Thousands gather from around the globe for historic ceremony where unification was an oft repeated theme
Mark Millet / Box Elder County Emergency Management Busses line up (left) as crowds that attended the Spike 150 ceremony prepare to depart from Golden Spike National Historic Park on Friday, May 10. The three-day event hosted a conservatively-estimated 37,000 people, and had numerous media outlets from as many as 80 counties cover Friday’s ceremony. See more photos and event coverage beginning on page 9.
May 15, 2019 • Loni Newby • Staff Writer Box Elder County welcomed the world last weekend, as Golden Spike National Historic park hosted a conservatively estimated 37,000 people for the sesquicentennial celebration of the completion of transcontinental railroad. There were numerous media personnel from as many as 80 countries, the celebration hosted local residents who wanted to be a part of the historical anniversary, as well as train enthusiasts, history buffs, and descendants seeking connection to ancestors from all over the world (see related stories on page 11). The pinnacle of the sesquicentennial celebration of the joining of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroad lines began Friday, May, 10, at Promontory Summit and continued throughout the weekend. The events drew dignitaries from international, federal, state and local governments, as well as the leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Unification was an overarching theme throughout the day, taking lessons from the past to apply to modern society. The words of the Golden Spike’s inscription seem relevant today, “May God continue the unity of our country as this railroad unites the two great oceans of the world.” The commemoration brought out descendants of many Irish, Chinese, Native American, Mormon and emancipated slave rail workers. Historical documents may downplay or even dismiss many of the contributions of minority and otherwise disenfranchised people had on the efforts that made this feat possible. Irish and Chinese descendants faced discrimination and persecution during and after the railroad completion, including the federal Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, marking the first significant law restricting U.S. Immigration, which remained in place until 1943. Event organizers made a conscious effort for this celebration to include those who have been dismissed and minimized in previous ceremonies. Utah Governor Gary R. Herbert emphasized the importance of inclusion of all the contributors, particularly those who have felt slighted for a lack of acknowledgment in the past. Herbert said, “This anniversary is also important because we’re finally giving those who did the bulk of the heavy labor their proper recognition. I hope remembering the accomplishment of those who built the transcontinental railroad will remind us that we can accomplish miraculous things when we come together from diverse backgrounds and experiences and work side-by-side, sunup-to-sundown, with the spirit of cooperation.” Historian Connie Young Yu addressed the lack of representation for Chinese rail laborers in previous celebrations, noting that her own mother was the single Chinese descendant in attendance at the centennial celebration 50 years ago. Yu’s great-grandfather was a foreman of the Central Pacific railroad. “We take this opportunity at the 150th to reclaim our place in history to honor the courage, fortitude and sacrifice of the Chinese railroad workers and their legacy in America,” Yu said. Also representing Chinese-American heritage was Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao. “As the first United States secretary of Transportation of Chinese ancestry, I have the unique and moving opportunity to fully acknowledge and recognize the contributions and sacrifices of these laborers of Chinese heritage to the construction of the transcontinental railroad.” A video message from Cui Tiankai, ambassador to the United States from The People’s Republic of China was shown on oversized screens. He used the transcontinental railroad as an example of how “The Chinese and American people can come together and get things done, and make the impossible possible.” Representing other unheralded immigrant workers, the Ambassador of Ireland, Dan Mulhall, said, “I am truly proud and honored to stand here in recognition of the enormous role played by some 10,000 Irish men in the building of the transcontinental railroad whose 150th anniversary we commemorate today. Theirs was a magnificent contribution to the making of modern America.” Mulhall held his own a celebratory champagne toast with his wife saying, “We remember today all those who laid rails, built bridges and blasted rock.” More than 6 million Irish immigrants entered the United States in the 19th century, trying to escape famine and find work to support their families. Of those, approximately 10,000 Irish men became laborers for the railroad who worked to complete the monumental task which was originally slated to take 12 years, but through hard labor was finished in six and a half. President Russell M. Nelson of the LDS Church spoke of the connectivity of diverse people who had faced significant persecution. “We are honored and blessed to be able to gather at this historic spot to commemorate the gargantuan accomplishment and the people who made it possible. Their hard work, sacrifices and spirit to get the job done helped connect this country in a way that has allowed generations of Americans and immigrants to fulfill their dreams.” Keynote speaker, Pulitzer Prize winning author and historian Jon Meacham addressed the importance of grasping the lessons of the past and applying them to improve society. “The story is not perfect, but then neither are we,” Meacham said, “We should not sentimentalize the American experience. The nation has been morally flawed, often egregiously so, from the beginning. We must be honest about that.” Meacham continued, “If the men and women of the past, with all of their flaws and limitations and ambitions and appetites, could press on through ignorance and superstition and racism and sexism, through selfishness and greed, to form a more perfect union, then perhaps we too can right wrongs and leave things better than we found them.” U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said, “The story of this site says so much about our country. The joining of the two rail lines created a new sense of connectedness that helped form a common national identity.” Bernhardt also praised local efforts and organizers, “Today’s incredible events wouldn’t have been possible without the exceptional leadership of Spike 150, the great people of Utah, Congressman Bishop, and the rest of the Utah delegation. I am especially grateful for Congressman Bishop’s work in elevating this site to be a National Historical Park for all to