So, Gov. Gary Herbert, what is Utah going to do with the $1 million that Union Pacific Railroad is donating to the state?
“This is going to help us have a party and celebrate like it’s 1869,” he said Thursday of the plan to mark the 150th anniversary of the May 10, 1869, completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad at Promontory Summit — when the country cheered and rejoiced at the final telegraphic message.
Union Pacific announced Thursday that it would match the $1 million appropriated by the Legislature for upcoming celebrations. Officials outlined some highlights — including the return of the original golden spike, and a visit by the world’s largest steam engine.
Herbert and Union Pacific officials even celebrated early by drinking bubbly in front of an engine, as some did during the big celebration 150 years ago — except Utah’s governor, who is a Latter-day Saint, drank sparkling apple cider.
Doug Foxley spit it out, joking that he didn’t realize it was nonalcoholic. But the chairman of the Spike 150 commission, which is organizing the celebration, acted drunk with excitement as he ticked off a list of events the state has planned.
He vowed that it will be “the biggest and best party ever held in the state of Utah. I mean, move over Winter Olympics … we’re bringing back the golden spike,” the last rail driven to complete the railroad.
Herbert said about the transcontinental railroad: “What a feat. This was done during the Civil War. ... It changed transportation. It changed the way we did business forevermore.”
Herbert added that completing it here also made Utah the literal crossroads of the West, a nickname the state and some of its cities claim. A new inland port in Salt Lake City may use rail, trucks and planes to increase international trade, he said, and make Utah “the crossroads of the world.”
Among some events outlined by Foxley and Union Pacific:
• A program and re-enactment of the final spike’s driving on May 10 at Golden Spike National Historic Site, which soon may become Golden Spike National Historic Park. A bill by U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, to make that change has passed in the House and is pending in the Senate.
• A live hourlong program will be broadcast to Utah’s schoolchildren, and Foxley said it will include a choir of children from every county in the state.
• From May 9 to 11, Union Pacific will bring the “Big Boy,” the world’s largest steam engine, along with other steam engines, for display in Ogden. The Big Boy is as long as a modern diesel engine, a school bus and a sedan — combined.
• The Utah Symphony, along with the Sacramento Symphony, the Reno Symphony and the Omaha Symphony — representing key cities on the transcontinental railroad — commissioned a musical piece by composer Zhou Tian for the celebration. The Utah Symphony will give the work’s local premiere May 18 and 19 at Abravanel Hall.
• On the evening of May 10, Foxley said, “There is going to be a major cultural celebration in Salt Lake City at the [LDS] Conference Center with the Utah Symphony, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and a major guest artist.”
• From Jan. 27 through May, the Utah Museum of Fine Arts will host an exhibition of more than 200 photos and stereographs of railroad construction, shot by Andrew Joseph Russell, photographer of the Union Pacific, and Alfred A. Hart, the photographer for the Central Pacific.
More events are listed and will be added at spike150.org.