There are two straight shots from Philadelphia, where I live, to Pittsburgh, where an odd and memorable U.S. Open was played this year, at Oakmont. The first is the Pennsylvania Turnpike, a toll road through many miles of heaving farmland and past the occasional industrial park. The second is along Route 30, rendered as a long blue ribbon on old filling-station road maps. As a broke law-school student in the mid-1970s, my friend Neil Oxman, a lifelong Philadelphian, made the drive to and from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh exclusively on Route 30 because it was toll-free. It also offered a fine selection of roadside diners. From what I could gather, Route 30—aka, US 30—was a vestige of a vanishing America.
Neil has traversed the country repeatedly as a touring caddie, and he knows all about Route 30 and its history as one of our early transcontinental highways. It starts in Atlantic City, near the boardwalk and about a mile from Trump Taj Mahal, a casino. For a short stretch, Route 30 is the main street of Philadelphia’s Main Line, and in that capacity it runs through the Villanova University campus. About 100 miles later it reaches Gettysburg, where Lincoln dedicated a great battlefield as a cemetery in his short and enduring speech that resonates so powerfully to this day. Farther west but still in Pennsylvania, Route 30 enters Latrobe, the lifelong home of Arnold Palmer, American golf’s most important and enduring figure. Jumping roughly 2,600 miles ahead here, Route 30 ends in Astoria, Ore., five miles short of the Pacific Ocean.
It carries different street signs in different places. Between Philadelphia and Gettysburg, which I had wanted for years to visit, it’s called Lancaster Avenue, Lancaster Pike or (most often and most pleasingly) Lincoln Highway. The Lincoln Highway, I’ve heard old Pennsylvanians say.
Like many of us, I have an abiding interest in Lincoln, who died 95 years, to the day, before I was born. About a decade ago, when the revamped $5 bill was introduced, I found myself staring at Lincoln’s newly supersized face, so gaunt and solemn. You could imagine our 16th president as a lean Ivy League forward, and maybe he would have been, had basketball existed in the late 1820s, when Lincoln was a teenager, and had he had the chance to go to college.
At times, in recent months, I had found myself thinking about an unlikely threesome: Abraham Lincoln, Arnold Palmer and Donald J. Trump. Palmer, one of my golf heroes, because it had become obvious that he was struggling with his health and that, at 86, was winding things down. Trump because he was seeking to become the president of the United States. Lincoln, because of Trump. As Trump continued to win Republican primaries, incredulous columnists were using the phrase “the party of Lincoln” with increased regularity. On the Internet, a graffiti artist had posted a doctored photo of Lincoln in his customary stovepipe hat but now marked with the words make america great again. Trump had the phrase on his baseball hats, with the trucker’s plastic strap in the back. That strap—it might be the secret to his success.
I have been able to get to know both Trump and Palmer as a reporter, assisted mightily by the magnifying glass called golf. I have played nine or 10 rounds of golf with Trump and have talked to him, on the phone and in person, for hours. I have interviewed Palmer many times over nearly 30 years now. There have been a good number of lunches along the way. There is, it so happens, an odd golf tie to Lincoln, too. His son, Robert Todd Lincoln, was one of the founders of the National Golf Links of America, on the East End of Long Island. The course is out of a golf dream and the membership does not rush lunch. It had been a bastion of old Wall Street money, but that was then.
Trump’s courses cater to the newly rich, and they are spectacular. (That is not necessarily a compliment.) Once, some years ago, at his golf club in West Palm Beach, I was with Trump as he went from his vast 18th green fronted by a man-made pond to his locker room with its gold-plated bathroom fixtures to his high-ceilinged dining room. En route to lunch, somebody shook Trump’s hand and moved on. “Great,” Trump said sarcastically. He then made a U-turn and headed back to the gents for another washing, noting that you could never know “where a guy’s hands have been.”
Some time after that, I was having lunch with Arnold Palmer at Bay Hill, the golf and housing development in Orlando he created in his own image. Our server was new to the club and you could not know with certainty if this recent hire was male or female or somewhere in between. Arnold, a man of his generation in all the expected ways, was unfazed. He welcomed this new hire with grandfatherly warmth, indifferent to any and all differences, physical or otherwise. I don't know anyone who has more simple grace.
