Carl Sandburg

Author-poet Carl Sandburg was born in the three-room cottage at 313 East
Third Street in Galesburg on January 6, 1878. The modest house, which is
maintained by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, reflects the
typical living conditions of a late nineteenth century working-class
family. Many of the furnishings once belonged to the Sandburg family.
Behind the home stands a small wooded park. There, beneath Remembrance
Rock, lie the ashes of Carl Sandburg, who died in 1967.

Early Years

Carl August Sandburg was born
the son of Swedish immigrants August and Clara Anderson Sandburg. The
elder Sandburg, a blacksmith’s helper for the nearby Chicago, Burlington
and Quincy Railroad, purchased the cottage in 1873. Carl, called “Charlie”
by the family, was born the second of seven children in 1878. A year later
the Sandburgs sold the small cottage in favor of a larger house in
Galesburg.

Carl Sandburg worked from the time he was a young boy. He quit school following his graduation from
eighth grade in 1891 and spent a decade working a variety of jobs. He
delivered milk, harvested ice, laid bricks, threshed wheat in Kansas, and
shined shoes in Galesburg’s Union Hotel before traveling as a hobo in
1897.

His experiences working and
traveling greatly influenced his writing and political views. As a hobo he
learned a number of folk songs, which he later performed at speaking
engagements. He saw first-hand the sharp contrast between rich and poor, a
dichotomy that instilled in him a distrust of capitalism.

When the Spanish-American War
broke out in 1898 Sandburg volunteered for service, and at the age of
twenty was ordered to Puerto Rico, where he spent days battling only heat
and mosquitoes. Upon his return to his hometown later that year, he
entered Lombard College, supporting himself as a call fireman.

Sandburg’s college years shaped
his literary talents and political views. While at Lombard, Sandburg
joined the Poor Writers’ Club, an informal literary organization whose
members met to read and criticize poetry. Poor Writers’ founder, Lombard
professor Phillip Green Wright, a talented scholar and political liberal,
encouraged the talented young Sandburg.

Writer, Political Organizer, Reporter

Sandburg honed his writing
skills and adopted the socialist views of his mentor before leaving school
in his senior year. Sandburg sold stereoscope views and wrote poetry for
two years before his first book of verse, In Reckless Ecstasy, was
printed on Wright’s basement press in 1904. Wright printed two more
volumes for Sandburg, Incidentals (1907) and The Plaint of a
Rose
(1908).

As the first decade of the
century wore on, Sandburg grew increasingly concerned with the plight of
the American worker. In 1907 he worked as an organizer for the Wisconsin
Social Democratic party, writing and distributing political pamphlets and
literature. At party headquarters in Milwaukee, Sandburg met Lilian
Steichen, whom he married in 1908.

The responsibilities of marriage
and family prompted a career change. Sandburg returned to Illinois and
took up journalism. For several years he worked as a reporter for the
Chicago Daily News, covering mostly labor issues and later writing his own
feature.

Internationally Recognized Author

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, along with
Rootabaga Stories (1922), a book of fanciful children’s tales. That
book 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. 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. Sandburg continued his
prolific writing, publishing more poems, a novel, Remembrance Rock,
a second volume of folk songs, and an autobiography, Always the Young
Strangers.
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.
Sandburg died at his North Carolina home 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 placed there.

Poems By Carl Sandburg