Live entertainment was a big part of the festivities at last Friday’s big event celebrating the 150th anniversary of the driving of the Golden Spike at Promontory, with reenactors, dancers and musicians responsible for helping to keep tens of thousands of visitors from around the world engaged in the festivities.
Students from two local schools had the opportunity to perform on the biggest stage of their young lives, and they didn’t disappoint.
As it has been in past years, the Bear River High School band was on hand May 10, playing on the main stage before thousands of spectators. For several hours, the band was stationed on the main stage with one of the best views anyone had of the historic occasion. Then band played everything from jaunty, upbeat tunes from the 19th century, to having the weighty honor of playing “Taps” during the annual wreath-laying ceremony in remembrance of those who gave their lives in the construction of the transcontinental railroad.
Across the way, near a mock western town set up in the community village area, 90 students from McKinley Elementary in Tremonton were delighting the crowd with selections of old railroad standards like “Rollin’ On” and “She’ll Be Comin ‘Round the Mountain.”
“When I heard last summer about the Golden Spike 150th, I thought ‘we ought to be there,’” said Marilynn Stewart, music teacher at McKinley. “Not only were we there, we were there performing.”
Stewart said that last year, Box Elder School District Superintendent Steve Carlsen sent an email out to all fourth-grade teachers in the district, telling them that “this is happening in our backyard — find a way to get there.”
She contacted the Spike 150 committee and offered her class, and that’s how it happened. The PTA paid to bus the children the 30 miles out to Promontory and back, “so that was helpful,” she said.
After finally getting through the thick traffic on the only road to the site, the McKinley fourth graders sang for an hour. Stewart said the kids started working on the program last September.
“We’ve been working on it all year, so they were very well prepared,” she said. “They all wore their McKinley red T-shirts.”
Following their performance, the kids were able to head over to the main stage and watch the historic reenactment, as well as explore some of the exhibits telling the stories of the various people and groups who worked on the railroad.
“I hope in 50 years at the 200th anniversary, maybe they’ll take their own families and classes,” Stewart said.
She asked her students to write down something interesting they saw at the celebration, receiving a range of responses, from how they didn’t know there were actually three ceremonial spikes driven, to how it took four months to travel across the United States before the new railroad made it possible in just a week’s time.
The occasion was also a personal one for Stewart, whose own mother took her to the centennial celebration in 1969.
“Although it wasn’t near as large a celebration as the 150th, it was a very wonderful memory from my childhood and even as a young girl, I understood the historical significance of that event, and I wanted our McKinley kids to feel that too,” she said.
A television station from China was very interested in the choir and interviewed Stewart about the children, their school and their songs, and shot video to show on their station back home.
All in all, Stewart said it was an experience that her students — and herself — will never forget.
“It was once in a lifetime,” she said, “something that will never happen again.”