It’s the wedding of the century.
Actually, of the last century and a half.
Next May, Utah will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the “Wedding of the Rails” — that day back in 1869 when the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific joined tracks to complete the country’s first transcontinental railroad. In anticipation of that event, the theme for the coming year’s Weber Reads community reading project is the transcontinental railroad.
Weber Reads is a coalition that involves the Weber County Library, the Wasatch Range Writing Project, the Weber and Ogden school districts, and Weber State University. Piggybacking off of the Library of Congress’ One Community One Book program, Weber Reads chooses a topic, author or book and then during the ensuing school year encourages children and adults to read and learn as much as possible about that subject. Weber Reads also provides related lesson plans and books to libraries in Weber County schools.
This year’s Weber Reads kicked off last Saturday with a celebration at the Weber County Main Library. Representatives from the Golden Spike National Historic Site were on hand to lead a re-enactment of the driving of the Golden Spike at Promontory Summit. Other activities and crafts for children and families were also offered.
In the next week or two, books, materials and other items dealing with the building of the railroad will be delivered to the county’s school libraries, according to Margaret Rostkowski, community coordinator with the Weber Reads project. She encourages parents to contact their schools and ask teachers to use the lesson plans.
“We want teachers to know these materials are available,” Rostkowski said. “One of the biggest challenges is that teachers are having to conduct testing all the time. We hope they’ll use these materials.”
This is the 12th year for the Weber Reads program. In past years, community members have studied subjects as diverse as Shakespeare, Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs, Frankenstein, Beowulf, Emily Dickinson, The Odyssey, and — last year’s topic — fire.
Rostkowski said the two guiding principles for selecting a Weber Reads project are that the information is accessible to all ages (“Yes, there are picture books on Beowulf,” she points out), and that it includes materials available in Spanish. She said the nice thing about focusing on the transcontinental railroad this year is that there are all sorts of other related stories to tell — the exploitation of Chinese workers, or the effect of the railroad on Native American tribes.
“I think some of those things, those side stories, are really fascinating,” she said.
But there’s also a larger historical component to the May 10, 1869, event, according to Rostkowski.
“I hadn’t realized just how important the railroad was in uniting the country after the Civil War,” she said.
Rostkowski said the lesson plans and reading lists are also online, at the Weber County Library website. Visit www.weberpl.lib.ut.us to access them.
What’s more, all of the libraries in the Weber County system will be offering related events throughout the year, including movies, displays and other activities.
And Rostkowski encourages folks to take advantage of the proximity of the Ogden area to Promontory Summit and visit the historical site
“It would be a great day trip to go out there and visit,” she said.