It’s not often one comes across a person who has a real adventure story to tell. But that’s exactly what happened to me. I had the pleasure of meeting a man who felt a calling to spread a patriotic message across the country and to revive the words of Abraham Lincoln. And so the adventure began: visiting all 50 state capitol buildings in 50 days.
Mickey Straub is his name. He’s 55 years old and resides in Illinois, the Land of Lincoln. His mission was to visit all 50 state capitols and recite the Gettysburg Address at every stop. That’s daunting enough, but he set the goal of accomplishing his mission in just 50 days.
Here’s what Mickey had to say about his adventure which ran from September to mid-October:
Bobby Eberle — This is quite an unprecedented undertaking. Why do it?
Mickey Straub – The short answer is “For Love of Country and in Honor of Lincoln”, but here is how it all evolved.
The thought of visiting all fifty capitols first came to mind ten years ago, in part as a way of showing my patriotism and appreciation for all the state’s capitols. Then three years ago I thought of doing 50 Capitols in 50 Days because I like big goals with short deadlines and frankly, I find deadlines motivating.
In recent years, two thoughts kept occurring that I could no longer ignore: the need for us all to show greater appreciation to our veterans (especially on Veterans Day) and the question of whether or not any reference to God still exists in our capitol buildings.
Even when the trip was launched on September 4th, the final reasons for making it were not clear, I just knew that it had to be done and that it felt like God’s will. I also knew that Abraham Lincoln and his Gettysburg address were to be the focal point to get the message out that we, as a country, need to get back to some founding principles so that “these dead shall not have died in vain”.
When I first started the day after Labor Day, my route and plan weren’t completely mapped out, and I still did not know if it was possible to accomplish, but it was my patriotic duty to try.
BE — What would you do when you arrived at each capitol?
MS – Upon entering each building, I would let the Capitol Police and tour desk know that I was attempting to visit all 50 Capitols in 50 Days and that I would be taking dozens of pictures to showcase each Capitol and state and search for any/all references to God, Liberty and Lincoln. Then I would go on a treasure hunt for a minimum of two hours onto each floor, every wing and chamber and around the perimeter of the building. Then, before leaving, I would recite the Gettysburg Address at each Capitol, usually in front with the dome in the background. Each visit took on such a brisk pace, that I even lost ten pounds on the trip!
BE — So tell me about liberty. That seems to be one of your central focuses for the trip.
MS – You’re right, signs of “liberty” took center stage in most capitols; actually, it was the one thing that I found common in all fifty capitols (right up there with state pride). This was a bit ironic, because the search for references to liberty was only added after a trend ensued: I couldn’t find any references to Lincoln south of New Jersey. Replicas of the Liberty Bell were front and center at many capitols, though it was not until Columbia, SC, that I learned that they existed and that they were given to every state by the U. S. Treasury back in 1950.
The love of liberty is alive and well, which was obvious from Vermont’s Constitution and Delaware’s state seal which reads “Liberty and Independence,” all the way to Hawaii where I found someone who actually researched the Liberty Bells by number and if they were on display, where. In Texas, you’ll find a sign in the corridors that reads “Liberty or Death” and the Goddess of Liberty is in both chambers above the House Speaker and the Senate President’s chair. Outside the Alabama State Capitol, you’ll find their (eternal) “Flame of Freedom” and the Statue of Liberty has great positioning outside the capitols in Atlanta, Texas and a few others. The bench outside the Pennsylvania State Capitol addresses both, reading: Life and Liberty are Gifts of Heaven. But probably nowhere was liberty more prominently displayed than on the New Hampshire license plate and state slogan which reads “Live Free or Die.”
BE — So tell me about Lincoln and how he fit into your adventure.
MS – It was always my intention to make the trip in the spirit of Abraham Lincoln, but his role steadily increased. I have always had an affinity for the principles of our 16th President and the Republican principles for which he stood that are part of our nation’s fabric. What I didn’t realize until right before I left was how he laid the formula for our nation’s future in the Gettysburg Address, that of God, Liberty, Unity and Patriotism. That’s why I decided to recite the Gettysburg Address at each capitol and encouraged all Americans to re-read this timeless, historic document in which Lincoln made not one reference to himself; but invoked the words, we, us, our, nation and the soldiers collectively a total of thirty times.
BE – Did you find many statues and/or references to Abraham Lincoln?
MS – Lincoln only showed up in twenty-seven (27) capitols. At first I was taken aback by his absence across the southern and western states, but it’s not all that surprising: Lincoln had the largest presence in the states he impacted the most and were part of the Union at the time.
The number of portraits, paintings, plaques, busts and statues of Abraham Lincoln located were numerous, though a few states deserve special mention. Pennsylvania has a large statue in the House Annex and you’ll find a bust in the center of Vermont’s capitol and he’s prominently displayed in Massachusetts. In New Jersey, you’ll find him right outside Governor Christie’s office and he occupies the rotunda of Kentucky’s capitol and outside of the one in West Virginia. Of course Lincoln is big in Illinois and Indiana, but you’ll also find a seated statue of him in Denver, Colorado and a major presence of him in the northwest where he is credited for helping create and bring into the union. Iowa has a seated Lincoln outside the front entrance of Lincoln and his son Tad, Kansas has a seated version of Lincoln with a very pensive, worried look on his face.
