Carl Sandburg Essay, Research Paper
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 reflects the typical
living conditions of a late nineteenth century working-class family. Many of the
furnishings once belonged to the Sandburg family are still in tact. Behind the
house stands a small wooded park. Underneath 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 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 many 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
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 large difference
between rich and poor, a inflence 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. 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 and The Plaint
of a Rose.
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.
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, 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.