The Tabernacle Choir Blog

2019 Tanner Gift of Music: Celebrating the Golden Spike

The O.C. Tanner Gift of Music Concert on May 10, 2019, in the Conference Center at Temple Square pays tribute to an epoch moment in our nation’s history—the driving of the Golden Spike at Promontory Summit in 1869. Invited by the State of Utah, The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square and Utah Symphony will present the signature cultural event of the 150th anniversary celebration of the Golden Spike. The Tabernacle Choir performed at the celebratory events for the 100th anniversary in 1969 at Promontory, Utah, to a crowd of 12,000, including state and national officials.

On the 10th day of May 1869 at the remote promontory north of the Great Salt Lake, two locomotives—the Jupiter from the Central Pacific and the 119 from the Union Pacific—met nose-to-nose, completing the transcontinental railroad. Railroad dignitaries from the two competing companies ceremoniously “tapped” in the final spikes to signal the joining of the two lines. The completion of nearly 2,000 miles of railroad track had garnered such worldwide attention that a telegraph operator immediately sent the announcement to the waiting public: “Done.” Cannons boomed across the country, flags were unfurled, bands played “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Yankee Doodle,” and citizens marched in parades with fireworks overhead—all to celebrate the monumental completion of the steel backbone of the nation. The celebration in Utah was equally spectacular, with 7,000 gathering in the Salt Lake Tabernacle to honor the event.

Unlike the Civil War that had divided the nation, the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads united the country from coast to coast. The transcontinental railroad said much about the bold young nation as it stretched its muscle and its might, setting a new technological and travel standard. The New York Herald proclaimed, “We are the youngest of peoples, but we are teaching the world how to march forward.”

Abraham Lincoln, a railroad attorney, had long supported a railroad crossing the country to the Pacific. As President, he signed into law the “Pacific Railway Act of 1862,” authorizing the monumental venture. (The actual document, on loan from the Library of Congress, is on display in the Gold Room at the Utah State Capitol.) Work began in earnest on the project two years later. To spur construction, Congress made it a race between the Central Pacific coming from the west and Union Pacific from the east. The one laying the most lines could claim the greater per mile subsidy from the government. Crews of Irish and Chinese immigrants, ex-soldiers, former slaves, hard-scrabbled laborers, and a last-minute Latter-day Saint workforce graded the land from steep inclines to prairies to desert flats. They blasted through mountains and bridged rivers. They laid ties and rails, secured them with spikes, filled in the track with ballast, and moved on. On a good day, they kept the pace of a steady stride.

The railroad construction transformed the settlement and the economy of the expanding west. Journeys that had taken months by stage coach, oxen-pulled wagon, or ships sailing around the cape of South America now could be made in a week or less. The railroad also brought Great Britain and China as well as Japan and England closer together with San Francisco and New York in between. The Deseret News editorial one week after the Golden Spike event applauded the work proclaiming that the “consummation of the gigantic efforts commands the admiration and respect of the whole civilized world.”

One hundred and fifty years later, on May 10, 2019, through the O.C.Tanner Gift of Music, The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square and the Utah Symphony pay tribute to this epoch moment in our nation’s history—the driving of the Golden Spike at Promontory Summit.