Kamas exhibit sheds light on the Chinese workers who made Golden Spike possible
What: “The Chinese Helped Build the Railroad – The Railroad Helped Build America”
When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays
Where: County Services Building, 110 N. Main St., Kamas
Summit County is commemorating the role of Chinese workers in the Transcontinental Railroad’s May sesquicentennial celebration with the showing of “The Chinese Helped Build the Railroad — The Railroad Helped Build America” this month.
The photography exhibit is on display at the Summit County Services Building in Kamas, which also houses the Summit County Library Kamas Valley Branch, through April 30, said Lee Whiting, Kamas Valley Branch librarian.
“This is a visiting exhibit that has been traveling around Utah in collaboration with Spike 150, the statewide celebration of the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad,” Whiting said.
The railroad was completed with the driving of the ceremonial Golden Spike that joined the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific railroads at Promontory on May 10, 1869.
The public can view the exhibit every Tuesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., or by appointment, he said.
“Because our we are housed in a multi-use facility, there will be times when the public won’t have access to the exhibit,” Whiting explained. “So that’s why we reserve those two days for viewing.”
The exhibit, which is sponsored locally by the Chinese Railroad Workers Descendants Association, is composed of 60 display panels, according to Whiting.
“The works in this exhibition detail the critical role migrant Chinese workers played in the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad,” he said.
“In 1869, the first Transcontinental Railroad, known as the Pacific Railroad, was completed ahead of schedule,” reads the exhibit’s introductory statement. “Thousands of hard-working Chinese laborers formed the main workforce for the Western half of the railroad, undertaking the most arduous phases of construction.”
For many years, the workers’ stories were underrepresented, so Stanford University’s Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project worked to explore that history, Whiting said.
As part of this effort, starting in 2012, photographer Li Ju visited sites along the route, which resulted in the photo exhibit.
“The exhibit presents historic photographs alongside contemporary images in an attempt to resurrect this important story and honor the achievements of the laborers,” Whiting said. “(It) also serves to strengthen U.S.-China relations and enhance mutual understanding between our two peoples.”
The exhibit, which was sponsored by Guangxi Normal University Press Group in China, is displayed in English and Chinese, and is divided into three parts, according to Whiting.
Part one is titled “The United States Needs a Railroad.”
“This segment is about the assessment and evaluation of having a railroad, and supporting the growth of America in the 1800s,” Whiting said.
Part Two documents the building of the Transcontinental Railroad.
Whiting found this section most interesting, because it’s focused on the western half of the railroad.
“That one was the Central Pacific Railroad Company from California, and it was built by the Chinese laborers,” Whiting explained.
The stretch that ran from Sacramento through the Sierra Nevada to Utah was the most treacherous of the project.
“Many people lost their lives working on this thing,” Whiting said. “They would use dynamite to blast tunnels, and they would dig trenches into the mountainside. To do this, they would have to dangle from cliffs on ropes.”
Part three is intended to honor the Chinese workers.
“There are many historic documents that support the scholarly evaluation of the project that reflects on the jobs these workers did,” Whiting said.
There is also a timeline that runs from 1863 to 1869 at the end of the exhibit, he said.
“The didactics are great, and think if someone wants to enjoy the exhibit, they should give themselves plenty of time to read through the content,” Whiting said. “There is a lot of information.”
When the exhibit finishes its run in Kamas, it will move to the Park City Library for May before heading to the Ledges Event Center in Coalville through June, Whiting said.
“We are excited to get it in Kamas, because it’s a great opportunity for the local population to see something of cultural significance,” he said.
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