BOX ELDER COUNTY – It looked like 1869 at Promontory Point Saturday morning. Hundreds gathered to see the reenactment of the completion of the nation’s first transcontinental railroad on its 145th anniversary. Many came dressed in clothing from the time period and had their picture taken next to the replicas of the original trains, re-creating the famous photo taken the day of the completion.
One of the important differences in the photo re-creation were the many people who were descendants of the Chinese railroad workers as well as the extra visitors from China who made their way to Utah to be a part of the celebration. The Chinese laborers, who made up a majority of the railroad workers, were originally left out of the 1869 photograph. A special effort was made to include as many of their descendants as possible in the 145th anniversary photo.
Jason Dong, who now lives in Salt Lake City but is originally from China, is part of a group that helped organize housing and transportation to bring people from China for the event. He said that some flew into San Francisco and drove a route that followed the original railroad. “For the last five days they followed the railway all the way from San Francisco to here,” he said.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams honored the Chinese railroad workers during a press conference the previous day in Salt Lake City. Dong pointed out that 80% of the laborers for the transcontinental railroad were Chinese and said he was happy that the sacrifices of the Chinese workers were recognized.
“They made a big contribution to the transcontinental railroad,” he said.
After the photo recreation, an anniversary program took place where both the Chinese railroad workers and all the others who helped contribute to the railroad were remembered.
“History took place here,” said Norm Nelson, president of the Golden Spike Association in his welcome address. “Many paid with their lives to get this far, both coming from the east and the west.”
Aaron Hunt, who is the director of communications at Union Pacific Railroad, was the keynote speaker for the program. He encouraged everyone to follow the examples of the leaders who made the railroad possible.
“Each of us has an opportunity to be a leader in our own sphere of influence,” he said. “As you’re here today to experience the pageantry and as you think about what President Lincoln and others did so long ago, think about how that relates to you, how you can be a leader, how you might be able to lead in your own family, how you might be able to lead in your neighborhood or your community or your school. I think each of us can do things to be leaders and as we do so, we will leave a better America for future generations.”