Embarking on a grueling, quirky and improbable cross-country road trip behind the wheel of his well-worn Lincoln, suburban business executive Mickey Straub vowed to reach his goal of reciting the Gettysburg Address on the capitol steps in all 50 states in 50 days.
He did it in 44 days.
Lincoln's Gettysburg AddressFour score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that "all men are created equal."
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it, as a final resting place for those who died here, that the nation might live. This we may, in all propriety do. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate -- we cannot consecrate -- we cannot hallow, this ground -- The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have hallowed it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here.
It is rather for us, the living, to stand here, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that, from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people by the people for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
"I'm one for wanting to get it done," said Straub, 55, who finished his pilgrimage Wednesday in Springfield, where Abe Lincoln began the journey that led to the White House and his hallowed spot in history. A Pennsylvania native with a lifelong interest bordering on obsession with Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address, Straub said his trip delivered an inspiration far beyond Lincoln.
"I launched the trip on behalf of God and country, but it was actually God and country that pulled me through. It started more about principles and patriotism, but it was the people who kept me going," said Straub.
Thus, he was buoyed by emails sent from young girls working the counter at a McDonald's in Kalamazoo, Mich., was surprised by the admiration of a mechanic in Oklahoma City, Okla., appreciated the support from the mayor of Gettysburg, Penn., and was moved by the selfless act of a homeless man in Hawaii. Straub walked across a glacier in Alaska, shook hands with the governor of Wyoming, made the evening news in Bismarck, N.D., and laid his weary head on the desk of the governor of Kansas. He saw snow in New Mexico, temperatures near freezing in North Dakota and gorgeous 90-degree sunshine in Hawaii.
"I will always remember how welcoming people were," said Straub, grateful for his "capitol angels," the strangers who would give him tours and help him in every state. "People truly band together to help you achieve your goals."
The idea of a patriotic, cross-country Lincoln pilgrimage had been smoldering inside Straub for a decade or so. Proclaiming himself a "CAR guy" (Christian, American, Republican), Straub, a devout member of Saint Isaac Jogues Catholic Church in Hinsdale. said he was motivated by signs ranging from the fact that his father was born on the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence to his speculation that the 1997 Lincoln he bought for $4,500 probably was built in 1996, making it 16 years old, which meshes with Lincoln being our 16th president. The final sign came during his visit to the Catholic Shoppe in Westmont, where a discussion about his plans led to the verse of "Well done, good and faithful servant" from the Bible's book of Matthew during a conversation with a clerk named Matthew.
"The greatest thing about the trip was a spiritual awakening," Straub said, crediting a higher power for helping him reach his destinations safely when it was dark and he was a little lost. "I felt like I wasn't driving. I know I was, but it felt like Jesus had taken the wheel. It was the most difficult thing I've ever done physically and emotionally."
Founder and president of a performance measurement and management company called Sales Activity Management, which moved from Oak Brook and now is in Burr Ridge, Straub enjoyed the support and blessing of his wife, Charmaine, and their 17-year-old daughter, Alysa. Family and friends sent him on his way on Sept. 1, and he officially started his odyssey from Gettysburg three days later, reading the Gettysburg Address in the Pennsylvania capital of Harrisburg and New York's capital, Albany, on Day One.
On Day Two, he felt like giving up. He was tired, the weather was rainy and miserable and his driver's-side windshield wiper quit.
"That was a pivotal moment. It went from fun to life-threatening," Straub said. "It all sounded good at the time, but then reality hit. The next time I questioned myself, I was making a peanut butter sandwich out of the trunk of my car."
One of his biggest cheerleaders was his sister, Jolly Straub Koebele, 60, who lives in Easton, Penn., and called him almost every night. "I knew he'd complete this," she said.
"You're going to have times when you are going to want to give up. Call me, and I won't let you do that," Koebele told him. Dubbing her brother "a magnet" when it comes to meeting people, Koebele said she mostly worried about his driving.
"There was one night he had to get off the phone because sleet was pounding his windshield, and he was in the middle of nowhere," she said.
On the East Coast, Straub hit as many as three capitols in a day. Out West he could drive a day without reaching his next destination. He flew to Alaska and Hawaii. His journey spanned more than 15,000 miles of highways and 4,280 more in the air, needed almost 700 gallons of gas, required three oil changes and a $1,200 repair for his car, meant spending 31 nights in hotels and cost about $15,000.
Straub did accept driving help on a few days. Chris Faron, whose father ushered with Straub in church, accompanied Straub on the drive from North Carolina to Oklahoma and then flew home, Straub said. Dick Coan, a friend from Burr Ridge, helped on the drive from Salt Lake City to Sacramento before flying home.
While he founded a grass-roots organization called "Proud To Be Republican," Straub's trip wasn't about the election, President Barack Obama or Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
His mantra became, "I grew up a Democrat and am now a Republican. But this trip is not about a party or politics. It is about principles and patriotism."
After Wednesday's reading in Springfield with his wife and some friends, Straub visited the nearby Lincoln Tomb, where a monsignor led a prayer about completing journeys. Then, in separate cars, he and his wife drove home to get some rest before they cheer on their daughter, a senior at Nazarene Academy in LaGrange Park, in today's start of the state tennis tournament.
Straub's Facebook page and 50capitolsin50days.com website include hundreds of photos, videos and stories, such as the one in which Straub tried a low-budget version of Elvis Presley's penchant for sometimes giving away a Cadillac as a tip.
"I was giving away a Lincoln," Straub said, telling how he'd leave a $5 bill featuring Honest Abe's likeness. In Hawaii, a store clerk suggested he give the $5 bill to a toothless homeless man nearby.
"Thanks, but no thanks," the homeless man told him. "There's other people around here who need it more than I do."
Those kind of highlights happened in nearly every state.
"They all had their own exceptionalism," Straub said of his 50 destinations. "They were always good or great -- like pizza and sex."