(background); Courtesy of David Pendleton (spike)

Where Does This Golden Spike Belong?

Students in Utah want an important piece of history returned to their state.

As You Read, Think About: What is one important object in your state’s history? 

Clink! With one last tap of a silver hammer, a spike made of gold was set in place on the railroad track. The crowd that had gathered at Promontory Summit in what is now the state of Utah let out a cheer. 

They were celebrating an important moment in U.S. history. The date was May 10, 1869. After six years of hard work, the country’s first transcontinental railroad was finished. A new age of transportation had begun. 

For the first time, people could travel by train from New York to California. A trip that once took several months in a horse-drawn wagon could now take about a week. Trading and transporting goods also became easier. The railroad connected Americans like never before. 

What happened to that famous golden spike? It was removed from the track after the ceremony. It ended up hundreds of miles away, in California. Earlier this year, a class of fourth-graders started a campaign to bring it back to Utah.

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On May 10, 1869, the country’s first transcontinental railroad was finished.

The Story of the Spike

Leland Stanford had hammered in the ceremonial golden spike. Stanford was the head of one of the two companies that built the railroad. Today, the golden spike sits in a glass case in the university Stanford founded in California. The hammer that drove the spike into the track and a silver spike used in the ceremony are also on display at Stanford University’s Cantor Arts Center. 

David Pendleton, a fourth-grade teacher in Utah, visited the museum last year. He was excited to take a photo of the golden spike to show his students.

“Every person who grew up in Utah knows about the golden spike and the transcontinental railroad,” explains Pendleton. “It’s something we teach in school every single year.”

But he was disappointed by the display. The golden spike didn’t even have a label explaining what it was. Pendleton knew that the spike and the two other railroad artifacts are a source of pride for Utahans. He thought the objects would get the special treatment they deserved in his home state. 

Pendleton decided to get his students at Neil Armstrong Academy involved. In February, he told them about his trip. Then he shared his big idea: The class would start a letter-writing campaign. They hoped to get as many people as possible to write letters to officials at Stanford. Their goal was to bring the golden spike back to Utah.

Courtesy of David Pendleton

Pendleton (top center) with his fourth-graders who launched Spikes2Utah

Kids in Action

Courtesy of David Pendleton

David Pendleton’s students designed the Spikes2Utah logo.

The students named their project Spikes2Utah. They created a video that launched the letter-writing campaign. Jovie Stringfellow, now a fifth-grader, helped write the video script. 

“It was really challenging,” she says. “I wanted people to get interested and want to be a part of our campaign.”

The students created flyers, posters, and a website. Companies donated billboard space and radio ads to help spread the word.

On the Right Track

The Spikes2Utah campaign had a big impact. Students from other schools in Utah and across the country sent in letters. Pendleton’s class collected 1,098 letters and mailed them to Stanford in June. 

As Scholastic News went to press, Stanford University hadn’t announced its decision. Pendleton’s students hope their efforts have been persuasive.

“The spikes belong back in Utah because their history was made here,” says student Jaden Chadwick. 

1. What does the author mean when she writes that “a new age of transportation had begun” on May 10, 1869?

2. Based on the article, why do you think the golden spike ended up at Stanford University?

3. Why do you think the author included the fact that Stanford University’s display of the golden spike did not include a label?

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