Carl Sandburg Birthplace, Galesburg, IL

Carl Sandburg

Carl Sandburg

Destination: “A Poet’s Humble Roots”

“Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.” – Carl Sandburg

Author-poet writer-political organizer- historian-folklorist Carl Sandburg (1878 – 1967) was born in a three-room cottage at 313 East Third Street, Galesburg, Illinois, on January 6, 1878. The modest dwelling, maintained by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, reflects the typical living conditions of a late nineteenth-century, working-class, American family. Many of the furnishings once belonged to the Sandburg family.

Carl August Sandburg was the son of Swedish immigrants August and Clara Mathilda Andersson Sandburg. Carl, called “Charlie” by the family, was born the second of seven children in 1878. August, a blacksmith’s assistant for the nearby Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, purchased the cottage in 1878. A year later, the Sandburgs sold the small cottage in favor of a larger house in Galesburg.

From his earliest recollections, Sandburg said he enjoyed reading, deciding at age six that he wanted to be a writer.

historian-folklorist Carl Sandburg (1878 - 1967)

historian-folklorist Carl Sandburg (1878 – 1967)

He moved to Chicago at age 28, holding a series of newspaper and magazine jobs, including associate editor of To-Morrow Magazine. After becoming involved with the Social-Democratic movement, he left Lombard (without graduating) for Milwaukee to work as their district party state organizer for Wisconsin. Sandburg continued his work for the Social Democrats, but he returned to his lecture bookings and stereoscopic sales following the disappointing elections of 1908. Throughout 1909, he lectured on political issues and held a series of writing jobs in Milwaukee. He returned to the Social-Democratic party in an effort to elect Emil Seidel mayor of Milwaukee. When Seidel was elected the nation’s first Socialist mayor, he quickly appointed Sandburg as his private secretary, In November 1910, he resigned this position to become city editor of the Social-Democratic Herald.

Sandburg was virtually unknown to the literary world when, in 1914, a group of his poems appeared in the nationally circulated Poetry magazine. Two years later his book Chicago Poems was published, and the thirty-eight-year-old author found himself on the brink of a career that would bring him international acclaim. Sandburg published another volume of poems, Cornhuskers, in 1918, and wrote a searching analysis of the 1919 Chicago race riots.

More poetry followed, including a book of fanciful children’s tales, which prompted Sandburg’s publisher, Alfred Harcourt, to suggest a biography of Abraham Lincoln for children. Sandburg researched and wrote for three years, producing not a children’s book, but a two-volume biography for adults.

 Carl Sandburg's house

Carl Sandburg’s house

From 1926 to 1939, Sandburg devoted himself mainly to writing the six-volume biography of President Abraham Lincoln, presenting Lincoln as a symbol of American gallantry and gustiness. He also collected the folk songs that made up The American Songbook (1927). His Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years, published in 1926, was Sandburg’s first financial success. He moved to a new home on the Michigan dunes and devoted the next several years to completing four additional volumes, Abraham Lincoln: The War Years, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1940.

In 1945, the Sandburgs moved with their herd of prize-winning goats and thousands of books to Flat Rock, North Carolina. Sandburg’s Complete Poems won him a second Pulitzer Prize in 1951. In 1963, in his eighties, mellow, wise and sympathetic, he published Honey and Salt, which some admirers feel contains much of Sandburg’s purest, most poignant poetry. Sandburg also collected folk songs and toured the country singing his favorites.

He spent his final years as a great cultural celebrity, singing folk songs, speaking graciously to interviewers, and reciting poetry in public. Sandburg died in Flat Rock, North Carolina, on July 22, 1967.

His ashes were returned, as he had requested, to his Galesburg birthplace. In the small Carl Sandburg Park behind the house, his ashes were placed beneath Remembrance Rock, a red granite boulder. Ten years later the ashes of his wife were also placed there.

Photos: Courtesy Carl Sandburg Historic Site of Illinois and DePaul University

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