MOUNT VERNON — Christopher Columbus and the First Continental Railroad were this year’s topics in the American History essay contest sponsored by the Lucy Knox Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Columbus was the high school focus; the younger writers took on the railroad challenge. Winners were announced, and read their essays, at a DAR meeting on Feb. 13.
“The choices we make as children can influence the rest of our lives,” wrote home schooled Elizabeth Egbert, ninth-grade winner. She said Columbus was inspired by, and learned perseverance from, Marco Polo. Visits to his grandfather’s farm every summer sparked Columbus’ interest in the sea and fostered independence. Egbert wrote that one of Columbus’ choices, pursuing an apprenticeship with a merchant rather than staying in the family weaving business, gave him the chance to learn the necessary skills for sailing and navigation.
Writing in the first person, the other winners described “their” feelings when the golden spike was driven at Promontory Summit in Utah to celebrate the completion of the first transcontinental railroad.
Denasan Spalla, first-place fifth-grader who attends Columbia Elementary School, wrote from the perspective of a Chinese man who worked building the railroad. She talked about some of the hardships: An avalanche in the Sierra Mountains, Indian attacks and prejudice from white men.
Centerburg Middle School student Caroline Wolford won the sixth-grade division. She, too, wrote as a Chinese construction worker, a crew chief in charge of organizing the work and discipline. Wolford described the work involved in building the railroad and the challenges of laying tracks through the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Dylan Burton, grade seven, Mount Vernon Middle School, wrote from the perspective of an Irish laborer in an advance crew in charge of the explosives. He detailed the living conditions, recreational opportunities, supply problems and Indian raids.
The eighth-grade first-place essayist was Centerburg Middle School’s Alex Roddy. Roddy wrote from the Native Americans’ point of view, discussed their rationale for trying to sabotage the railroad — an effort to preserve their way of life — and reflected their sorrow at the loss of life on both sides.
Other top essay winners include: Eighth-grade — Melissa Layton, second place, CMS, and Chet Backiewiez, honorable mention, CMS; seventh grade — Molly Sephel, second place, CMS, Lexie Poff, honorable mention, Mount Vernon Middle School; sixth grade — McKenzie Lanigan, second place, CMS and Sarah Lewis, honorable mention, CMS; fifth grade — Anna Egbert, second place, home schooled and Sam Chapman, honorable mention, Columbia Elementary.