When Margaret Morris, 90, of Stansbury Park, retired 37 years ago, she knew exactly what she wanted to do with her retirement: she would visit all 50 U.S. state capitols.
Her quest began years before that, however, since she grew up in Salt Lake City. As a self-proclaimed history buff, Morris always enjoyed seeing the Utah State Capitol, even as a child. She remembered climbing Ensign Peak with her sisters, having lunch on the lawn of the capitol and admiring the displays inside.
“I’ve always been interested in history,” she said.
She even studied it. She majored in history at the University of Utah.
After college, she worked as a school teacher and librarian. Being a librarian, she loved teaching history to the kids.
“Of course, when you’re bringing up children and you’re working, like I did, you don’t have a lot of time to travel,” she said.
Morris’ family moved from Utah to California and then to Arizona. The family’s periodic trips to Florida to visit family went through several other capitals, and they lived in Virginia and Massachusetts briefly.
“Being a history buff,” she said, “Two of the most wonderful places to live are Virginia and Massachusetts, where so much of our history is,” she said.
When Morris retired at age 53, she recalls that she said to her husband, “You know, the one thing I want to do when I retire is to see all 50 capitols; the ones that I haven’t seen.”
From that point, to see all 50 capitols became Morris’ goal — a journey that was as rewarding as it was time-consuming. It took her 35 years after retirement to fulfill her goal of visiting all 50, but she didn’t do it alone.
She often traveled with her husband Elliot, flying or driving around the nation. Elliot was a geologist, who Morris said was more interested in science than history. But, the two loved going on adventures together.
“He enjoyed going … but he wasn’t like me,” Morris said of her love of history. “He did it mainly for me.”
One of their trips together was when the pair visited seven state capitols in one trip.
“We started in Georgia, we flew into Atlanta, we rented a car, and we drove from Georgia … on to South Carolina, to North Carolina, to Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi, all in one trip,” Morris said.
The trip took them two weeks to complete. However, they didn’t rush.
“We usually had plenty of time to explore around the city while we were there,” she said.
They visited Andrew Jackson’s house in Tennessee, shopped in an underground mall in Georgia, and saw the stars on the side of South Carolina’s capitol that marked the impact site of Civil War cannonballs.
Later, they saw more cities together when they went on an LDS mission in Massachusetts from 1997-78. They visited New Hampshire on a day off, and saw Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Ohio on the way home.
But unfortunately, Elliot would not get to see the end of their journey. He passed away in September 2005. The last capitols the two visited together were St Paul, Minnesota, and Bismarck, North Dakota, when they visited friends in those areas.
After Elliot’s passing, Morris still had three capitols left to see — Delaware, Alaska and Michigan. It took her two more years after her husband’s death for her to refocus on her 50-state goal. She was happy to get back to her journeys.
She made it to Delaware first and remembered taking many pictures for her scrapbook on the trip with her granddaughter. Sadly, she lost her camera on the way home.
“That’s one … I would like to go to again,” she said. “To get pictures.”
Morris next joined her sister on a cruise to Juneau, Alaska. After that, she took a nine-year break before finally going to see the last capitol in Lansing, Michigan.
Until that year, Morris had resigned herself to the fact that she may never see it. She never traveled or flew alone, and she felt the drive to Michigan was far too long.
“No one ever wanted to go with me.” she laughed.
Then in 2016, Morris’ granddaughter, who breeds Shiba Inus, had a dog show near Lansing. Morris had finally found her opportunity to complete the final trip of her 35-year-old journey. She decided to fly with her sister to Detroit and then, finally, head to Lansing.
On May 20, 2016, Morris saw the capitol building in Lansing, Michigan.
On her trips, she saw many landmarks and sights she won’t forget. She’d visited the house where Margaret Mitchell wrote “Gone with the Wind,” touched the claws of the lucky badger statue at the Wisconsin capitol, went to the Hershey’s Chocolate factory in Pennsylvania, and saw the childhood home of Laura Ingalls Wilder.
But Lansing was the capitol that topped it all. Her journey, 35 years after it began, was finally complete.
“It took me a long time, when you think about it,” she said, then laughed.
After returning home, Morris received a unique surprise.
“I’d only been home a couple of weeks when this big package came to my door — a big envelope,” she said.
State Sen. Curtis Hertel of Michigan had sent her a package — an official certificate of recognition from the state of Michigan, commemorating her journey through all 50 capitols.
“She embodies the spirit of adventure, patriotism and love of history,” a letter from the senator read. “She has been accompanied along the way by her family, in particular her husband, and so displays true dedication to partnership and those she loves.”
“I felt really special to get something signed by the governor,” Morris added.
In addition, she had an article about her achievement published in the Lansing paper. After completing her journey, she moved back to Stansbury Park. These days, she spends her time riding her bike 10 miles every day, visiting her family, and watching old movies.
Morris keeps her collection, three binder’s worth of photos and history from the capitols, at home, along with the framed certificate from Sen. Hertel and a collection of souvenirs from each city.
She still travels, too. Last summer, Morris flew to London to see her great-granddaughter perform in the Swan Lake ballet.
During her trips, Morris said she learned a great deal, not only about the history of our country, but also about the people within it.
“I’ve learned that we have a very special country…” she said. “In every state in this country, you find good and wonderful people.”
Morris choked up and smiled.
“Everywhere you go, no matter what state, you find wonderful, helpful people who really make you feel like you’re a part of the country,” she said.