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On the eve of the 150th anniversary of the First Continental Railroad, whither the Gold Spike?

The ceremonial gold spike that connected the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads to create the First Transcontinental Railroad on May 10, 1869. (Stanford News Service) 

On May 10, 1869, LELAND STANFORD tapped the ceremonial gold spike, known as The Last Spike or the Golden Spike or the Gold Spike, into a pre-drilled hole to link the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads, creating the First Transcontinental Railroad.

The spike was later donated to the Stanford Museum, now the Cantor Arts Center, where it has been part of its permanent collection. In the past several months, it has traveled to different museums for various celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad’s completion.

Forged at the William T. Garrett Foundry in San Francisco, the artifact has visible dents made with a silver hammer that Stanford used. A faint cursive engraving on the spike reads: “May God continue the unity of our Country, as this Railroad unites the two great Oceans of the world.”

The spike is currently on display in the Gold Room at the Utah State Capitol from May 3 to June 24 for the exhibition Spencer Fox Eccles: Treasures of the Transcontinental Railroad (Start to Finish: The 1862 Pacific Railway Act to the 1869 Last Spikes at Promontory).

After its stay in Utah, the spike will be prepared to go back on display in a re-installation of the Stanford family collection at the Cantor by artist Mark Dion. That display will open at the Cantor on Sept. 18. The title for the fall exhibition at which the spike will be featured is The Melancholy Museum: Love, Death, and Mourning at Stanford.

In the meantime, members of the campus community can view the official replica of the Golden Spike, held in the Stanford University Archives, during an open house in Green Library on Friday, May 10, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Curators EITAN KENSKYKATHLEEN SMITH and BEN STONE organized the open house to highlight the 150th anniversary of the First Transcontinental Railroad and to tell the stories of other significant trains and transportation networks around the world.

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