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Monday, February 25, 2002

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Lincoln devotee drops by Salt Lake on journey

Firetruck glitch stalls trip across the country

By Elaine Jarvik
Deseret News staff writer

      To say that Craig Harmon has a sense of history and his place in it does not begin to do justice to the scope of his plans, which involve, in chronological order, a lock of Abraham Lincoln's hair, the Lincoln Highway, the World Trade Center and filmmaker Steven Spielberg.
Craig Harmon is traveling the U.S. with a lock of President Lincoln's hair to promote his Lincoln Highway National Museum and Archives.

Kevin Lee, Deseret News
      We could start with the hair. Harmon carries the lock in a small, hinged picture frame, wrapped in a handkerchief, which he carries around inside his shirt to make sure he doesn't lose it. The rest of Lincoln is buried under 16 feet of concrete, Harmon reminds us, so the hair is all we've got.
      "This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, having Lincoln here," he says about the hair and about his role, therefore, as the surrogate Lincoln who has been in Salt Lake City during the Olympics.
      Harmon, 46, is the quixotic director and founder of the Lincoln Highway National Museum and Archives in Galion, Ohio, a town otherwise best known as home of Galion road graders and rollers.
      The Lincoln Highway was the nation's first transcontinental highway. When it was finished in 1913 it was finally possible to drive across the country on one, continuous, hard-surface road. Part of the road in fact the nation's biggest percentage of the road crosses Utah, which is why Harmon happens to be here. Stuck here actually.
      In July 2000, Harmon began what was to be a several-months trip across the country to commemorate the 85th anniversary of the first "film and flag trip" on the Lincoln Highway. He set off from New York City on his way to San Francisco in a firetruck with a 100-foot ladder, but unfortunately the firetruck got some water in the oil in Pittsburgh and Harmon had to put the trip on hold. Meanwhile, he and his firetruck were invited to be in George W. Bush's inaugural parade, so he decided to delay the Lincoln Highway commemorative trip some more.
      To make a long story short, Harmon finally made it to Utah in December 2001. Then the bearings seized up on the truck. He had that problem fixed, but then the truck broke down again. And again. That's why, on a recent Monday which happened, symbolically enough, to be Presidents Day as Harmon pointed out, he found himself at Diesel Electric in Salt Lake City working on the motor.
      For the past month Harmon has been living in a cardboard box in Ogden. The box is located in an empty apartment heated by a small propane heater and donated by a fireman from fire house No. 4 in Ogden. Harmon lived at the fire house for a month as a guest of the firefighters. He has also received lots of other help and donated services on his journey, a list too long to mention here.
      He was hoping, from the start, to appeal to the generosity of a country that loves Abraham Lincoln and firetrucks. The trip, he says, "was a test for me and the nation as a whole, to see if the nation could see me through."
      He has stopped at fire houses all along the Lincoln Highway, collecting signed fire helmets which he eventually hopes to take to ground zero in New York City, where they will be added to the fire helmets he hopes to collect from firefighters around the world and become the centerpiece of a monument.
      But it is the Lincoln Highway and Lincoln himself on which Harmon is focusing his real attention. After all, in 2009 it will be the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth. And also, coming up in 2005, is the 140th anniversary of Lincoln's funeral route, "the greatest funeral in the history of the United States," says Harmon.
      That's where Steven Spielberg comes in, because Harmon wants to convince the filmmaker to do a film on the last days of Lincoln. He also hopes to convince Union Pacific to rebuild the funeral train. He also hopes the railroad will let him and his firetruck hitch a ride on a train from San Francisco to New York this year. Lincoln never got to ride on a UP train and he always wanted to, says Harmon.
      As for the Lincoln Highway, it's the most important memorial to Lincoln, Harmon says. Even more important than the marble one in Washington, D.C. "It was always intended as a show road of the world."
      Of course, nowadays some of it is covered over by interstate highways and other roads. But that doesn't take away its importance in history, says Harmon. Or his importance, for that matter.
      "Everything you do is, theoretically, a part of history," he says. "Imagine yourself, 50 years down the road, saying 'here's when Craig Harmon traveled across the country.' " That's why he plans on taking the cardboard box home with him to Ohio to put in the museum.
      For more information about the Lincoln Highway museum and Harmon's trip:


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