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AJ Russell's famous "champagne" photo
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Iconic ‘Champagne Photo,’ Photographers Remembered On Golden Spike Anniversary

PROMONTORY, Utah —As the transcontinental railroad was nearing completion, fortunately the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads made sure the event was documented. They hired 3 photographers to preserve that great day in 1869.

One of those photographers was from Salt Lake City. Some of his relatives still live here.

The most famous photograph from that day, known as “The Champagne Photo,” was taken by Andrew J. Russell, who worked for the Union Pacific. The iconic shot shows the two train engineers holding up bottles of the bubbly, with railroad workers lined up on each side.

Another of the three photographers was Alfred Hart, who worked for the Central Pacific. The third photographer was Charles R. Savage, who lived and worked in Salt Lake City.

The three men shot photos for several hours that day, so there are variations of the ceremony.

Annetta Mower is Charles Savage’s great granddaughter and still lives in Salt Lake. She has a large photo album of Savage’s that’s been in the family for years.

“A lot of photos involve the general authorities but there are a lot of the [scenic shots], a lot of Salt Lake City,” she said.

Savage’s work was well known throughout the western U.S. at the time. Many of his scenic photos were used to promote the west, urging people to settle here after the railroad opened things up.

At a recent family gathering, Mower said her kids and grandkids were looking through the photo album and found a small photo, about the size of a playing card. It was a photo he took after the final railroad spike was in place.

“When I saw it I knew it was Promontory but I didn’t know that it was anything unusual, except that there were the women,” Mower said.

It’s a similar photo to the more famous “Champagne” picture, but some of the people posing are different or had changed positions.

Brad Westwood, a consulting historian for the Spike 150 celebration, said the photographers took photos over several hours that day, so each had a slightly different look.

“And so between the three of them they tried to stay out of each other’s way,” he said.

You can just imagine what it was probably like that day, with so many people running around hoping to be included in a photo of such a rare and historic event.

As for women, there were some who traveled along with the workers, cooking and sewing and several of them appear in the photos.

“In the 19th century, there was deep bias of women and their involvement in frontier settings,” Westwood said. “There were a few women there. The 21st Infantry which was travelling on the train had a band, some of the soldiers and officers brought their wives.”

As for railroad travel, a lot has certainly changed in the last 150-years. And to think, that the biggest change started at a desolate spot in Northern Utah.

There’s a monument honoring Charles Savage located on the corner of Main and South Temple in Salt Lake. And, on this 150th anniversary, Annetta Mower and her family are certainly excited about all the renewed attention that her great grandfather is getting.

“I always knew that he took pictures there,” she said, “but now that it’s got a lot of excitement to it, it’s been fun for the family.”

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