Carl Sandburg

Ivor Griffiths, Poet, Novelist & Short Story Writer

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Carl Sandburg in 1955
Carl Sandburg in 1955

Carl August Sandburg (January 6, 1878 – July 22, 1967) was an American poet, historian, novelist, balladeer, and folklorist. He was born in Galesburg, Illinois of Swedish parents and died at his home, named Connemara, in Flat Rock, North Carolina.

H. L. Mencken called Carl Sandburg "indubitably an American in every pulse-beat." He was a successful journalist, poet, historian, biographer, and autobiographer. During the course of his career, Sandburg won two Pulitzer Prizes, one for his biography of Abraham Lincoln (Abraham Lincoln: The War Years) and one for his collection The Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg.


  • 1 Biography
  • 2 Works
  • 3 Memorials
  • 4 Sandburg in song
  • 5 Listen to
  • 6 Trivia
  • 7 References
  • 8 See also
  • 9 External links
    • 9.1 Online selections from Sandburg's poetry


Carl Sandburg, from a much larger mural painting, Flagstaff, Arizona.
Carl Sandburg, from a much larger mural painting, Flagstaff, Arizona.

During the Spanish-American War, Sandburg enlisted in the 6th Illinois Infantry, and he participated in the landing at Guánica on July 25, 1898 during the invasion of Puerto Rico. Following a brief (two-week) career as a student at West Point, Sandburg chose to attend Lombard College in Galesburg. He left college without a degree in 1902.

Sandburg lived for a brief period in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, during which he became a member of the Social Democratic Party and took a strong interest in the socialist community. He worked as a secretary to Mayor Emil Seidel, the first socialist mayor in the United States.

Sandburg met Lilian Steichen, sister of the famed photographer, Edward Steichen, at the Social Democratic Headquarters. Lilian (nicknamed "Paus'l" by her mother and "Paula" by Carl) and Carl were married in 1908; they would go on to have three daughters.

Sandburg moved to Harbert, Michigan. From 1912 to 1928 he lived in Chicago, nearby Evanston and Elmhurst. During this time he began work on his series of biographies on Abraham Lincoln, which would eventually earn him his Pulitzer Prize in history (for Abraham Lincoln: The War Years, 1940).

In 1945, the Sandburg family moved from the Midwest, where they'd spent most of their lives, to the Connemara estate, in Flat Rock, North Carolina. Connemara was ideal for the family, as it gave Mr. Sandburg an entire mountain top to roam and enough solitude for him to write. It also provided Mrs. Sandburg over 30 acres of pasture to raise and graze her prize-winning dairy goats.


Rootabaga Stories
Rootabaga Stories

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, and City of the Big Shoulders."

Sandburg is also beloved 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 Marrrrvelous Pretzels".

Sandburg 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.

Here is an incomplete list of books and anthologies published by Sandburg:

  • In Reckless Ecstasy (1904) (poetry) (originally published as Charles Sandburg)
  • Incidentals (1904) (poetry and prose) (originally published as Charles Sandburg)
  • Plaint of a Rose (1908) (poetry) (originally published as Charles Sandburg)
  • Joseffy (prose) (1910) (originally published as Charles Sandburg)
  • You and Your Job (1910) (prose) (originally published as Charles Sandburg)
  • Chicago Poems (1916) (poetry)
  • Cornhuskers (1918) (poetry)
  • Chicago Race Riots (1919) (prose) (with an introduction by Walter Lippmann)
  • Clarence Darrow of Chicago (1919) (prose)
  • Smoke and Steel (1920) (poetry)
  • Rootabaga Stories (1920) (children's stories)
  • Slabs of the Sunburnt West (1922) (poetry)
  • Rootabaga Pigeons (1923) (children's stories)
  • Selected Poems (1926) (poetry)
  • Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years (1926) (biography)
  • The American Songbag (1927) (folk songs)
  • Songs of America (1927) (folk songs) (collected by Sandburg; edited by Alfred V. Frankenstein)
  • Abe Lincoln Grows Up (1928) (biography [primarily for children])
  • Good Morning, America (1928) (poetry)
  • Steichen the Photographer (1929) (history)
  • Early Moon (1930) (poetry)
  • Potato Face (1930) (children's stories)
  • Mary Lincoln: Wife and Widow (1932) (biography)
  • The People, Yes (1936) (poetry)
  • Abraham Lincoln: The War Years (1939) (biography)
  • Storm over the Land (1942) (biography) (excerpts from Sandburg's own Abraham Lincoln: The War Years)
  • Road to Victory (1942) (exhibition catalog) (text by Sandburg; images compiled by Edward Steichen and published by the Museum of Modern Art)
  • Home Front Memo (1943) (essays)
  • Remembrance Rock (1948) (novel)
  • Lincoln Collector: the story of the Oliver R. Barrett Lincoln collection (1949) (prose)
  • The New American Songbag (1950) (folk songs)
  • Complete Poems (1950) (poetry)
  • The wedding procession of the rag doll and the broom handle and who was in it (1950) (children's story)
  • Always the Young Strangers (1953) (autobiography)
  • Selected poems of Carl Sandburg (1954) (poetry) (edited by Rebecca West)
  • The Family of Man (1955) (exhibition catalog) (introduction; images compiled by Edward Steichen)
  • Prairie-town boy (1955) (autobiography) (essentially excerpts from Always the Young Strangers)
  • Sandburg Range (1957) (prose and poetry)
  • Harvest Poems, 1910-1960 (1960) (poetry)
  • Wind Song (1960) (poetry)
  • Honey and Salt (1963) (poetry)
  • The Letters of Carl Sandburg (1968) (autobiographical/correspondence) (edited by Herbert Mitgang)
  • Breathing Tokens (poetry by Sandburg, edited by Margaret Sandburg) (1978) (poetry)
  • Ever the Winds of Chance (1983) (autobiography) (started by Sandburg, completed by Margaret Sandburg and George Hendrick)
  • Carl Sandburg at the movies : a poet in the silent era, 1920-1927 (1985) (selections of his reviews of silent movies - collected and edited by Dale Fetherling and Doug Fetherling)
  • Billy Sunday and other poems (1993) (edited with an introduction by George Hendrick and Willene Hendrick)
  • Poems for children nowhere near old enough to vote (1999) (compiled and with an introduction by George and Willene Hendrick)


