Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ronald Reagan Trail: Carl Sandburg

Carl Sandburg
Ronald Reagan lived in Galesburg, but its favorite son is Carl Sandburg.

Sandburg was born in the three-room cottage on the left in 1878. Four decades later the Reagans lived in a larger home in on the other side of town. Sandburg held a series of odd jobs, was a hobo, a West Point cadet for two weeks, attended a small Galesburg college that didn't survive the Great Depression, served but didn't see action during the Spanish-American War, was a newspaper reporter for the defunct Chicago Daily News, and wrote several poetry volumes, including Chicago Poems, which was published in 1916.
Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
Sandburg birthplace
City of the Big Shoulders.
Oh, he was a folk singer. And he dabbled in screenplay-writing, authored Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and The War Years, which earned him a Pulitzer Prize for history. He was also awarded a Pulitzer for poetry. And he wrote a novel.

Was he a Reagan Republican? No, he was a socialist. But an intriguing man, to be sure.

I'm a graduate of Carl Sandburg High School in Orland Park, Illinois. It was the first high school in the nation named for him. When the decision was made by School District 230 in the early 1950s to name its proposed school after someone from Illinois, several individuals were suggested, but once Sandburg's name was proposed--the discussion ended. Sandburg attended the dedication of the school and legend has it that once it had opened he attempted to visit it--but was told to leave because he was carrying no identification.

As for his socialism, I wasn't aware of his political leanings until after I graduated in 1980. Sandburg's students come from Orland and Palos Townships, which was heavily Republican back then--the teachers didn't want to deal with complaining parents.

Remembrance Rock
Sandburg died in 1967 in North Carolina, where he lived for the last two decades of his life. His ashes, along those of his wife, are buried under Remembrance Rock in the back yard of the birthplace site. Lines from his poems are carved into bricks placed in the home's lawn.

The Sandburg birthplace was one of the victims of since-disgraced Governor Rod Blagojevich's state park and historical site budget cuts in 2008, it was closed except for special events. For the most part, the arts don't pay, and how do you shake down a beggar? His successor, Pat Quinn, reopened all of them the following year. But the Sandburg home and its adjoining visitor's center is open only five days a week--and not Mondays--and I was in Galesburg last Monday. But the grounds were open at least for me to take photographs.

Next: Eureka College

Earlier posts:
Carl Sandburg High School, Orland Park

Wyatt Earp

Related post:

Galesburg coyote


pathickey said...

John, This is a fine tribute to a genuine poet.
Illinois' Vachel Lindsery deserves your treatment.


MAX Redline said...

The fog creeps in...

He did have a way with words.

I attended Carl Sandburg Jr. College in order to avoid continuing to have to attend Galesburg High School. From there, I moved to Knox College, where Old Main still stands with its worn steps (though the bell tower is new; the original having been blown to splinters by lightning from a passing tornado).