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West Valley City Journal

Student-led campaign to bring golden spike to Utah gains speed

Jul 07, 2023 12:16PM ● By Darrell Kirby

Students at Armstrong Academy in West Valley City celebrate receiving more than 1,000 letters in support of returning the transcontinental railroad golden spike from California to Utah. (Darrell Kirby/City Journals)

The effort to bring the golden spike that marked the completion of the transcontinental railroad in Utah back to the state has moved a little farther down the track. 

By the end of May, fourth-grade students at the Granite School District’s Armstrong Academy in West Valley City had received more than 1,000 letters submitted online, by mail and email supporting the return to Utah of the golden spike along with the silver spike and the silver maul used to drive the spikes into the ground on May 10, 1869.

“The support we have received throughout the campaign from day one has been astounding,” said teacher David Pendleton, whose class launched the effort six weeks earlier. “It really struck a chord with people around the state and around the country. That’s something I didn’t expect.” 

“I thought we were only going to get like a 100, maybe 200 (letters),” said fourth-grader Elias Vave. 

Local broadcasters and a public relations firm hopped aboard the golden spike cause by donating air time and marketing expertise to help spread the word. 

“They walked us through it step-by-step and let us know what we needed to do,” Pendleton said.

Pendleton said that while many of the messages were sent by Utahns, others came from throughout the West and as far away as New York thanks to some national media coverage. A couple from Spain even wrote a letter of support while they were visiting Utah. 

Some examples of letters written included one from Tommy T. of Utah who wrote, “I’m proud of where I live. I’m proud of our history, our commitment to family and industry, and our hunger for progress. I would love to bring these treasures so I can share this history with my children. I sincerely hope you’ll send these to Utah on a long-term loan so we can embrace such a golden moment in our state’s history.” 

From New York, Jayda-Jynx G. wrote: “I do believe this is an important, and very much valued artifact, and should be returned and displayed in the Museum of Utah, even if it is just a loan.” 

Pendleton and his students announced the campaign dubbed “Spikes2Utah” back in mid-April to seek the support of fellow students and the general public across Utah and beyond to convince the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California to return the golden spike and its companion artifacts to Utah. They have resided at the museum for decades, in part because Stanford University’s founder, industrialist Leland Stanford, was president of Central Pacific Railroad Company, which built the western half of the transcontinental line from the Bay Area to Promontory Summit in Box Elder County. Union Pacific Railroad constructed the eastern portion. 

If and when the Cantor Arts Center agrees to a temporary loan or permanently hands over the golden and silver spikes and maul, they will be displayed at a new Utah history museum to be built as part of a larger multipurpose state building slated for completion in 2026 just north of the capitol. Tim Glenn is director of that under-construction museum. “We’ll submit a letter (to Cantor) citing that we’re interested in exhibiting the spikes,” he said. “There’s a formality in the museum world that we’ll follow.” λ