They are both, Trump and Palmer, inventions of the media, but not complete inventions. Early in his playing career, TV found Palmer, whereas Trump had to find his own path to the cameramen and the make-up ladies and the hot lights. Palmer’s road to fame came by winning golf tournaments, typically on live TV, often on CBS. He won, and lost, with an irresistible combination of sexual swagger and recklessness but also, and incongruously, genuine modesty. Trump got himself on TV in a variety of inventive ways: splashy openings of buildings bearing his double-entendre name, owning the New Jersey Generals of the USFL, hosting a series of big-ticket heavyweight fights at his casinos, dating models, owning the Miss USA beauty pageant, promoting WWE wrestling and, of course, deciding fates on The Apprentice. (Trump’s work was inside; Palmer’s was in the sunshine and wind.) People could not get enough of either man, so TV did as TV does: it gave us more and more of them. A win for everybody.
Trump—this may surprise you—is capable of considerable charm. (But not when he is threatening to ban Muslims from the United States, denigrating Mexican immigrants, belittling various elected officials, certain federal judges, women, blacks, veterans and reporters, among others.) We were once having lunch at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., when, near the end of our meal, Trump ordered a hamburger and French fries to go, to bring home to one of his sons. (Food delivery in a Bentley by a man with his own clothing line.) The server brought the food to Trump in a white Styrofoam container and I said, “You might want to poke holes in the top, otherwise the steam gets trapped and the fries become soggy.” Trump picked up his heavy country-club fork and did exactly that. When I saw him again, months later, about the first thing he said was, “Michael, that was a brilliant idea, to poke the holes in that container. I brought the food home and those fries were not soggy at all.”
This year, Arnold—it feels odd not to call him that—didn’t have his traditional press conference at his mid-March tournament, the PGA Tour stop at Bay Hill. That same week, he announced that he would not be hitting his customary opening tee shot in the upcoming Masters. His body was robbing him of his best moves. In my 20 trips to the Masters, I had always had a plan to see the ceremonial opening shots, but every year something came up and I had never made it. (One year, my parking sticker flew out of my car en route to the course.) Barring a significant health improvement, the chance to see Arnold hit one of those Thursday morning shots had come and gone.
It was right about then, Bay Hill week, that I made a decision. With Arnold and Trump—and Lincoln—in my head, I decided it was high time to get myself to Gettysburg, the sooner the better. And not by car. My goal was to get there by foot, walking the hundred or so miles from Philadelphia, on the straight shot marked US 30.
Why the foot thing? For one thing—with 56 on the horizon—to see if I could do it. (I didn't know.) To feel (if I did make it there) that I had earned the right to be among the thousands of war dead who marched to Gettysburg to defend an idea and never went home. But more than anything, to get a break—a true break—from my car, my laptop, my job, my desk and its bills. (Two in college.) From the things I knew too well. From my life.
In late March, I filed the last of my Masters preview stories, removed all the electronica from my knapsack and stuffed it with clothes. I parked on the outer edge of the St. Joseph’s University campus, locked the car and dropped the key deep in my backpack (knapsack offends my kids). The day was cool and gray. Ahead was a well-worn route that was largely unknown to me. Off I went.
Amplification: I had, and needed, more than my sneakered feet. On my second morning, I was the first through the door at the Panera Bread in Malvern, and it was there, as part of an antiblister campaign, that I applied a spray-on Band-Aid on my right heel. I had credit cards, cash, an iPhone, Kind bars, various meds—Christopher McCandless in Into the Wild I was not. I could have made a roadside call to Uber at anytime, if I knew how to do such a thing. If you’re a Navy SEAL, please stop reading.
Based on rough first-day calculations, I figured I was good for at least three miles an hour, maybe three and a half. That pace is north of leisurely but not by much. I also had to allow time for meals, pit stops and whatever other diversions the highway might offer. Sunrise was a little before seven in the morning and sunset a little after seven at night. The second day called for 27 miles. Beyond that, I had no agenda.
