I come to Today’s History Lesson with no real sense of purpose about it. I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s just that the thought of the Lincoln Highway, which was dedicated on October 31, 1913, somehow seems to clear my mind of work and worry and obligation. It reroutes the complexity of the day and somehow transports me to a place where all of the things that got shoved aside by my new thoughts have no real significance or weight. I really, really like it when that happens.
But I’m singling out the Lincoln Highway rather unfairly. Roads in general are like that for me, because roads are always about a destination. An ending point. An arrival. Maybe the start of an adventure. I think back to last month’s trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. As the day of our departure came closer, the excitement began to build. My wife started counting down the hours. My parents, who went with us, started to get geared up as well. And for me, I couldn’t wait to drive to the mountains…to the adventure…to a place I hadn’t been in 10 years.
I’ve said many times that it’s the destination that matters, and I still believe that. But it’s that road that takes me there. The highway is the catalyst that propels me on my way. For me, it’s like the music in a really good suspense film…you don’t really notice it, but it causes the tension to mount. Driving builds anticipation…the road creates the buildup to the satisfying conclusion.
Maybe Carl Fisher felt the same way. As the promotor of the “transcontinental highway” that would become the first memorial to Abraham Lincoln, it’s possible that he saw the road back then as I do now. After all, he was also the primary investor in the world-famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which opened in 1909. But that road goes in a circle…the adventure never really begins because it simply ends where it started 2.5 miles ago. A straight road means you don’t end up in the same place. It’s a new place, or a favorite old place. I can’t prove it, but I think Fisher realized that, too.
When originally built, Fisher’s “adventure builder” spanned the entire United States, starting in New York City’s Times Square, cutting through 13 states and hundred of towns, and finishing up in San Francisco at, appropriately so, Lincoln Park. Driving that original path would have put nearly 3,400 miles on an old car. Over the years, route changes and realignments have modified the Lincoln Highway, so today, the total mileage under the “big L” moniker is nearly 6,000 miles.
Significant portions of the original highway still exist (though some of it is now gravel). And while it now might be considered “the road less travelled”, the highway bearing the name of the Great Emancipating President stands as the ribbon that really started “adventure” for the entire nation.
And the story still goes, as The Lincoln Highway would help inspire another President, Dwight Eisenhower, to build a newer, more modern system of roads, bringing increased mobility and enhanced freedom to the entire country.
Recommended Reading: Greetings From The Lincoln Highway: America’s First Coast-to Coast Road