On the eve of the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth a story has come to light that got very little attention when it occurred, but deserves it, for it is an example of the selfless patriotism that the 16th president inspired in Americans, and still does.
Last September, Chicago area businessman Mickey Straub embarked on a pilgrimage he had been thinking about for several years. His mission: to recite aloud Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address from the steps of all 50 state capitols within the course of 50 days.
“I wanted to make the trip during a national election campaign, not for political reasons, but because that is a time when many Americans are focusing on our nation’s values, its history and its future,” he said after the trip.
His trip began in his hometown, Burr Ridge, Illinois, last September 4 with a presentation to a veterans’ group at the local Veterans’ Memorial. From there he headed by automobile — a Lincoln, of course — to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where Lincoln had stayed at the home of David Will the night before he gave one of the nation’s most memorable addresses. Straub then proceeded to the state capital, Harrisburg, where he recited the address. He continued by auto to 47 other state capitals. (Scheduled airlines took him to other two, Alaska and Hawaii.) He also spent three of the 50 days “at rest,” as he put it later.
On arriving at a state capitol building he first introduced himself to capitol police on duty, to explain the purpose of his visit. He said he would like to pay his respects to workers in the offices of various state elected officials. He says the police were uniformly helpful and cordial. He also told them he would like to take 50 to 100 photos in and around the capitol. They directed him to various offices and legislative chambers. An outgoing man, Straub introduced himself about. Often, officials or staff members served as impromptu guides to legislative chambers and other sites. In Columbus, Ohio, for example, a State Senate official took him up a long, winding non-public staircase to the top of the dome. The man also took him into the Governor’s office where a bust of Lincoln commemorates the fact that in that room where Lincoln received the telegram notifying him in 1860 that he had been elected the 16th President.
Along the way, as he toured a capitol, Straub kept his eye peeled for inscriptions that included the words, “God,” “Lincoln,” and “Liberty.” Many capitols also had one of the Liberty Bell reproductions that had been distributed to all capitols in the 1950s.
After touring a capitol he went to the front steps to recite the Gettysburg Address. In some cases there was no one there to hear him. He was not seeking publicity, so he had no publicist promoting his visit in advance. In most cases, though, workers from the state offices came out to hear him, as did tourists he had met during his building tour.
The last stop on Mickey Straub’s patriotic adventure was at his home state capitol, Springfield, Illinois, last October 17. On the steps of the capitol the board members of a trade association of which he is a member joined him as he recited Lincoln’s immortal words.
He made a final pilgrimage, a visit to Lincoln’s tomb, in Springfield. There, the Catholic archbishop led the small group in prayer.
Mickey concluded from his journey of 14,900 automobile and 15,000 air miles that his faith in the goodness of the American people was stronger than ever and that the experience was, for him, “very humbling.”
Peter Hannaford was closely associated for a number of years with the late President Reagan, beginning in the California Governor’s office. His latest book is Presidential Retreats.