I was wearing running shoes and shorts, a hot-pink tech-fabric T-shirt, a brown fleecy zippered thing over it and, attached to my back by bright-yellow straps, my trusty knapsack. Oh, and a baseball hat (lime green) from a par-3 course in Florida. Even with that nod to golf, I didn’t exactly blend. I read a couple newspaper clippings about the place on a wall and posed two or three genial questions to the owner, but nothing was clicking. When I asked him if I could use the men’s room, he said, “I guess.” I think he thought I was a homeless person, an escapee—something like that.
Before I left, I took a look at the second floor. At the top of the steps and beside a vinyl banner was a man I’ve known for years, Tony Leodora, the king of all golf media in Philadelphia. We used to be fellow members of a group called The Philadelphia Newspaperman’s Golf Association, a group of freeloading golf bums who would gather to play at some of the city’s finer clubs on Mondays, when private courses are typically closed. The organization had such high standards that its members were required to wear trousers even if the host club permitted shorts. Over the decades, I’ve seen Tony at many professional tournaments—large and small, local and national—and on this morning he was doing his radio show live from Play-a-Round Golf. Tony is also the host of a cable golf-travel show, the owner of a golf PR business, a golf writer and editor and a banquet-dinner crooner who performs under the sobriquet “The Singing Golfer.” In other words, he’s found a way to make a living at the game. He greeted me warmly, considered my get-up and asked, “What are you doing here?”
When I saw my first Lincoln Highway road sign I had to take a snap of it: a rusted pole, tall enough to host a basketball hoop, the road names in raised, white letters against a red background, lincoln hwy pointing east and west,chapel lane on the north-south axis. On the top was a metal finial in the shape of a Hershey’s Kiss, pointing toward a cloudless blue sky. Outdoor art.
At the Cracker Barrel, my waitress could not have been more accommodating. Yes, the kitchen had feta and avocado, too. Yes, both could be put in my scrambled eggs. I told her I was a sportswriter and she told me that she had been, half a lifetime earlier, a jockey. She urged me to Google her on my phone: Nancy Buckley and jockey. Up came an interview with her on FemaleJockeys.com. She had spent years racing thoroughbreds and working as a harness driver. When she was a girl living at home, Eddie Arcaro once came to the house for dinner. It was some write-up and some life. Nancy said, “You don’t know who’s going to wait on ya, do ya?”
The hits kept coming. Nancy told me with pride about her years in Florida when she raced horses and picked up other work between meetings, including a job as a bartender at Donald Trump’s wedding to Melania Knauss in 2005, in Palm Beach. She was an excellent conversationalist and not shy about expressing her opinions, most particularly about the appalling minimum-wage rate for servers ($2.13 per hour). Of Trump, she said, “He’s smart but he’s not.”
What she says is so true: You don't know who is going to wait on you. You don’t know who you are going to meet, or who you’re going to work for as a freelance bartender. You don’t know what happens on the road not taken. How can you? More than anything, you don't know what you don't know. At least, that’s how I feel about it.
Coatesville was a revelation. Racially, from what I could see, the population is wildly diverse. Willy’s on Lincoln Highway was not a black-owned soul house but a restaurant owned by an émigré from El Salvador named Willy Serrano, who serves excellent Greek food at reasonable prices. (Yes, more food. Two hours of walking and I was famished.) When I asked Willy’s daughter what movie was playing above me, he answered for her: La Vida de Cristo. Easter was coming.
Down the street, and right on the sidewalk, you could buy ribs, eight for $25, and get a free plastic water bottle from a U.S. Army recruiter. The sidewalks felt almost like a party was about to break out, and I attributed that to the upcoming holiday. There were places to buy Mexican groceries, fresh flowers and used furniture. If your hair or nails needed attention, there were options. Don’t get the wrong idea here. You wouldn't call downtown Coatesville thriving. There was poverty in every direction. Coatesville is surely like a lot of places in Pennsylvania, another formerly productive company town (Lukens Steel, in this example) trying to hold on. You’d have to be dreaming to think that anybody—Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton or any other name you might offer—could sit in the Oval Office and come up with a magic solution for Coatesville. On the faces of the people, or at least some of them, you could see the struggle of everyday life. They were soldiering on, too. The song I heard was not this one but it could have been: Well it's Saturday night and we in the spot/Don't believe me just watch. Saturday night was on the horizon. A chance to let off some steam. We’ve all been there.
