there was given to General Granville Dodge that spike's been lost or not exactly, not exactly sure where that one is.  Any way we think we may have found if we're trying to get authenticated but yeah so 3 of the 4 spikes will be there plus OC Tanner and the legislature authorized the creation of a Utah spike, so we’re going to unveil the Utah spike along with these other spikes."

He said the event will be a tribute to the many workers who toiled to make the railroad a reality.

“And we really want to honor the forgotten heroes of this great endeavor,” Foxley continued, “Whether it's the Chinese the Mormon graders, the Irish, the free slaves and others.”

Foxley said when the last spike was driven, 150 years ago, the celebration wasn’t confined to Utah.

“When the original event happened, they literally shot cannons in San Francisco and over New York Harbor and rang church bells throughout the land,” Foxley said. “We’re going to see how much of  that we can recreate.”

Known for getting all the facts right, as well as his distinctive sign-off, Rick covered Summit County meetings and issues for 35 years on KPCW. He now heads the Friday Film Review team.
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