1878 - 1967
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.
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
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,
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
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
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,
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.