Golden Spike Ceremony, Promontory Summit, Utah

The "Golden Spike" ceremony celebrating the 125th aniversery of the driving of the "golden spike" was held at Promontory Summit, Utah on May 10, 1994. During this celebration, 10,000 people were expected to attend. I spent the previous days photographing and taping the events which took place in nearby Ogden and Salt Lake City, Utah. Some of these photographs are from this even in 1994. Others have been submitted more recently.

The "Golden Spike" Location

Golden Spike Location I have often heard that the driving of the golden spike occurred at Promontory Point, Utah. This is not correct. Promontory Point is a location near the Lucin Cutoff that was built to bypass the original path through the summit. The photo to the right is a picture (looking east) of the "tie" where the golden spike was placed. Obviously, this tie is only a replica of that original tie.

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How Many Golden Spikes Were There?

Arizona Spike Most people assume that there was one single golden spike that was driven into the last tie when the trans-continental railroad was completed. This is not the case. There were actually six spikes that had something to do with the original ceremony:
  1. Hewes Golden spike number 1 from California
  2. Hewes Golden spike number 2 from California
  3. San Francisco News Letter Golden spike from California
  4. One solid silver spike from Nevada
  5. One iron spike with silver placed on the shaft and gold plating on the head (with elaborate engraving) from Arizona (pictured to the right)
  6. A regular iron spike ("Lemon Spike") which was the only spike driven into the tie
The gold and silver spikes were never "driven" into a tie. Instead, they were temporarily placed in holes in a laurelwood tie specially made for the original ceremony. The last rail laid was also pulled up after the original ceremony and sliced into several sections. At least one of those sections survives today (in private possession). Four of the five gold/silver spikes are known to exist today.

Hewes Golden Spike #1 (Hewes Stanford Gold Spike)

David Hewes had two gold spikes cast in 1869. The first one was quickly engraved and sent with Leland Stanford for use at the ceremony at Promontory. After the original ceremony, the first of the two golden spikes from California traveled back to California in the laurelwood tie aboard Stanford's coach. En route, a group of Army Officers riding with Stanford attempted to "drive" the spike into the tie with the pommels of their swords, which accounts for several small round indentations on the spike's head.

The large sprue attached to this golden spike had been removed shortly before the Ceremony. David Hewes took the sprue and had it made into four small rings and seven, one inch long watch fobs. The rings were presented to Leland Stanford, Oakes Ames (Union Pacific President), President U. S. Grant, and Secretary of State William H. Seward. Several dignitaries and Hewes relatives were presented watchfobs, including nephew Tilden G. Abbott, whose fob is on display at Golden Spike National Historic Site.

Following a brief time on display, this golden spike was returned to David Hewes. Hewes kept it until 1892, when he donated his extensive rare art collection, including the golden spike, to the museum of the newly built Leland Stanford Junior University in Palo Alto, CA. [photo]

Hewes Golden Spike #2 (Keepsake Gold Spike)

David Hewes had two gold spikes cast in 1869. This, the second one did not make the trip to Promontory Summit for the ceremony (at least there is no record of it doing so) and was not engraved until after the ceremony. It also remained with the sprue intact. This spike remained with the Hewes family for over 100 years. In 2005 it was discovered that this second golden spike had been held for 136 years by the Hewes family and descendants. It is now on display at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento. More information.

San Francisco News Letter Golden Spike

The whereabouts of this gold spike is unknown. It was present at the ceremony. It had been speculated that the spike was given to one of the Union Pacific dignitaries, but there was no mention of the spike in any of their memoirs. It was also possible that the spike was returned to the San Francisco News Letter newspaper. If so, its fate is most likely the same as the newspaper company, when, in 1906, the San Francisco earthquake and fire destroyed the News Letter Building. The fate of this spike remains a mystery.

Nevada Silver Spike

Nevada's silver spike was temporarily returned to Virginia City jewelers: Nye & Co., where it was brightly polished and engraved on one side: To Leland Stanford President of the Central Pacific Railroad. To the iron of the East and the gold of the West Nevada adds her link of silver to span the continent and wed the oceans. The spike was then delivered to Stanford and eventually placed along with the first golden spike in the Stanford University Museum.