visit, learn and enjoy.” In an interview prior to the ceremony Representative Rob Bishop spoke about his excitement to get the historical park designation and be present for this celebration. “It’s going to bring more people here, and excite more people. Historical parks are where we show America is really unique. So there’s not a whole lot of them around...and we’re one of them,” said Bishop. “I hope that we can attract more people with this designation, combining with the other things that are around in this area to view—make this a destination spot.” Bishop said he hopes this will enable more opportunities to learn and grasp the importance of the contributions of Utah, and more specifically of Box Elder County, toward shaping the nation. Touting Utah’s parks are no longer the “Mighty Five,” rather now they are the “Super Six.” “This was to the 19th century was what the moon landing was to us. You have to realize that the rockets that sent those, the motors that power those rockets were just down there about 10 miles...Utah and this area are so entwined with transportation revolutions that changed America and changed life as we know it,” Bishop said. Bishop said the economic boom for the United States was directly attributed to the accessibility afforded through a country connected by the rails. This took America from a middling country to an industrial powerhouse. He spoke of his own ancestors who once took four months to walk across the plains, by contrast when his grandparents emigrated it took only four days to traverse the same distance by rail: It changed everything. Bishop said that the Big Boy locomotive which was brought in to Ogden as part of the festivities got him thinking. He said, “It was a realization that human muscle couldn’t accomplish the task, but human creativity, and vision, and engineering could create a machine that could accomplish the tasks and that’s what we hope we have those visions to take us into the future again.” During the presentation of the Copper Utah Spike by Governor Herbert, white gloves were required of the notables who lined the stage and were able to briefly inspect the spike as it was passed down the line before being gently tapped into place to officially “drive” the spike on the historical site. Displaying the lesser known Utah Iron Spike, which was commissioned by Brigham Young for the completion of the Ogden to Salt Lake City railroad was LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson. “All the transcontinental railroad spikes: gold, silver, iron and now copper, are symbols of how important it is to come together from various countries and cultures to celebrate our accomplishments. They are reminders of what can be accomplished when we join hands,” said Nelson. He continued, “This celebration is a time for us to remember and honor what they accomplished. Their hard work, sacrifices and spirit to get the job done helped connect this country in a way that has allowed generations of Americans and immigrants to fulfill their dreams.” An original musical production, “As One,” inspired by the Golden Spike history, was written and directed by award-winning composer, producer, and songwriter Stephen Nelson, with contributions from lyricist and vocalist Anjanette Mickelsen. It was directed and choreographed by Jennifer Park Hohl and produced by Dr. Craig Jessop of Utah State University. “As One” features five original compositions performed by a chorus and band comprised of 250 elementary school students from Utah’s 29 counties. The youth choir was led by Brigham City resident and longtime music educator, Claudia Bigler, and the band was led by local Box Elder School District music educator Mike Reeder. Despite the original desire to hire professional actors to portray historical characters in the official re-enactment, it was insisted that local volunteer actors who have performed in the annual ceremony for years, including some second-generation re-enactors, be able to complete the task. “Distant Thunder” a 6,000 pound bronze bison sculpture was crafted by internationally acclaimed sculptor Michael Coleman, commissioned by the Naoma Tate and the family of Hal Tate, to represent the beauty and spirit of the untamed American West. The piece, which has been donated to the Golden Spike National Historic Park was unveiled on May 10, where guests were encouraged to touch the sculpture for luck. Other on-site celebrations included a marriage of historical ways of life with the technological advances which will fuel the future. A frontier camp and shoshone camp featured exhibits and storytellers that brought the lives of the long-gone railroad workforce to life. It was placed near the STEM Innovation Summit, where young innovators were encouraged to think about where the country will be in 2069 using today’s aviation, rocketry, and drone technology. Visitors explored the past and the present, while looking to the future through large museum-style outdoor exhibits. Food trucks and commercial booths for Golden Spike mementos and the official United States Postal Service first-day issue collector stamps always had a long line of guests seeking to document their experience on the historical day. Blue skies were filled with fireworks and a flyover of F-35s to complete the ceremony. Musical performers, speakers and subsequent presentations of the musical production “As One” continued throughout the weekend’s festivities on the stage. More than an estimated 20,000 visitors attended the celebration on Friday, and an additional 12,000-15,000 were in attendance on Saturday, and between 5,000-7,000 attended on Sunday, according to Box Elder Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Dale Ward. The event’s safety was of paramount importance and ample support from law enforcement, park rangers and volunteer personnel helped accommodate crowds of which the site has never seen in such a brief period, particularly with allowing private vehicles to park so near the historical site. Advance notice was given to those who purchased parking passes of potential delays, due to the two-lane road. There were reports that traffic was at times backed up four miles onto SR83 in the line up. Ward reports that the 19 calls during the event were mostly routine for any large event; lost children, lost property, separated parties and medical assistance. A fatality due to a catastrophic cardiac incident did occur on Friday morning, which received immediate response and notable life-saving efforts from all available resources. Unfortunately, the 70- year-old Arizona man passed away on site. The next most serious medical call was for another cardiac problem on Sunday afternoon when a 59-year-old woman was experiencing difficulty breathing and passed out. She was treated on scene and later transported to Brigham City Community Hospital.
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