Rip Hamilton, who played for Larry Brown as a Detroit Piston and with Michael Jordan as a Chicago Bull, says that his boyhood basketball ambition was fueled by his desire to get out of Coatesville. It’s not an easy town to leave. If you're heading out west on Route 30 on foot, you’re hiking up one long hill that seems to go on forever. It’s a slog.
Five hours down the road, approaching the town of Gap, I started seeing bearded Amishmen in white shirts and straw hats cruising along the Route 30 shoulder in horse-and-buggy. Talk about living green.
The British call golf carts, electric and otherwise, buggies. They are about as rare over there as horse-and-buggies are here. In the U.S., most golf is played out of a buggy. In my experience, Donald Trump plays only out of a cart, and he takes pride in his cart paths. Once, when playing with him at his Westchester County course, he said to me, “Are these not the most beautiful cart paths you’ve ever seen in your life?” Trying to be a good guest, I said yes.
Golf is a different game out of cart, especially when you put the thing in reverse and the warning horn goes off. (Beep, beep, BEEP!) I’m happy that cart-golf exists for those who need a lift to their ball but consider myself lucky not to need one to mine, at least not yet. I was once telling Arnold Palmer about a 36-hole day I had at a remote Florida golf resort called Streamsong.
“Walking?” Arnold asked.
I nodded yes.
“I wish I never got in the cart,” Arnold said mournfully.
In other words, had he not stopped walking, he’d still be walking. It's a good theory, anyway.
By the 27th mile, my feet were aching. But I had no blisters and I was feeling good. With dusk approaching, at a Lincoln Highway deli with milk shakes and seat-yourself tables, I ate a dripping grilled-cheese sandwich—three inches thick and packed with various accoutrements—for the princely sum of $6.14. The young woman at the register said to me, “All your money.” There was something so sexy about it, the way her words came out.
Google maps had my last walk at 29 miles, from downtown York to the Gettysburg Hotel, 1 Lincoln Square in Gettysburg, Route 30 all the way. The only decision I had to make was where to eat, and the walk was so rural that it was likely to be slim pickings anyway.
Out of idle curiosity, I looked up the distance from Gettysburg to Latrobe, a route that Arnold Palmer and Neil Oxman had traveled many times, and Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower at least once. The answer was 137 miles, all of it on 30. In other words, another five or six days, walking. That wasn’t going to happen, not for me, not on this trip. (I could cite a hundred reasons, including a total lack of desire, but I’ll cite here only one more: my day job required me to be in Augusta.) The name Arnold Palmer shows up all over Latrobe, as the name Lincoln does in Gettysburg. The Latrobe airport is named for Arnold. The SpringHill Suites—owned by Arnold and a short walk to the Winnie Palmer Nature Preserve—is on Arnold Palmer Drive. The field house at Latrobe High is named for Arnold, and there’s an Arnold Palmer Pavilion at the hospital in Latrobe. Arnold has said it a million times, although not with these words: Latrobe is the center of his universe, and had been for all of his 86 years. Arnold has his townhouse in Orlando and a casita in the California desert, but Latrobe is home. Lincoln, by the way, in the whole of his 56 years, spent one night in Gettysburg. Many places claim him, but he claimed, in the main, Springfield, Illinois.
