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Carl Sandburg


Carl Sandburg

Carl Sandburg
Sandburg in 1955
Born Carl August Sandberg[1]
(1878-01-06)January 6, 1878
Galesburg, Illinois
Died July 22, 1967(1967-07-22) (aged 89)
Flat Rock, Henderson County, North Carolina
Occupation Journalist, author
Nationality American
Ethnicity Swedish
Alma mater Lombard College (non-graduate)
Notable works Abraham Lincoln
Rootabaga Stories
Notable awards Pulitzer Prize
1919, 1940, 1951
Spouse Lilian Steichen
Children Margaret, Helga, and Janet

Carl August Sandburg (January 6, 1878 – July 22, 1967) was an American writer and editor best known for poetry. He won three Pulitzer Prizes, two for his poetry and one for his biography of Abraham Lincoln.[2] H. L. Mencken called Sandburg "indubitably an American in every pulse-beat".


Sandburg was born in the three-room cottage at 313 East Third Street in Galesburg, Illinois, to Clara Mathilda (née Anderson) and August Sandberg,[1] both of Swedish ancestry.[3] He adopted the nickname "Charles" or "Charlie" in elementary school, at about the same time, he and his two oldest siblings changed the spelling of their last name to "Sandburg".[1][4][5]

At the age of thirteen he left school and began driving a milk wagon. From the age of about fourteen until he was seventeen or eighteen, he worked as a porter at the Union Hotel barbershop in Galesburg.[6] After that he was on the milk route again for eighteen months. He then became a bricklayer and a farm laborer on the wheat plains of Kansas.[7] After an interval spent at Lombard College in Galesburg,[8] he became a hotel servant in Denver, then a coal-heaver in Omaha. He began his writing career as a journalist for the Chicago Daily News. Later he wrote poetry, history, biographies, novels, children's literature, and film reviews. Sandburg also collected and edited books of ballads and folklore. He spent most of his life in the Midwest before moving to North Carolina.

Sandburg volunteered to go to the military and was stationed in Puerto Rico with the 6th Illinois Infantry during the Spanish–American War, disembarking at Guánica, Puerto Rico on July 25, 1898. Sandburg was never actually called to battle. He attended West Point for just two weeks, before failing a mathematics and grammar exam. Sandburg returned to Galesburg and entered Lombard College, but left without a degree in 1903.

He moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and joined the Social Democratic Party, the name by which the Socialist Party of America was known in the state. Sandburg served as a secretary to Emil Seidel, socialist mayor of Milwaukee from 1910 to 1912.[9]

Sandburg met Lilian Steichen at the Social Democratic Party office in 1907, and they married the next year. Lilian's brother was the photographer Edward Steichen. Sandburg with his wife, whom he called Paula, raised three daughters.

The Sandburgs moved to Harbert, Michigan, and then to suburban Chicago, Illinois. They lived in Evanston, Illinois, before settling at 331 S. York Street in Elmhurst, Illinois, from 1919 to 1930. Sandburg wrote three children's books in Elmhurst, Rootabaga Stories, in 1922, followed by Rootabaga Pigeons (1923), and Potato Face (1930). Sandburg also wrote Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years, a two-volume biography, in 1926, The American Songbag (1927), and a book of poems called Good Morning, America (1928) in Elmhurst. The family moved to Michigan in 1930. The Sandburg house at 331 W. York Street, Elmhurst was demolished and the site is now a parking lot.

In 1919 Sandburg won a Pulitzer Prize "made possible by a special grant from The Poetry Society" for his collection Corn Huskers.[10] He won the 1940 Pulitzer Prize for History for The War Years, the second volume of his Abraham Lincoln, and a second Poetry Pulitzer in 1951 for Complete Poems.[2][10]

In 1945 he moved to Connemara, a 246-acre (100 ha) rural estate in Flat Rock, North Carolina. Here he produced a little over a third of his total published work, and lived with his wife, daughters, and two grandchildren.

