Ceremony marks Golden Spike fact, fiction in Utah

PROMONTORY, Utah (AP) — If you thought the driving of the last spike to join the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads on May 10, 1869, took place at Promontory Point, you’re not alone. That point was made on the 142nd anniversary of the event by Promontory resident Ron Porter at the 60th annual re-enactment of the Golden Spike Ceremony at Promontory Summit. The spot is 35 miles north of Promontory Point. Porter, a regular actor in the re-enactment ceremony held at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. every Saturday and holiday from now until October, explained that many history books still get wrong that detail, as well as a host of other facts about the event. The first golden spike was engraved with the date May 8, 1869, the date the ceremony was supposed to take place, said the 13-year re-enactment veteran. But typical troubles of living in the rough-and-tumble West confused the plans, setting the ceremony back two days and setting it up for miscommunication. “Only half the newspeople were still here when it happened,” Porter said. “Half the press had gone home.” Porter said the country’s newspapers carried contradicting stories about when and where the event took place. “Everybody was pretty `out there’ on their stories. It messed up history like you never would believe.” Porter said the script for the annual re-enactment, first used in 1952, is believed to be accurate but could very well suffer from the misrepresentations of that day in history. “Sometimes when we mess up, maybe we are doing it more like it was back then,” he said, noting the casual nature of those who act in the weekly performances. Because roles get switched around a lot, he said, the actors sometimes get mixed up and blend several parts together or make other mistakes. Porter and other actors noted how the original ceremony came together in a somewhat haphazard way. Porter played the part Tuesday of Thomas C. Durant, vice president of the Union Pacific at the time. It’s a pretty easy role. “He’s the one that hides out during almost all of the program,” Porter said. “When it’s time for his speech, he comes down with a self-inflicted headache.” Durant then joined Gov. A.P.K Safford, of the Arizona Territory, in an effort at driving the golden spike. “Neither one could hit it,” Porter said. “They finally got a railroad man.” “This was fun,” said Wendy Davis, a Woods Cross Elementary School fourth-grade teacher. “We learned how they kept hitting and missing the spikes.” Hundreds of schoolchildren were taking in the sight and celebrated the coming of the trains as the day began. Children ran between two tracks, marveling at the billowing steam as the Jupiter and No. 119 locomotives ceremoniously whistled to each other and paraded back and forth before settling into place. “Whoot, whoot,” the children screamed while doing a whistle-pulling motion in front of the two engines. They were getting their picture taken with Porter and dozens of other actors dressed in 19th-century clothing. Davis and fellow teacher RaNae Bennett, who were at the re-enactment with 150 Woods Cross students, said the beauty of the trains was everything they imagined when they applied for a Target grant and permission from Davis School District to travel the extra distance to get there. “As they read things out of history books, they can remember being here,” Davis said. “It brings it off the pages of the history books and into their imaginations. … This is such a monumentous event in U.S. and Utah history.” “I’ve wanted to do this my whole life,” Bennett said. “It’s on my bucket list.” Davis said because Woods Cross city’s name is centered around trains, children at her school learn to use a lot of train symbolism in the classroom. The “whoot, whoot” is used sometimes as a thank you for guests or as congratulations for accomplishments. Davis said the students see the FrontRunner and other trains in their city but were exposed on this day to how all that began.

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