I waited for the Yorkeville hotel restaurant to open at seven, but when the morning staff failed to show I moved on—moveon.org—and found breakfast elsewhere. York was still, beautiful and cold at sunrise. Leaving town, I crossed a short handsome bridge over Codorus Creek, walled on both sides, aged industrial buildings right on its banks, round trees showing not a hint of spring between them. The city’s old Western National Bank, a grand and columned temple of wealth, was now its YMCA. In another time, the WNB officers were members of the local country club—the Country Club of York—about three miles away. In 1926, the club’s elders commissioned Donald Ross, already a celebrated architect, to build the current course. A private club with a Donald Ross course—now that was a stamp of Roaring Twenties affluence. (On a clubhouse wall, there’s a 1963 photo of Arnold with members. High living.) The Yorketown Hotel, in all her 11-story Renaissance splendor, was built at the same time. It was only 60 or years earlier that York had been under Confederate occupation but by the 1920s that must have seemed like ancient history. Prosperity promotes amnesia like nobody’s business.
The 1920s upper-class golf craze in America was rooted, at least in part, by a desire to outdo the British at their own game. Golf is an excellent place to practice class superiority (and pretentiousness). I’m certain that’s part of Trump’s draw to it. It pains me to admit this, but the game has raised my own status, too. (I cite as proof the cocktail parties I attend where men with summer homes ask me what Bubba Watson is really like, and I pretend to know.) Arnold’s enduring popularity, and endearing charm, is ultimately rooted in one basic fact. He never forgot that he was a working-class kid from another small, western Pennsylvania town, one among many, along the Lincoln Highway. Arnold took. Of course he took. We all take. But he gave, too, without complaint. He gave happily.
In various places in golf—in Augusta and Bay Hill in particular but not in Latrobe—they speak of Arnold as a great American. It’s a bit much. What he is, to me, is an iconic and original native son. He’s the kind of person only America—with our vast capacity for opportunity—could produce. The reason he never got tired of giving TV interviews or signing autographs in his ever-perfect penmanship or attending banquet dinners is because he knew that he could never give golf what the game had given him, but he was going to die trying. Also, his people fed his ego, which he managed to keep in check. This may be more than you can stand from your sportswriter/Route 30 tour guide but if you’ll indulge me: I don't believe Arnold Palmer could ever utter the words make America great again. His view would be this: America is great—my life proves it!
I’m dreading the inevitable, the day the news shows up on the bottom of a TV screen or an editor calls with it. In part because I can mark Arnold’s life and times alongside my parents’ lives and times. But also because I cannot give Arnold Palmer—nor is it my job to give him—what he has given me.
Once (I apologize to those who have read this before) I was saying good-bye to Arnold in the Latrobe Country Club parking lot. I had my right forearm on the ledge of his open window as Arnold sat behind the wheel of his Cadillac SUV. For good-bye, he placed his right hand in the middle of my forearm. It wasn’t the first time he had done something like that, but it was the last. He was letting me in. He was letting me in as he has let a million others in, in person and through the magic of TV. Arnold—Arnie—didn’t use his fame and charisma to scare people. No. He lifted us right up.
Maybe that’s why presidents were so drawn to him. What president wouldn't want to be associated with a man who made so many people feel just plain good? JFK had the White House photographer Cecil Stoughton film his golf swing with a plan for Kennedy and Arnold to analyze it together, but then came November 22, 1963.
On a happier note, Arnold enjoys telling an amusing story about playing golf with Clinton: After hitting a wild slice, Clinton told Palmer, “I promise you: you’ll never see me go that far right again.” Arnold knew Nixon and Reagan and logged a lot of rounds with Jerry Ford. I never had the chance to ask him about Trump as a presidential candidate, so I can't tell you anything about that. Ike was his main man. The rapport between the golfer and “the general” was obviously real. Arnold said of him, “He was my buddy.”
I was surprised to see that the teacher was Ted Sheftic, a name I knew well. I had never met him, but I had met his son, Mark, who teaches at Merion Golf Club (also off Route 30, as you may remember from Day I). Father and son are both highly regarded teachers and players. In a brief break in the action I introduced myself. I’m sure I looked like a complete nut, as red leotards were part of my Day V cold-and-wind get-up. The girl’s fingers were pink, but she seemed to be there of her own free will. Sheftic and I talked for a minute or two until he said, “I better get back to work.” If that’s not the spirit, I don’t know what is.
