The Myth of the Golden Spike

I am the co-publisher of the Alameda Sun newspaper in Alameda, California. I want to create a  20-minute documentary film with two purposes. The first will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the first transcontinental railroad train in Alameda on September 6, 1869, as well as the arrival of the first train on this cross-country route in the nearby city of Oakland on November 8, 1869.  The documentary will discuss the decision to bring the railroad into Alameda and Oakland, rather than San Francisco.

Secondly, the film will dispel two myths surrounding the driving of the Golden Spike at Promontory Summit in the Utah Territory on May 10, 1869. The first  suggested  the transcontinental rails ever carried trains into San Francisco or to the Pacific Ocean as the Union Pacific railroad bragged in a poster it published shortly after the driving of the Golden Spike. 

The second myth stated that in 1869 a direct rail connection existed that carried trains from the East to the West Coast. Not true. Until 1872, transcontinental railroad travelers had to disembark in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and ride a ferry across the Missouri River to Omaha, Nebraska. When these same passengers arrived in Sacramento, California, between May and September 1869, they had to ride another ferry to San Francisco; from September to November 1869, ferries carried the passengers from Alameda and after November 8 from Oakland to San Francisco. 

No transcontinental rails ever carried passengers into San Francisco.  Even today, a rail passenger coming from the East Coast has to disembark in Emeryville, the city neighboring Oakland to the north,  and ride a bus as the final leg of the journey from the east.

To make this film a reality, I need to raise $70,000. I'm hoping to appeal to railroad fans across the county who want to know more about how the history of the Union Pacific and, more especially, the Central Pacific, unfolded in the months after the Golden Spike celebration. 

These include:

The failure of the  San Francisco & San Jose Railroad to finish laying tracks that would have brought the transcontinental railroad directly into San Francisco

The creation of the first Western Pacific Railroad to complete the task that the San Francisco & San Jose Railroad couldn't 

The story behind the San Francisco & Alameda Railroad that Alfred A. Cohen had ready for the arrival of the first transcontinental railroad train on September 6, 1869

The building of the San Francisco  & Oakland  Railroad that was finally ready for transcontinental railroad trains on November 8, 1869.

And an interesting epilogue: 

The tragic accident on November 14, 1869, (just six days after transcontinental railroad trains began running into Oakland).

A  transcontinental railroad train collided with one of Cohen's San Francisco & Alameda trains, killing 15 people and sending the injured to the nearest hospital: the insane asylum in the heart of today's downtown Alameda. 

I am a historian who has written extensively about the local railroads involved in this story.  My business partner, Eric Kos and I have 10 published books to our credit.

I also was privileged to participate in the documentary "Trailhead."

I invited the "Trailhead" film makers, Emily Fraser and Henry Wiener to make "The Myth of the Golden Spike" with me.
Much to my delight, they accepted. 

I'm hoping to find 1,400 railroad fans across the country to donate $50. In return, they will receive a copy of the documentary that, first,  shows the little-known stories behind the failure of the transcontinental railroad to reach San Francisco and, second, that helps debunk a pair of myths surrounding the braggadocio that this railroad ever connected east with west and fails to do so even today.


Dennis Evanosky
Alameda, CA

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