On February 12, 1959, in commemorations of the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth, Congress met in joint session to hear actor Fredric March give a dramatic reading of the Gettysburg Address, followed by an address by Sandburg.[11] As of 2013, Sandburg remains the only American poet ever invited to address a joint session of Congress.[12]

Sandburg supported the civil rights movement, and was the first white man to be honored by the NAACP with their Silver Plaque Award, proclaiming him to be a "major prophet of civil rights in our time."[13]

Sandburg died of natural causes in 1967; his ashes were interred under "Remembrance Rock", a granite boulder located behind his birth house.[14][15]


Rootabaga Stories by Sandburg
Carl Sandburg rented a room in this house where he lived for three years while he wrote the poem "Chicago". It is now a Chicago landmark.[16]

Much of Carl Sandburg's poetry, such as "Chicago", focused on Chicago, Illinois, where he spent time as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News and the Day Book. His most famous description of the city is as "Hog Butcher for the World/Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat/Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler,/Stormy, Husky, Brawling, City of the Big Shoulders."

Sandburg is also remembered by generations of children for his Rootabaga Stories and Rootabaga Pigeons, a series of whimsical, sometimes melancholy stories he originally created for his own daughters. The Rootabaga Stories were born of Sandburg's desire for "American fairy tales" to match American childhood. He felt that the European stories involving royalty and knights were inappropriate, and so populated his stories with skyscrapers, trains, corn fairies and the "Five Marvelous Pretzels".

Sandburg earned Pulitzer Prizes for his collection The Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg, Corn Huskers, and for his biography of Abraham Lincoln (Abraham Lincoln: The War Years).[2] He recorded excerpts from the biography and some of Lincoln's speeches for Caedmon Records in New York City in May 1957. He was awarded a Grammy Award in 1959 for Best Performance – Documentary Or Spoken Word (Other Than Comedy) for his recording of Aaron Copland's Lincoln Portrait with the New York Philharmonic.

Folk music

Sandburg's 1927 anthology, the American Songbag, enjoyed enormous popularity, going through many editions; and Sandburg himself was perhaps the first American urban folk singer, accompanying himself on solo guitar at lectures and poetry recitals, and in recordings, long before the first or the second folk revival movements (of the 1940s and 1960s, respectively).[17] According to the musicologist Judith Tick:

As a populist poet, Sandburg bestowed a powerful dignity on what the '20s called the "American scene" in a book he called a "ragbag of stripes and streaks of color from nearly all ends of the earth ... rich with the diversity of the United States." Reviewed widely in journals ranging from the New Masses to Modern Music, the American Songbag influenced a number of musicians. Pete Seeger, who calls it a "landmark", saw it "almost as soon as it came out." The composer Elie Siegmeister took it to Paris with him in 1927, and he and his wife Hannah "were always singing these songs. That was home. That was where we belonged."[18]


Carl Sandburg's boyhood home in Galesburg is now operated by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency as the Carl Sandburg State Historic Site. The site contains the cottage Sandburg was born in, a modern visitor's center, and small garden with a large stone called Remembrance Rock, under which his and his wife's ashes are buried.[19] Sandburg's home of 22 years in Flat Rock, Henderson County, North Carolina, is preserved by the National Park Service as the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site. Carl Sandburg College is located in Sandburg's birthplace of Galesburg, Illinois.

Carl Sandburg Village was a Chicago urban renewal project of the 1960s located in the Near North Side, Chicago. Financed by the city, it is located between Clark and LaSalle St. between Division Street and North Ave. Solomon & Cordwell, architects. In 1979, Carl Sandburg Village was converted to condominium ownership.

In 1960, Elmhurst, Illinois renamed the former Elmhurst Junior High School as "Carl Sandburg Middle School." Sandburg spoke at the dedication ceremony. He resided at 331 S. York Street in Elmhurst from 1919 to 1930. The house was demolished and the site is a parking lot.[20] In 1954, Carl Sandburg High School was dedicated in Orland Park, Illinois. Sandburg was in attendance, and stretched what was supposed to be a one-hour event into several hours, regaling students with songs and stories. Years later, he returned to the school with no identification and, appearing to be a hobo, was thrown out by the principal. When he later returned with I.D., the embarrassed principal canceled the rest of the school day and held an assembly to honor the visit. In 1959, Carl Sandburg Junior High School was opened in Golden Valley, Minnesota. Carl Sandburg attended the dedication of the school. In 1988 the name was changed to Sandburg Middle School servicing grades 6, 7, and 8. Originally built with a capacity for 1,800 students the school now has 1,100 students enrolled. Sandburg Middle school was one of the first schools in the state of Minnesota to offer accelerated learning programs for gifted students.[21] In December 1961, Carl Sandburg Elementary School was dedicated in San Bruno, California. Again, Sandburg came for the ceremonies and was clearly impressed with the faces of the young children, who gathered around him.[22] The school was closed in the 1980s, due to falling enrollments in the San Bruno Park School District.