God may live in the details but in the main I consider my very existence essentially one stroke of luck: that my parents left Germany when they did. I have seen Our Town performed 15 or more times and take a great deal from it, but this above all: be grateful for what you have, all of it. My job (and its deadlines), Christine (and her to-do list), our kids (and their tuition bills), two good feet, true friends, two parents, a caring brother—how fortunate am I? You have your own list and lists, frustrations on them of course, as do we all. But for most of us, the good scale outweighs the bad. Anyway, you need both. Without life’s annoyances and struggles, what is the pleasure of a day at the beach? (Once, in Kapalua in Hawaii, I complimented a native on the weather. He shrugged. All he knew was blue skies and 82 degrees.) I’ll extend my gratitude list just briefly here. Enough health and stamina to be able to make it past the 100-mile mark. My trusty Subaru, back in the St. Joe’s parking lot. (Unless the towers got it!) Bosses that let me disappear now and again. A job I like and often love.
There in the sun, on the north side of 30—six or seven miles east of Gettysburg—I hunkered low like a sheep in a bunker and attempted to power-nap for maybe 45 minutes but I never really fell asleep. I rose, tied double knots one final time and marched on in to Gettysburg.
In the town square was a statue of Lincoln, top hat in one hand, the other holding the elbow of a bronze tourist reading the Gettysburg Address. Now is always a good time to reread it:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on 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 that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—hall this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, 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.
One more thing, before we call it a night, here at the close of Day V. This is from the desk of Thornton Wilder, from the third act of Our Town—the cemetery scene, if you recall it—in words the playwright gave to his all-seeing Stage Manager:
Over there are some Civil War veterans. Iron flags on their graves . . . New Hampshire boys . . . had a notion that the Union ought to be kept together, though they’d never seen more than fifty miles of it themselves. All they knew was the name, friends—the United States of America. The United States of America. And they went out and died about it.
By mid-morning I was in the office of Allen C. Guelzo, the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era at Gettysburg College and an authority on Lincoln. We had already talked, on the phone, about various aspects of Lincoln, including Lincoln the athlete. “He was quite a physical specimen,” Dr. Guelzo had told me. Six-four, a wiry 180 pounds. “As president, he could hold out an ax straight in front of him for an extended period. In the White House, he took steps two at a time. As a young man, he played many outdoor games. He ran in races. He wrestled. Wrestling was a major pastime on the Western frontier. It’s how you proved yourself in the pecking order. He excelled at it.”
Allen (his preference) told me the story of how Lincoln’s boss in the early 1830s, Denton Offutt, owner of a general store in New Salem, Ill., bet a man named Bill Clary from the nearby settlement of Clary’s Grove that his man, young Abe Lincoln, could defeat Clary’s man, Jack Armstrong, in a wrestling match. They made a $10 bet—a considerable sum. A crowd came out to watch what might have been a mismatch. Lincoln, after all, was said to be 30 pounds lighter than Armstrong. But Lincoln had a move that WWE wrestlers would use so effectively 150 years later. As the scene is depicted in some artist renderings, young Abe lifted his opponent above like a made-in-York barbell and then dropped him to the ground. It sealed victory. The great Abe Lincoln didn’t win all his matches, but he won that one.
After the professor told me about Lincoln walking from his Springfield home to his new job in New Salem, I looked up the walking directions on Google Maps, which had it at 21 miles. How freaked out would Lincoln be to see modern-day Route 97—cars and trucks whizzing by and not a single horse or walker in sight—running north and south through central Illinois?
There was more from the professor in this vein, but you’re getting the big picture. I think it is safe to say that Lincoln was not a man who would have played golf out of cart.
