Prominent American historian David McCullough unveiled a piece of American history at West Tisbury Post Office Friday.
McCullough, who recently released “The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West,” was there to dedicate stamps commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad.
The Transcontinental Railroad was an engineering feat completed in 1869 when a golden spike was driven in Utah to signify where eastern and western railroads first linked. “This marvelous event, the creation of the Transcontinental Railroad,” McCullough said, “cannot be overstressed as one of the most important events in our country’s history, and emblematic — symbolic — of several things that need to be remembered. And one of them, key to me, is this marvelous achievement only happened because of immigrants. They did the work.”
McCullough went on to point out the same year, 1869, construction of the Brooklyn Bridge started, an “effort mainly of immigrants.” He also noted the “genius” of the bridge was due to an immigrant, John Roebling. “It would not have happened, we would not have a Brooklyn Bridge were it not for him, anymore than we would not have ‘God Bless America’ if it weren’t for Irving Berlin. We need to remember that we’re all immigrants. We’re all here because we’re the descendants of people who came to make a better future.”
McCullough said the Transcontinental Railroad was more emblematic of the promise of immigration that anything he knows of.
West Tisbury Postmaster John Hirt said he invited McCullough to speak at the dedication through a letter and was very pleased when he accepted. McCullough is a West Tisbury resident. Hirt said each postmaster is expected to dedicate a stamp once in his career. He chose the Transcontinental Railroad because of the striking artwork and because of his personal fascination and connection to railroad history. “My grandfather worked for 40 years on the B & O, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad,” he said. His great grandfather worked 40 years on a Pennsylvania Railroad. “And my late father-in-law, 37 years on the Illinois Central out of New Orleans. In fact, he took the last ride of the famed train City of New Orleans.”
Hirt presented McCullough with a plaque depicting the stamps and affixed with an inscribed metallic plate marking the dedication ceremony. McCullough appeared genuinely touched.
The ceremony marked the unveiling of the stamp in the Greater Boston postal region.
The event closed with everyone gathered breaking into song — “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.”