The number of portraits, images and bronze copies of the Gettysburg Address were also quite numerous. But my biggest surprises were probably Columbus, Ohio, in whose Governor’s office Lincoln received word that he won the election and which had the most references to Lincoln of any capitol, and Boise, Idaho, who boasts having the tallest Lincoln statue in the West and the fourth largest seated statue of Lincoln in a neighboring park. Idaho’s connections, affinity and gratitude to Lincoln run so deep that their website proclaims “More than any other state, Idaho is related to Abraham Lincoln.”
Even in capitols like that of Oklahoma, Lincoln may not have been on the inside, but Lincoln Boulevard was right out front. And even in Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the Confederacy, there stands a statue of Lincoln a few blocks away.
BE – I know one of your key quests was to find out if God is still in the capitol. I have to ask, “What did you find out?”
MS — I guess because I was expecting the worst, this was absolutely one of my most pleasant surprises: Forty-five out of fifty (45 of 50) State Capitols contain some public reference to God! Some may think, “Well, but five do not.” Yes, but that’s still ninety percent (90%) that do, and in the wake of all the efforts to remove any references to God (or religion), I thought that was great news.
Many states had the Ten Commandments on display, while others weren’t bashful to have “In God We Trust” proudly displayed. And wrapped around the State Seal of Ohio in the walkway leading up to the capitol, it reads “With God…all things are possible”.
And did you know that “In God We Trust” became our national motto in 1956 by proclamation of President Eisenhower? It was in Georgia, that a sign on display informed the visitors of the following: The final stanza of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” written in 1814 by Francis Scott Key (and later adopted as the U.S. National Anthem), contains one of the earliest references to a variation of the phrase: “…and this be our motto: “In God is our trust.” It first appeared on U.S. currency on the back of Florida National Bank Notes in 1863 and on U.S. currency in 1957. “In God we Trust” is also Florida’s state motto and you’ll find it in many legislative chambers from coast to coast.
The Ten Commandments had prominent spots in Texas, Montana, Missouri, across the street in Idaho and at least one state judge who was removed from office for refusing to remove them from his courtroom, was just re-elected. (My favorite picture of the whole trip was probably the one of the Ten Commandments with the Texas State Capitol in the background.) Some references were subtle, but you’ll also find a cross in the Maryland flag (though they call it a Battle Cross) and more than one crucifix among the artwork in the New Mexico State Capitol, plus numerous other references from sea to shining sea on the walls, in portraits and framing and sometimes the floor or windows. I was also able to find several chapels and Nativity Scenes in the capitols and to the best of my knowledge all states say prayers before legislative sessions, or at least, all the ones asked.
BE — What about the people you met along the way. Were they helpful?
MS – Absolutely! The trip was full of surprises and that was one of them. If I am to write a book, the subtitle will be “Remarkable Kindness”, because that is exactly what I experienced. On my stop in South Carolina, I even had the opportunity to meet Dean Browner, who was photographed witnessing the famous “kiss” that symbolized the end of World War II.
The people in the capitols from the Capitol Police and the tour guides to legislative staff and governors were so gracious and often times appeared out of nowhere that I gave them a nickname: Capitol Angels. And I lost count of the serendipitous things that would happen and/or be said by complete strangers along the way, whether it was at a gas station, Starbucks, Subway or Seven Eleven, or by the Naval Academy student in Annapolis, the state senator in Florida, the capitol policeman in Little Rock, the Idaho pastor that I met in Denver and the incredible people I met in Hawaii and Alaska. There are just too many to list! On several occasions, complete strangers even prayed for me. I felt blessed to meet so many great people by chance and received blessings from many all across the country that I will never forget. It was the inspirational words and general goodness of people met that provided the needed fuel to press on…across 14,900 driving miles and an equal amount flying…in just 44 days.
BE — Now that you have finished and have had time to reflect, what do you think the trip taught you about this country?
MS – That’s an easy one: There are good people everywhere and America loves God and Liberty.
It’s easy to get caught up with the notion that society is decaying and the presence of God and Liberty are eroding from our culture, but that’s not what I saw. Further confirming it was that I found God in ninety percent and Liberty in one hundred percent of the capitols. This was not only true in the capitol buildings, but there was even greater evidence of God’s presence outside of them which was witnessed all across the country. People went out of their way to be kind or share some encouraging words or emails at every stop from the moment that I hit the door of each capitol, gas station or hotel lobby. What I was greeted with was remarkable kindness, and the willingness of people to help someone who was committed to reaching a goal. The quote by Alexis de Tocqueville in DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA comes to mind: “America is great because America is good.”
It probably helped that that was what I was looking for and that the trip was a patriotic one, but many of these chance meetings could only be explained with Divine intervention and it happened from the first capitol in Pennsylvania to the last in Illinois. One of my neighbors put it best when he said, “Mickey, you were looking for God in the capitols, but you found God everywhere.”
BE — What’s in store next for Mickey Straub?
MS – This wasn’t on the radar screen before the trip, but hundreds of people have suggested for me to write a book. In the end, I found the trip so life-changing that I intend to do so, along with making some speaking engagements. I really would like to inspire people with this story, whether it’s to visit their state capitol, read the Gettysburg Address, or set a big goal and set out to achieve it. We are blessed to live in an incredible, freedom and God loving country filled with remarkable people.