As I sat with Allen in his attic office in a gorgeous, creaking building on the timeless Gettysburg College campus, it was hard for me not to think of Kelsey Grammer. Allen Guelzo, a towering man, and the actor share more than a passing resemblance and they both have a speaking voice that is loaded with authority. George W. Bush brought Guelzo to the White House for his insights into Lincoln, and many others have extended similar invitations to him. The professor’s office is a crowded library of Lincoln books and artworks and memorabilia. He can speak with genuine passion about his experience being alone in Lincoln’s home in Springfield and feeling his presence. (“I felt the shadows he left there.”) He’s been reading the Gettysburg Address for more than a half-century now and remains awed by its ability to define America’s past, present and future in its 272 words. It captures, he explained, 67 years of American intellectual history with extraordinary precision and economy. It provides an astonishingly insightful snapshot of America as it was on November 19, 1863. It offers a prescription for what America could be and should be from that day forward. And, it goes without saying, it is a verbal monument to the 7,058 soldiers, Confederate and Union, who died in the Battle of Gettysburg.
Allen Guelzo has studied each of the 120 photographs taken of Lincoln. He knows, within 25 feet or so, the location of the podium from which Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, even though the National Park Service provides no information on its coordinates. He can tell you about Lincoln’s drooping left eyelid. He has studied Lincoln as Richard Ben Cramer did Joe DiMaggio and then some.
As we sat in his office I asked Dr. Guelzo what Lincoln would make of the Trump campaign. He said Lincoln would recognize it. “Trump is not a novelty,” he said. “He’s a throwback.” He then told me a story from 1842, when Lincoln, using the name Rebecca, wrote a satirical letter mocking a political opponent, the state auditor James Shields, published in the Sangamo Journal, which today is the State Journal-Register, the largest daily paper in Illinois.Shields learned that Lincoln was in fact Rebecca and when Lincoln refused to apologize for his words, Shields challenged him to a duel, which was aborted on the day it was scheduled to happen when wiser heads prevailed. And with that story, Dr. Guelzo’s Trump-Lincoln comparisons ended.
Allen is a dedicated Phillies fan with no interest in golf. He is intimately familiar with Route 30, because his main home is in Paoli, about a half-mile from our ancient transcontinental highway and three miles from the General Warren Inne, my first-night digs. He’s made the Paoli-to-Gettysburg drive more times than he can count.
I shaved for the first time in a week before seeing Dr. Guelzo, and put on my traveling pants, the dressy tan Sansabelts, but I’m sure I looked wind-whipped and tired and more than a bit wild. When I got out a notebook from my knapsack the good professor could see my sorry collection of walkwear. He signed one of his Lincoln books for me with penmanship that Arnold Palmer would admire:For Michael Bamberger, & his long strides into Lincoln. How generous of him.
It was obvious that Allen Guelzo had devoted himself to making a complete assessment of Lincoln and that his respect for the man had carried over to love. We talked about the concept of the hero worship of athletes and movie stars and politicians and celebrities and the super-rich.
“In these cynical times, we’re not supposed to attribute greatness to the individual—it will yield disappointment,” my Lincoln tutor said. “But Lincoln to me is truly great. He is the man in a time of crisis who stands in the gap.” I loved how he used, as historians often do, the present tense, and his casual reference to Ezekiel.
On legs that were feeling less than fresh, I gave myself a brief tour of one battlefield and a much longer one of Soldiers’ National Cemetery, the battlefield that Lincoln consecrated so memorably. Why I waited so long to go there I could not say. I can’t say how, but I know walking there did something for my appreciation of it.
With Dr. Guelzo’s help, I got close to the spot where the platform stood from which Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. It is on a private neighboring burial ground, called Evergreen Cemetery, which predates the Civil War. On my way to the unmarked spot, I walked by a tombstone etched with my family’s uncommon surname, although you’ll find German names throughout Adams County. Christine wanted to name our second child George, unaware of what big pitching-coach shoes such a child would be expected to fill. (Ask the righthander Jim Palmer about George Bamberger.) Anyway, we had a girl and did not name her George.
Often, when driving by cemeteries, I think how ideal the land would be for a golf course, but I had no such stray thoughts in Gettysburg. I did wonder if any Confederate soldiers were buried at the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. None were. Those bodies went south. They went home.