In Neshaminy School District of lower Bucks County resides the secondary institution Carl Sandburg Middle School. Located in the lobby is a finished split tree trunk with the quote engraved lengthwise horizontally: "Man is born with rainbows in his heart and you'll never read him unless you consider rainbows". Another secondary school by the same name is located south of Alexandria, Virginia, and is part of the Fairfax County Public Schools School District.

Sandburg quotation on historical roots: in Deaf Smith County Museum in Hereford, Texas

On January 6, 1978, the 100th anniversary of his birth, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp honoring Sandburg. The spare design consists of a profile originally drawn by his friend William A. Smith in 1952, along with Sandburg's own distinctive autograph.[23]

Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois Urbana–Champaign[24] possesses the Carl Sandburg collection and archives. The bulk of the collection was purchased directly from Carl Sandburg and his family, with many smaller collections having been donated by his family and purchased from outside sources.

Carl Sandburg Library first opened in Livonia, Michigan, on December 10, 1961. The name was recommended by the Library Commission as an example of an American author representing the best of literature of the Midwest. Carl Sandburg had taught at the University of Michigan for a time.[25]

Funded by the State of Illinois, Amtrak in October 2006 added a second train on the Chicago–Quincy (via Galesburg and Macomb) route. Called the Carl Sandburg, this new train joined the "Illinois Zephyr" on the Chicago–Quincy route.[26]

Galesburg opened Sandburg Mall in 1974, named in honor of Sandburg. The Chicago Public Library installed the Carl Sandburg Award, annually awarded for contributions to literature.[27]

References to Sandburg

  • Sufjan Stevens's "Come on! Feel the Illinoise! Part I: The Columbian Exposition Part II: Carl Sandburg Visits Me in a Dream" (from Illinois).
  • Richard Armour's poem "Driving in a Fog; or Carl Sandburg Must Have Been a Pedestrian" published in the January 1953 Westways.
  • Sandburg's "Sometime they'll give a war and nobody will come" from The People, Yes was a slogan of the German peace movement "Stell dir vor, es ist Krieg, und keiner geht hin", sometimes attributed to Brecht.[28]
  • Bob Dylan's October 31, 1964 performance of "Talkin' World War III Blues".
  • "Prairie" is featured in The Song and The Slogan.
  • Dan Zanes's Parades and Panoramas: 25 Songs Collected by Carl Sandburg for the American Songbag.
  • "Grass" was covered by Bread and Roses on their 2004 demo The Workplace Is a Battlefield.
  • Peter Louis van Dijk's "Windy City Songs", based on the Chicago poems was performed by the Chicago Children's Choir and the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University Choir in 2007.
  • Andrew W.K.'s song "The McLaughlin Groove"
  • Steven Spielberg claimed that the face of E.T. was based on a composite of Sandburg, Ernest Hemingway, and Albert Einstein.[29]
  • Bob Gibson's "The Courtship of Carl Sandburg", starring Tom Amandes as Sandburg[30]
  • Sandburg's quote "Nothing happens unless first a dream..." is featured in the Bones 100th episode (Season 5, Episode 16) "The Parts in the Sum of the Whole".
  • Two July 1978 Peanuts comic strips feature Snoopy remarking on a resemblance between Sandburg's likeness on the postage stamp and tennis player Pancho Gonzales.
  • Samuel M. Steward's gay pulp collection "$tud"'s protagonist refers to Sandburg in an ironic nod to his commentary on the "painted women of Chicago" (as Steward contrarily wrote of the "male whores" of Chicago).[31]
  • In Jonathan Lethem's novel Dissident Gardens the main character Rose Zimmer became a Abraham Lincoln devotee after reading Sandburg's biography. Her copy of the six volumes became the centerpiece of her shrine to Lincoln.


