Promontory speaker says Transcontinental railroad offers hope in modern times

Thousands gather at remote Utah site to celebrate 150th anniversary of Golden Spike
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Cast members from the musical "As One" gather for a group photo on a stage at the Golden Spike National Historic Park on Friday. The musical was the main educational and entertainment event during ceremonies marking the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad.
TRAINS: Steve Sweeney
A sign near a re-enactors' encampment alluding to the mobile and notoriously lawless tent cities that followed workers as they built the Transcontinental Railroad.
TRAINS: Steve Sweeney

PROMONTORY SUMMIT, Utah — A day after Union Pacific officials used “#DONE” to memorialize the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, a U.S. presidential historian says the railroad’s completion should conjure a different four-letter word: H-O-P-E.


Thousands of people from around the world have gathered to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad with music, dance, speeches, and a slightly more elaborate rendition of the Last Spike re-enactment performed often here at the National Historic Park.


It was 150 years ago, on May 10, 1869, that Central Pacific and Union Pacific officials and railroad workers paused with a ceremony to lay last rails, a last tie, and drive the Last Spike — made of gold — to finish a 1,776-mile route between Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Sacramento, Calif.


Gates to the Golden Spike National Historic Park opened to the public about 8 a.m. Friday, with replica 4-4-0 locomotives Union Pacific No. 119 and Central Pacific Jupiter arriving on scene soon after.


Prime ceremonies began at 11 a.m. with introductions and speeches from Utah politicians, the National Park Service, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Union Pacific CEO Lance Fritz, and Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints President Russell M. Nelson. 


Noted presidential historian Jon Meacham gave the keynote address and quoted such historic figures as Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, and Saint Augustine.


Meacham called on the thousands gathered at the historic park today to place the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in context as a great act and as a lesson for today. He said, that if, in the midst of American Civil War, the nation could conceive of building a massive engineering feat, it should give modern Americans hope for our time.


He said he’d rather deal with the problems posed by Facebook, rather than those from Fort Sumpter — the site of the beginning of the Civil War.


Meacham says that Americans should not give up on hope, but should look to the Transcontinental Railroad, and its completion at Promontory Summit, as a reminder that a nation of imperfect and flawed people can join to achieve great feats in the face of daunting odds. Also, that Americans’ predecessors should neither be idolized or vilified, but seen “eye-to-eye” as the people working to make the United States more perfect, as each generation does.


Utah officials drove a new “copper spike” for the ceremony forged from copper mined in the state. There were also presentations from Chinese-American groups, the Republic of Ireland’s ambassador to the U.S. and a Native American group, which offered blessings to the crowd. 


Perhaps the highlight of the event was an approximately half-hour musical “As One” depicting the events of the Transcontinental Railroad in song and dance.

Festivities at the national historic park were to continue through 7 p.m. Friday.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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The history of the Transcontinental Railroad.

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