I went home. I took a cab from Gettysburg to Harrisburg, where I would catch a train home to Philadelphia. My cab driver was a massive man from western Africa with an advanced engineering degree. At least, that's what he told me. I’m telling you no self-respecting germophobe, including Donald J. Trump himself, would have climbed into this particular cab without a gallon jug of Purell, and maybe not even then. The cabbie asked, “Can you drive?” In my life of taking cabs, I have never been asked that question, but I was actually happy to take over the operation of this decidedly derelict automobile. Every dummy light that could go on was on and the gas tank was approaching empty. I ignored the various warning signs. The cabbie, now my passenger, showed me pictures of different girlfriends on his phone after texting and talking with at least two of them. Gettysburg to Harrisburg is a 40-minute drive. (It’s a 12-hour walk.) It was some 40 minutes.
The cabbie asked me how I got to Gettysburg and I told him I had walked there from Philadelphia.
“You did not!” he said with the accent of his homeland.
“I don’t believe it.”
I thought about showing him pictures, as he had done with me, but his pictures so trumped mine.
“You don’t have to,” I said.
“If you walked here, I want you to walk home,” he said.
“I don’t want to walk home,” I said. “I walked here.”
We got to the Harrisburg Amtrak station, I gave him five Jacksons and got out fast.
One last thing about this émigré cab driver. He had all sorts of commentary about Trump and an almost profound understanding of Lincoln. Arnold Palmer to him was a drink.
The modern train line that takes you from Harrisburg to Philadelphia is a direct descendant of the train route that carried Lincoln’s body between those two cities on April 22, 1865. Even in the best of circumstances trains were far slower then, and that ride, of course, was part of the funeral procession that took Lincoln’s body from Washington to Springfield in an intentionally circuitous route and at a mournful pace. It took Lincoln’s funeral train four hours and 35 minutes to get from the Pennsylvania state capital to the nation’s first capital. That same train ride today is not even two hours, much of it right along Route 30. The Lincoln Highway.
On my birthday—shortly after the Masters where Arnold was around but seldom seen—Christine and some friends and I went out for pizza. I showed a few pictures from my walk and I heard Christine say, “If this was his midlife crisis, it wasn’t too bad.”
TV news is filled with chaos these days, and I’m not talking about Brexit or the usual Middle East hotpsots, but I am talking about all the mass killings, domestic and international, and the state of our presidential politics. I wonder what Lincoln what have thought of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. The 1860 Republican National Convention, held in Chicago, was wild and contested. The platform addressed the future.
Falling into Lincoln’s spell, on my six-day walk and now in the weeks and months after it, has been a welcome reprieve. I can close my eyes and feel the stillness of the room at the Wills house on the town square where Lincoln tinkered with his speech. But the reveries are brief and the news feed on nyt.com is relentless. I’ve been trying to keep in mind what James “Scotty” Reston, the late New York Times columnist, wrote in a farewell column in 1987, that things (he was speaking of Washington) “are seldom as good or as bad as most people think they are.” Reston was an early boss of mine, and he won the 1930 and 1931 Ohio Public Golf Championship. Real golf—serious golf—requires deep reserves of both optimism and realism. I’ve picked that up from Mickey Wright, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and of course from Arnold. One could of course say the same of life itself, that it requires the same deep reserves. I’ll stop right there. You’ve come this far and I don't want to lose you. I will say that golf would have suited Lincoln’s temperament.
The U.S. Open was in mid-June, five weeks before the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. When it came time to go to Oakmont, I had several transit options. Christine is always urging me to grow my collection of American frequent-flyer miles, but the Philadelphia to Pittsburgh flight is more trouble than it’s worth. Amtrak has only one crawling train a day between the two cities. So, in the end, I did what I imagine you would have done: I filled the tank with 87, felt for the E-Z Pass Velcroed on the windshield and obscured by the rearview mirror, pointed old reliable to the I-76 entry ramp and put her in fifth. A storm was coming in but the westbound turnpike was wide open and my tolls prepaid. There were signs for Lancaster, York, Gettysburg, Latrobe, Pittsburgh, Ohio. The interstate 18-wheelers, their cabs festooned with government-issued stickers, were cruising along at 75, and I was in their wake.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.