New transcontinental railroad exhibits open at Utah Capitol

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Two of three new exhibits highlighting different aspects of the transcontinental railroad are now open at the Utah Capitol, part of Utah’s Spike 150 initiative.

The first transcontinental railroad was completed May 10, 1869, when the Union and Central Pacific railroads were joined with a golden spike at Promontory Summit in Utah — where the Golden Spike National Historic Site is today.

The first exhibit, titled “A World Transformed: The Transcontinental Railroad and Utah,” explores the impact the transcontinental railroad had on individual Utahns.

“The people of Utah really contributed a lot to the transcontinental railroad,” said Dan Davis, the head curator for the exhibit and Utah State University’s special collections and archives photograph curator. “Utah was really important to both railroads.”

The exhibit puts on display how integral Utahns were in the process, Davis said.

“Utah really is the central focus of the transcontinental railroad in a lot of ways,” he said.

Another important contribution to the railroads were the Chinese railroad workers — the theme of the second exhibit on display at the Capitol.

“It’s time for us to tell our ancestors’ story and our Chinese immigration story,” said Jie Xu, the secretary for the Chinese Railroad Workers Descendants Association.

The association sponsored the second exhibit, which is named “Tracing the Path: Chinese Railroad Workers and the First Transcontinental Railroad.”

“We try to tell their stories,” Xu said. “Their story has not been told for too long. And hopefully history will remember that contribution to this magnificent work.”

Chinese railroad laborers experienced countless hardships, Xu said, and he hopes the exhibit helped teach people about what they sacrificed for the railroads.

Siulin Santee, a board member for the association, helped spearhead the project and she said that while the Chinese story is important, it is not the only story to tell.

“The first transcontinental railroad was not only built by the Chinese; we have other people. We have Mormons, we have Irish, we all work together.”

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