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'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 museum, the rock under which he and his wife Lilian are buried and a performance venue.

Carl Sandburg Village is a Chicago urban renewal project of the 1960's 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 condomonium ownership.

In 1954, Carl Sandburg High School was dedicated in Orland Park, IL. Mr. 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 as a vagabond, 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.[citation needed]

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.[1] The school was closed in the 1980s, due to falling enrollments in the San Bruno Park School District.

On January 6, 1978, the 100th anniversary of his birth, the United States Postal Service issued a commmemorative stamp honoring Sandburg. The spare design consists of a profile originally drawn by his friend William A. Smith (1918-1989) in 1952, along with Sandburg's own distinctive autograph.[2]

Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign 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.

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. The press release can be found here.

Sandburg in song

  • Carl Sandburg is referred to in Sufjan Stevens' song "Come on! Feel the Illinoise!" on his Illinois album. The song speaks of Carl appearing as a ghost and questioning, "Are you writing from the heart?"
  • This song is also the subject of the title of the music blog, "Carl Sandburg Visits Me In A Dream", which is maintained by two Northwestern University students.
  • He also appears in a live version of the Bob Dylan song "Talkin' World War III Blues" performed at Philharmonic Hall, New York City on October 31, 1964 in the line "Now all of the people can be all right part of the time, and some of the people can be part right all the time, and even all the people can be all right part of the time, but not all the people can be all right all the time. Carl Sandburg said that." Other versions say, "I think Abraham Lincoln said that."
  • Sandburg's poem "Prairie" and excerpts from several others are featured in the Emmy Award-winning PBS musical documentary The Song and The Slogan. The video features opera singer Jerry Hadley, narrator David Hartman with the music of Daniel Steven Crafts.
  • For his album, Parades and Panoramas: 25 Songs Collected by Carl Sandburg for the American Songbag, Dan Zanes selected twenty-five songs from Sandburg's song and folklore compilation, The American Songbag.
  • Sandburg's poem Grass inspired and was covered by folk-punk band Bread and Roses on their 2004 demo The Workplace Is A Battlefield.
  • In June 2007, a major work by composer Peter Louis van Dijk called "Windy City Songs", based on Sandburg's Chicago Poems was debuted by the Chicago Children's Choir and the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University performing with the Lyric Theatre Orchestra.

Listen to

  • Carl Sandburg reading The People, Yes
  • 1991 interview with Penelope Niven about Carl Sandburg by Don Swaim


  • Carl Sandburg is a relative of the Swedish royal dynasty of Vasa. Sandburg's forefather, the court chaplain Olaus Simonis Clarevallensis Luth (1560 - 1639, born Olov Simonsson), married Margareta Eriksdotter, an illegitimate daughter of King Eric XIV of Sweden and his mistress Agda Persdotter.[3]
  1. ^ San Bruno Herald
  2. ^ Scott catalogue
  3. ^ Lindwall, Bo (ed.) (1996). 24 famous Swedish Americans and their ancestors : a collection of ancestor tables. Stockholm: Federation of Swedish Genealogical Societies. ISBN 91-87676-17-6. 

See also

  • Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site
  • Green eyeshade
  • Carl Sandburg's birthplace in Galesburg, IL
  • Sandburg biography at
  • Illustrated Carl Sandburg discography
  • Carl Sandburg Cornhuskers
  • The Rare Book and Manuscript Library of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has many significant resources including correspondence and audio recordings. These resources are not available online, but there are searchable databases of the contents of the two collections: the Connemara collection and the Asheville collection.
  • Carl Sandburg High School
  • Carl Sandburg College
  • "Carl Sandburg Visits Me In A Dream" Music Blog
  • Online selections from Sandburg's poetry

    • Poetry Archive: 158 poems by Carl Sandburg
    • Selected Poetry of Carl Sandburg
    • Graceland by Carl Sandburg
    • Art of the States: Five Songs to Poems by Carl Sandburg Musical settings by Ruth Crawford Seeger
    • Geronimo Sands' performance of his Sandburg show
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