Carl Sandburg

Visit Galesburg, Illinois

Carl Sandburg

Carl Sandburg with his wife Carl Sandburg with his wife

Carl Sandburg was born in Galesburg, Illinois, to parents of Swedish ancestry on January 8, 1878. At the age of thirteen he left school and during his teen years worked various labor jobs. Sandburg volunteered for the military during the Spanish–American War but never saw battle. Sandburg returned to Galesburg and entered Lombard College in 1899, but left in 1903 without a degree . Sandburg met Lilian Steichen in 1907 and they married the next year. Sandburg and his wife, whom he called Paula, raised three daughters.

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. In 1945 he moved to 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 until dying of natural causes in 1967.

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. 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 for his Rootabaga Stories and Rootabaga Pigeons, a series of stories he originally created for his daughters. The Rootabaga Stories were born of Sandburg's desire for "American fairy tales" to match American life. He believed the European tales with royalty and knights were unsuitable and thus he wrote 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). He was awarded a Grammy Award in 1959 for his recording of Aaron Copland's Lincoln Portrait with the New York Philharmonic.

Sandburg's 1927 anthology, the American Songbag, was very popular and went through many editions and he was a noted urban folk singer, accompanying himself on solo guitar at lectures and poetry recitals and in recordings.  In Galesburg, the annual and very popular Rootabaga Jazz Festival is named in honor of Sandburg’s work.

Sandburg’s legacy lives on in many ways throughout the trail of his life with many places and schools bearing his name.  In October 2006, Amtrak added a second train on the Chicago (Galesburg) Quincy route, called the “Carl Sandburg.” This new train joined the "Illinois Zephyr" on the same route. Galesburg opened Sandburg Mall in 1974 and a distinguished community college, Carl Sandburg College is located here as well.

Carl Sandburg's childhood home in Galesburg is operated by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency as the Carl Sandburg State Historic Site. The site contains the cottage Sandburg was born in, a visitor's center and small garden with a large stone called Remembrance Rock, under which he and his wife Lilian's ashes are buried. Visiting hours vary throughout the year and the site is closed during the winter months, but guests are welcome tour the grounds year round.  There is AM Radio broadcast available all the time.  For visiting hours, please call the Galesburg Area Convention & Visitors Bureau at 800-916-3330.