See also


  1. ^ a b c Sandburg, Carl (1953). Always the Young Strangers. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company. pp. 29, 39.  Sandburg's father's last name was originally "Danielson" or "Sturm". He could read but not write, and he accepted whatever spelling other people used. The young Carl, sister Mary, and brother Mart changed the spelling to "Sandburg" when in elementary school.
  2. ^ a b c "12 Search Results". Retrieved April 25, 2013. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ Sandburg in 1953 was not able to recall his younger self's reasons, but he relates that being able to correctly pronounce "ch" was a mark of assimilation among Swedish immigrants.
  5. ^ Penelope Niven (2012-08-18). "American Masters: Carl Sandburg Timeline". PBS. Retrieved 2014-01-19. 
  6. ^ Prairie-Town Boy, by Carl Sandburg, 1955. ""
  7. ^ Selected Poems of Carl Sandburg, edited by Rebecca West, 1954
  8. ^ Carl Sandburg College. "History"
  9. ^ "Revolt Develops Poet", The Western Comrade, vol. 2, no. 3 (July 1914), pg. 23.
  10. ^ a b "Poetry". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2013-11-24.
    The Pulitzer Prize for Poetry was inaugurated in 1922 but the organization now considers the first winners to be three recipients of 1918 and 1919 special awards.
  11. ^ "Nation Honor Lincoln On Sesquicentennial".  
  12. ^ Heitman, Danny (March–April 2013). "A Workingman's Poet".  
  13. ^ "Carl Sandburg cited by NAACP".  
  14. ^ "Carl Sandburg's ashes placed under Remembrance Rock". The New York Times. 2 October 1967. p. 61. 
  15. ^ His wife and two daughters would also be interred there. See the signage.
  16. ^ "Carl Sandburg House". City of Chicago Department of Planning and Development, Landmarks Division. 2006-10-04. Retrieved 2008-10-24. 
  17. ^ Bill C. Malone and David Stricklin (2003). Southern Music/American Music (University Press of Kentucky, 2003), p. 33.
  18. ^ Judith Tick, Ruth Crawford Seeger, A Composer's Search for American Music (Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 57
  19. ^ "Carl Sandburg Historic Site Association". Retrieved April 25, 2013. 
  20. ^ Elmhurst Historic Archives. "Sandburg"
  21. ^ "About Sandburg Middle School". Rdale.K12.MN.US. 2007. Archived from the original on February 5, 2008. Retrieved April 25, 2013. 
  22. ^ San Bruno Herald
  23. ^ Scott catalogue
  24. ^ "Rare Book and Manuscript Library". Retrieved April 25, 2013. 
  25. ^ "Carl Sandburg Library Homepage". 2008. Retrieved April 25, 2013. 
  26. ^ Amtrak Press Release, October 8, 2006.
  27. ^ "October 23 Dinner Honors Allende, Lewis and Sneed".  
  28. ^ "von Brecht?". Die Zeit. 2004-08-12. 
  29. ^   p. 134.
  30. ^"Bob Gibson's 'The Courtship of Carl Sandburg'"
  31. ^ Steward, Samuel M. (1966). $tud. Boston: Alyson Publications, Inc.   p.151
  32. ^ "Carl Sandburg Sings On WMAQ Today". The Milwaukee Journal. 10 January 1928. Retrieved 6 December 2010. 
  33. ^ "The American Songbag (1927)". Retrieved April 25, 2013. 
  34. ^ "CBS Reports, Season 2, Episode 12". IMDb. Retrieved 18 April 2013. 

Further reading

  • Niven, Penelope. Carl Sandburg: A Biography. New York: Scribner's, 1991.
  • Sandburg, Carl. The letters of Carl Sandburg. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968.
  • Sandburg, Helga. A Great and Glorious Romance: The Story of Carl Sandburg and Lilian Steichen. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978.

External links

  • Works by or about Carl Sandburg in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
  • Carl Sandburg's birthplace in Galesburg, IL
  • Carl Sandburg Home, North Carolina from the National Park Service
  • Sandburg at the Internet Archive, including video and audio
  • Cavalcade of America (audio files) featuring Carl Sandburg at the Internet Archive
  • The Day Carl Sandburg Died, PBS American Masters video
  • Prayers for the People: Carl Sandburg's Poetry and Songs, a Nebraska Educational Telecommunications film, University of Nebraska (video, 1 hour)
  • Carl Sandburg databases from the University of Illinois
  • Carl Sandburg from the FBI website
  • Previously unknown Sandburg poem focuses on power of the gun
  • Oliver Barrett-Carl Sandburg Papers at Newberry Library
  • Carl Sandburg at Library of Congress Authorities, with 276 catalog records
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