The Day Carl Sandburg Died tells the panoramic story of Sandburg's life his work and the enduring legacy of his ideas. It includes his contributions in poetry history journalism music children's literature as well as delving into the complex social and political events that shaped his life and his work.
Most of us know him primarily as a poet, but Carl Sandburg was much more than that. Historian, biographer, novelist, musician, songwriter, political activist: this was a Renaissance man, as The Day Carl Sandburg Died, an edifying documentary from the American Masters series, makes abundantly clear. Born in 1878, the son of Swedish immigrants, Sandburg was largely self-educated; a hobo (by choice) at age 19, he became a newspaperman in Milwaukee, married wife Lilian (sister of the renowned photographer Edward Steichen) in 1908, and came to Chicago, the city with which he's most closely associated, four years later. Sandburg's Chicago Poems are perhaps his most famous (especially the title work, describing the city as "Hog Butcher for the World, … Stormy, husky, brawling, / City of the Big Shoulders"), but Sandburg's overall output was voluminous. His Rootabaga Stories, written for children, were immensely popular; his six-volume biography of Abraham Lincoln won a Pulitzer Prize; his American Songbag, published in 1927, was an influential compilation of folk music; and on top of all that, Sandburg was a committed Socialist who, after spending time in Sweden during World War I, returned to America laden with Bolshevik propaganda and money that were seized by US authorities. For many viewers, the most interesting moments will be the footage of Sandburg himself in a variety of public and private situations. There's also the usual array of historians, biographers, and scholars, along with Lilian (in an interview filmed in 1969, two years after Sandburg's death) and one of their three daughters; in addition, there are a few reenactments of Sandburg's life as a young man, as well as performances of his poems and even some lovely film footage "illustrating" his writing (like the Cornhusker poems). In the long run, though, the documentary's greatest value lies in the way it provides a true idea of the earthy elegance of Carl Sandburg's work. --Sam Graham