Music and the Spoken Word: 1 lesson from history that we shouldn’t forget

Editor's note: “The Spoken Word” is shared by Lloyd Newell each Sunday during the weekly Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square broadcast. This will be given May 5, 2019.

On the 10th day of May 1869, at a remote promontory north of the Great Salt Lake, Central Pacific Railroad official Leland Stanford struck a golden spike into a railroad tie. It marked the connecting point between the Central Pacific and Union Pacific rail lines, a railroad that now spanned the breadth of the United States. Bill Smoot, a local 15-year-old, had signed on to help with the work as it passed through Utah Territory. He later recalled, “I caught the railroad fever, even though I had never even seen a picture of a railroad or a train of cars” (see "Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad, 1863–1869).

Indeed, “railroad fever” was spreading far and wide, as many saw the benefits of a train line that linked East and West. Travel would be faster and more convenient — a trip that took months by wagon could now be completed in days. Business leaders saw economic benefits as well; goods manufactured in the East had a new market in the West, and raw materials in the West could now be easily shipped to the East.

And yet this monumental achievement was about much more than prosperity and convenience. Just over a week after the railroad was completed in northern Utah, a local newspaper editorial acknowledged it as a “monument to the genius, enterprise and wonderful vitality of this great nation.” But it went on to observe that “the most important (results) that will follow the completion of the ‘Great Highway’” were not economic. Rather, they had to do with “the breaking down of national prejudices.” Yes, business markets were now linked, but so were cultures. “The almost impassable gulf by which they have (before) been separated, is now bridged over, and the … exchange of thought and feeling … will gradually wear away the barriers … that have existed for ages.”

“These,” the editorial predicted, “will constitute the triumph of the Pacific Railroad” (from "The Completion of the Pacific Railroad," Deseret News, May 19, 1869).

Transportation has certainly accelerated in the 150 years since the golden spike was put in place, and so has the “exchange of thought and feeling.” True, there are still barriers, still prejudices to break down. But at least one lesson of the transcontinental railroad is this: People want to make connections, and we will go to great lengths to cross the distances that separate us.

Tuning in …

The “Music and the Spoken Word” broadcast is available on KSL-TV, KSL Radio 1160 AM/102.7 FM, ksl.com, KSL X-stream, BYU-TV, BYU Radio, BYU-TV International, CBS Radio Network, Dish Network, DirecTV, SiriusXM Radio (Channel 143) and on the Tabernacle Choir's website and YouTube channel. The program is aired live on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. on many of these outlets. Look up broadcast information by state and city at musicandthespokenword.org.