In these dark days of rampant terrorism, toxic waste, acid rain, and statesmen playing games of nuclear “chicken,” I’d like to have been present at some incident that might cheer me up. The scene that comes instantly to mind is the Golden Spike ceremony at Promontory Point, Utah, on May 10, 1869, when the nation was at long last linked by rail “from sea to shining sea.” Specifically, I’d like to have been present at the exact second when A. J. Russel took his famous picture of the two locomotives coming together.
No moment in American history could be more full of promise. I want to drink it all in. I want to mix with boisterous crowd of tracklayers, soldiers, dishwashers, gamblers, and strumpets. I want to listen to the 21st Infantry band thumping away. I want to watch the cowcathers touch. I want to sample the bottle of champagne held out by the man standng on the Central Pacific’ locomotive Jupiter. I want to know who the lady is in the exact center of the preliminary photograph, but who vanishes in the final, climactic shot. I want to know the identity of the one man in the picture who turned his back to the camera. Was he just inattentive, or was his likeness perhaps posted as “ WANTED ” in every post office in the West? I want to watch Leland Stanford swing his hammer—and miss the golden spike.
Above all, I want to feel—even for a moment—the pride of achievement and bright hopes for the future that thrilled this crowd and the nation itself.