Arizona Iron/Silver Spike

It is unclear what happened to Arizona Territory's spike immediately following the Ceremony. It is assumed that the Arizona spike was given to Union Pacific official Sidney Dillon (a Director, and later President of the UP). A photo at Promontory by Central Pacific photographer Alfred A. Hart (#356) shows Dillon holding up a spike - presumably the Arizona spike. Standing in front of him in the photo is Arizona Territorial Governor Anson P. K. Safford, a Nevada politician and just appointed Arizona Governor, who commissioned the spike before he had ever set foot in Arizona. It is unclear whether the spike was made in Virginia City or Carson City, Nevada, or in San Francisco.

Decades later, it became part of the Museum of the City of New York's collection when the granddaughter of Sidney Dillon, Mrs. Arthur Whitney (Florence Dillon Wyckoff Whitney), gave the spike to the Museum in 1943. The Museum then loaned it to the Union Pacific Railroad Museum in Council Bluffs, IA (the official starting point of the transcontinental railroad) for a time.

Iron "Lemon" Spike

The only spike actually driven into a tie at the ceremony was a "normal" iron spike. It is not entirely clear if this spike was the last one driven before the ceremonial spikes or if this spike was the last one driven after replacing the ceremonial tie (and spikes). In any case it is sometimes referred to as the "Lemon Spike" because of the name of the Union Pacific fireman (David Lemon) on the UP 119. This spike was also saved and is now at the Leland Stanford Junior University in Palo Alto, CA.

The silver plated spike maul was also given to Leland Stanford and became part of the collection at Stanford University museum. The famous laurelwood tie remained on display in Sacramento until 1890. By then, Central Pacific had been reorganized into Southern Pacific, and the tie was taken to the railroad's San Francisco offices at 4th and Townsend Streets. Unfortunately, the building and tie also fell victim to the great earthquake and fire of 1906.

The Cut

Original Central Pacific Roadbed This photo shows a portion of the CP grade as it winds through the mountains. Both the CP and the UP prepared grades some twenty miles past each other prior to the selection of Promontory Summit as the meeting point. The reason they did this was simple because the workers were being paid by the mile and until a meeting point was selected, they want to keep making money. Both of these grades can easily be seen winding between Promontory Summit and Ogden. Cars can even drive on portions of the original grade (as seen in the photo). The tracks leading to and through Promontory Summit were removed during World War II. Today tracks have been relaid in the Summit area so that the replica locomotives can be run.

Central Pacific's Jupiter

Central Pacific's Jupiter This is a replica of CP's #60 "Jupiter" in its original paint scheme. With 10,000 people attending, it was extremely difficult to get a photograph without all sorts of people in my view of the locomotive. I stood at this spot, waiting a very long time for a split-second moment when no one (except for one person) was in my view. I was able to get this split second shot.

The original "Jupiter" was scrapped long ago. Both replica locomotive at Promontory Point (Jupiter and the 119) were constructed in 1980 for the National Park Service by Chadwell O'Connor Engineering Laboratories of Costa Mesa, CA. Built with $1.5 million in federal funds, these were the first steam engines constructed in the United States in twenty-five years. They were painted and lettered by Disney employees and are incredibly accurate replicas of the originals. They both were built as gas burners were the wood in the tender served only to hide the natural gas tank. In 1991 both the CP Jupiter and UP 119 were converted to burn their original fuels, wood for the Jupiter and Coal for the 119.

This shot was used on the CD cover of The Celestial Railroad by Artemus Trine. Go to his web site and then select "Albums" to see the amazing work that was done to this photo.

Jupiter Photos

Union Pacific's 119

Union Pacific's 119 This is UP's #119 in its original paint scheme as it approached the "Golden Spike Ceremony" from its storage shed.

UP 119 Photos

Web Sites Relating to the Golden Spike Historic Site