Railroad and history buffs gathered at the front steps of the Union Pacific Railroad Museum in Council Bluffs late Friday afternoon to mark the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad.
On May 10, 1869, the Golden Spike ceremony was held in Promontory Summit, Utah, approximately 1,086 miles west of the Missouri River at Council Bluffs, which President Abraham Lincoln had proclaimed as “Mile 0” of the Union Pacific Railroad’s route west to meet with the tracks of the Central Pacific Railroad.
The 1869 completion of the 1,800-mile rail line shortened cross-country travel from as long as six months in wagons and stagecoaches to about 10 days on the rails and served as a unifying moment for the nation. It became a pivotal moment in United States History that dramatically changed how people traveled and did business.
The ceremony here began at 5:30 p.m. with a traditional Omaha Tribal blessing and cedar ceremony by Jeff Gilpin, Omaha Native American Church Roadman.
Council Bluffs Mayor Matt Walsh read a proclamation noting that Council Bluffs, as “Mile 0,” has been a conduit for immigration and settlement in the American West along the line of the nation’s first transcontinental railroad.
Although she could not be present for the Council Bluffs ceremony, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds forwarded a proclamation naming Council Bluffs a Gold Spike Community and recognizing that Council Bluffs, ordered by President Lincoln to be “Mile 0” for Union Pacific, has played a significant role in the creation of that railroad.
Kelli O’Brien, Union Pacific Railroad director of public affairs for Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin presented Walsh with a Golden Spike City Award.
At the time the railroad was built, an estimated 12,000 Chinese workers labored to build what U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao called one of the greatest infrastructure projects in U.S. history.
Council Bluffs’ ceremony marking the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad ended with a celebratory Chinese Lion Dance by the Jing Mo Tong Athletic Association recognizing the contributions of Chinese workers to the completion of the railroad.
Following the Mile 0 celebration, the museum opened a new exhibit, “Hidden Histories of the Transcontinental Railroad,” along with a larger display of artifacts that showcase Council Bluffs' connection to the railroad.
Several other events are planned throughout the summer marking the Transcontinental Railroad’s 150th anniversary. On May 22, the museum will screen the documentary the “Race to Promontory."
Many of the immigrants working on the portion of the Transcontinental Railroad coming from the east were Irish. A poetry salon highlighting Irish immigrants who helped build the railroad and hosted by the Irish American Writers and Artists Inc. will be held on June 1.
A lecture, “Construction as Conquest: Building the Transcontinental in Indian Country,” is scheduled for Aug. 17.
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