July 15, 1923. "Driving the Spike." (As indicated by marks) President
Harding, Herbert Hoover, Mrs. Harding
On July 15, 1923 President Harding drove in the Golden Spike signifying
completion of the Alaska Railroad. This event occurred at milepost 413.7 at the
northern end of the 702 foot Mears Memorial truss bridge. Returning from the Alaska
trip, Harding died suddenly of a heart attack on August 2, 1923.
Summary of President Harding's Alaska
I spent a lot of time and effort trying to locate this highly significant
piece of Alaska Railroad memorabilia. Here is a summary of the resources I checked:
- "Rails North, the Railroads of Alaska and the Yukon" says
there were two official golden spikes. One spike is now owned by the Southern
California Arms Collectors Association. This spike was presented to Colonel
Mears by the city of Anchorage for his work as Chairman of the Alaskan Engineering
Commission. This spike was driven on completion of the Seward-Anchorage section
of the railroad on September 10, 1918. The second golden spike was driven
by President Harding at Nenana on completion of the railroad. This spike is
on display at the Harding Home Museum in Marion, Ohio.
- The Alaska Railroad, Volume I & II, by Bernadine Prince
says the spike was sent to the Harding Museum Home.
- Harding Home Museum - Phillip Payne, curator, says it is
at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.
- Anchorage Museum of History and Art - Diane Brenner says
she does not know and that people have been trying to find it for 23 years
- Dick Morris from the Alaska Museum of Transportation and
Industry has no information
- Usenet posting - People responding have no information, but
are also interested in locating it
- Ohio Historical Society - Cliff Eckle, History Collections
Department, has no information
- Yukon and Alaska History Web Site - Murray Lunberg has no
- The "Ride Guide to the Historic Alaska Railroad" states it
is located at the Smithsonian
- Smithsonian Institute - Sharon Tolbert says it is not part
of their inventory
- California State Railroad Museum - Ellen Halteman, Librarian,
has no information
- Tanana Valley Railroad - Dan Gullickson has no information
- John Coghill, former mayor of Nenana, Alaska, says President
Harding presented the spike to Frederick Mears, Head of the Alaska Engineering
Commission. He believes the spike is in the Mears estate private collection
somewhere in Kansas or Nebraska. The Nenana Historical Society has been looking
for the spike for years without luck.
- Mamie Bittner, Director of Public and Legislative Affairs
at the Institute of Museum and Library Services, has no information
- Sarah Wood-Clark at the Kansas State Historical Society has
- Scott Becker, Executive Director of the Association of Railway
Museums, has no information
- Rick McKinnie says the Mears Collection is held by the State
Historical Society of Colorado at the State Museum in Denver
- Chuck Alby at the Colorado Railroad Museum has no information
- Thomas Taber, Railroad Historical Research Resource Center,
suggested checking with the Juneau Historical Society, Smithsonian and the
National Archives in Washington, D.C.
- Mary Flaherty at Oscar Anderson House thinks it is at the
University of Fairbanks Museum
- Gretchen at the University of Fairbanks Museum Archives will
check with all appropriate staff and get back with me
- Richard Barrow says the Alaska Railroad is attempting to
obtain the spike from a museum in Nebraska. I am currently following up this
- On 12/2/97 Bill Withuhn, Railroad Historian for the Smithsonian
Institute, says the spike is definitely not part of their collections
- Jo Antonson, Alaska State Historian, Office of History and
Archeology, has no information
- Scott Banks, Alaska Railroad spokesman, says he does not
know where the spike is. He suggests contacting Jim Blasingame, Alaska Railroad
Vice President of Corporate Affairs.
- Randy Acord at the Alaska Land Pioneer Air Museum remembers
the spike driving's 50th anniversary ceremony in 1973. He was pretty sure
they had the original spike then and that it was made out of solid gold. He
said important individuals were each given a copy of the spike on a wooden
plaque. He suggested calling Jack Coghill.
- I spoke with Jack Coghill (former mayor and long time resident
of Nenana, AK) on 12/8/97 and he told me the golden spike was presented to
Frederick Mears, Head of the Alaska Engineering Commission by President Harding.
It is now in the Mears estate collection in Nebraska. He said an ARR employee
is currently trying to arrange the purchase of the spike. The Alaska Railroad
would like to buy and use it in a recreation ceremony for the 75th anniversary
of driving the spike. The maul used to drive the spike is located in the Alaska
Railroad Headquarters in Anchorage. It too will be used in the 75th anniversary
ceremony. Jack reports the spike is solid gold and that the railroad tie was
pre-drilled to allow the spike to be driven without significant damage. I
will post further information here once I can confirm this information.
- James Blasingame, Vice President of Corporate Affairs for
the Alaska Railroad has been tracing the "gold spike" for several years, but
has not located it yet. Jim is unaware of any ARR employee trying to purchase
- On August 20, 2003 Randy Thompson sent me a photocopy from
the book, Anchorage - From Its Humble Origins as a Railroad Construction
Camp which says, "Warren G. Harding, along with Secretary of the
Interior Hubert Work, Secretary of Commerce Hubert Hoover, and Secretary of
Agriculture Henry Wallace, and their wives, sailed from Tacoma on July 6,
1923, aboard the transport Henderson. A week later the party arrived in Anchorage
and boarded an Alaska Railroad train for Nenana, where President Harding drove
the golden spike symbolizing the railroad's completion. Governor Scott Bone
carefully inserted the spike in the hole prepared for it and Harding tapped
it gently with a hammer. The spike was then withdrawn and a plain iron spike
substituted. The people of Anchorage bought the golden spike, made of 14-carat
gold and valued at $600, as a gift to Colonel Mears, although he was no longer
associated with the railroad."
On April 14, 2010 I was contacted by Ben Nysewander who informed
me he is the current owner of the golden spike. In one of his emails, he stated,
"I just happened on to your website and thought I would let you know where
the spike was. There seemed to be alot of people interested in locating it."
Thank you Ben! You have brought my search to a very exciting end.
Additionally, Ben said, "I purchased the spike from the
estate of Mr. Fred Johnson, of the California Arms Collectors Association in
1983. It is engraved 'Presented to Col. Fredrick Mears by the City of Anchorage
in commemoration of the building of the Alaska Railroad 1915-1923'. The reverse
side is stamped 'Jos. Mayer Inc. Makers Seattle USA, 14K'. I also have letters
from Mayer Bros. and the Alaska 67 committee to Mr Johnson addressing his loaning
the spike to them for the 1967 Exposition in Fairbanks. I would enjoy hearing
from others who have an interest in the gold spike."
When I asked Ben what he thought the spike was worth, he replied,
"I turned down an offer from an antique dealer for $20,000. For now I have
little interest in selling it."
Here are the items Ben sent:
Spike photos 1, 2,
Many, many thanks to Ben Nysewander for providing
Page created 9/5/97 and last updated 6/18/10
© 1997-2010 John Combs unless otherwise noted