The first Transcontinental Railroad was completed on May 10, 1869--150 years ago. Rails of the Union Pacific from the east and Central Pacific from the west were joined at Promontory, Utah with a grand celebration, witnessed nationwide via the telegraph (that dot...dot...dot reference in my title). Recognizing the significance of that event, which joined California and the West Coast of the United States to the rest of the country, this year's Sesquicentennial called for yet another celebration on that site.
Among other official organizations working with the National Park Service were the Southern Pacific Historical and Technical Society and the Union Pacific Historical Society who held a joint convention in Ogden, May 9-11. Understanding well the historic significance, I eagerly participated in that convention. A major feature of the convention was the bus trip out to Promontory on May 10. Our convention filled 12 of the 81 buses that reached the site, as well as 1500 cars. The local Ogden TV news estimated the crowd at 20,000. I figured it would be a mob scene. I just wanted to be on site with one of the more recognized and organized elements of that crowd/mob.
Reenactment of the historic image of pilots touching at Promontory Utah on May 10.
The National Park Service, Utah state and local law enforcement did a great job handling the large crowd getting to the site. Sure, there were a couple of hiccups, notably the traffic back-up passing through the single check point which ensured all had the proper credentials to be on site for the occasion. Otherwise, they should be proud of their work.
The Promontory National Historic Site has been promoted to National Park status this year, per recently passed legislation. On hand to mark the occasion and to unveil the official sign proclaiming Park status were the Utah Governor, Senators (including now-retired Senator Orin Hatch), the Secretaries of the Interior and Transportation, the President of the LDS Church, the President of the Union Pacific Railroad, and other dignitaries. Think of that as just the modern version of the dignitaries on site in 1869. The new sign unveiling, driving a Utah copper spike, and the usual speeches were the major features of the official program, followed by an historic reenactment of the 1869 event.
A major feature of this year's celebration was formal recognition of the contribution to the railroad construction made by the estimated 12,000 Chinese laborers hired by the Central Pacific. Secretary of Transportation Margret Chou made fitting recognition of that contribution.
Secretary of Transportation Margret Chou delivering remarks during the official program. A pair of jumbo screen helped the large crowd see activities at the event podium.
A traditional Chinese Lion Dance started the official program.
The official photo platform.
Photography by the crowd.
The National Park Service did a great job planning for the crowd. Limited seating was available. The site is quite austere. The Park Servicer allowed a temporary food court and was well prepared for the aftermath of that.
One of the port-a-potty lines at the site.
As with getting the crowd up to the site on time, so also was the departure. State and local police and sheriffs did well moving the crowd out and back to "civilization."
Bus loading after the program. There were a number of school groups present providing those youth with a great experience of living history.
Meanwhile, back in the Eccles Conference Center in Ogden, appropriate art greeted us. Those balloons lasted throughout our event.
The SPH&TS+UPHS Convention provided a good program of presentations on the history of the joined railroad and railroading in Utah. The final banquet added the National Rail Historical Society and the National Rail and Locomotive Historical Society for 801 folk in attendance. I am glad to say: "I was there!"