The "golden spike" Council Bluffs, IA,

Golden Spike Monument, Council Bluffs, IA

Like the pink granite pyramid near what was once Sherman, WY, which you can see on the Ames Monument page of this website, the "golden spike" found somewhat off the beaten track in Council Bluffs, IA, is another lonely memorial to construction of the transcontinental railway.

The memorial, in the form of a 56 foot tall concrete replica of a railroad spike, stands in a large, open park on 9th Avenue, just east of S 20th Street in a predominantly residential area.

Each time I have visited, both park and "spike" have appeared well maintained by the local parks department. However, they do not seem to be a particularly big attraction except, perhaps, for railroad fans like me!


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Golden Spike Monument, Council Bluffs

Above, the plaque on the base of the "golden spike".

Council Bluffs was established as the eastern terminus of the nation's transcontinental railway by a Presidential Executive Order signed by President Abraham Lincoln in March 1864. The concrete "spike" in the park is purportedly at milepost 0.0 of the original Union Pacific system, which formed the eastern half of the transcontinental railway.

A modern Union Pacific line runs along the southern edge of the park but, otherwise, there is not much evidence of the site's historical significance. For most of its corporate life, the Union Pacific has been headquartered in Omaha, NE, just across the Missouri River from Council Bluffs.

Golden Spike Monument, Council BluffsGolden Spike Monument, Council BluffsGolden Spike Monument, Council BluffsGolden Spike Monument, Council Bluffs

The "spike" was constructed as part of local celebrations of the premiere of Cecil B. DeMille's 1939 film Union Pacific, the release of which coincided with the 70th anniversary of the driving of the Golden Spike in Promontory, UT (you can see a page
devoted to the Golden Spike NHS on this website).

From the 26th-29th April, the city of Omaha staged an extravagant and exuberant gala event, "Golden Spike Days", with parades, exhibits, entertainment and an official programme priced at 25c.

President F. D. Roosevelt inaugurated the celebration by pressing a telegraph key at the White House in Washington, DC, to open a Historical Show at the Municipal Auditorium at 10.30am. That evening, there was a Whisker Clubs Parade and judging of a Whisker Contest at the auditorium.

On the afternoon of the 27th, ex-Virginia & Truckee Railroad #18 pulled in from the west with DeMille and stars of the film. As they were driven to their hotel in old-style carriages, the streets were lined with thousands of people in period costumes.

Golden Spike Monument, Council BluffsGolden Spike Monument, Council BluffsGolden Spike Monument, Council BluffsGolden Spike Monument, Council Bluffs

Following a dignitaries lunch at the Fontonelle Hotel in downtown Omaha, the "spike" was dedicated on the afternoon of the 28th and, that evening, the film premiered in three different theatres across town, the Omaha, Orpheum and Paramount, the second two of which had been specifically rented for Union Pacific employees.

Union Pacific was one of Paramount's biggest grossing films of 1939 and winner of the first ever Palme D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, although this was awarded in retrospect at the 2002 festival as the 1939 Festival had been postponed because of the onset of WWII.

Union Pacific

The Big Little Books Series published Union Pacific, Retold by Eleanor Packer from the Paramount Motion Picture in 1939.

Click on the cover to go to this book on the books and manuals page of this website.

Golden Spike Days

Above, Official Souvenir Program, Golden Spike Days Omaha April 26-27-28-29.

Click on the cover to go to this book on the books and manuals page of this website.

Union Pacific Movie Poster

Above, poster advertising the movie, Union Pacific.

Left, amongst the souvenirs produced for the premiere was an aluminium token celebrating the Union Pacific as the "Road of the Streamliners and the Challengers".

#18, the locomotive that brought DeMille and his film stars from Los Angeles to Omaha, was purchased by Paramount Pictures from the Virginia & Truckee Railroad in September 1938 for $1,000, and was overhauled at Union Pacific's Los Angeles Shops before leaving for the ceremony. After the premiere, it made a fifteen day 12,000 mile promotional tour as Union Pacific #58, stopping at thirty cities along the way. It then continued appearing in a number of films and television programmes until 1976 when it was retired. By then it had been bought by the Nevada State Railroad Museum. In 2005, it was moved to Virginia City and is on display at Comstock History Center.

Above, material from this page was used for the Council Bluffs 2014-2015 Blue Book cover.