Sandburg's Hometown

February 4, 2013


By Barbara Schock

Carl Sandburg had great curiosity as a child. When his parents read the Bible aloud, little Carl discovered the black marks on the page meant something. Those marks made words which had many meanings.

 When the family attended the Swedish Lutheran Church services, Carl studied the murals on the ceiling. One mural depicted Moses bringing the tablets which contained the Ten Commandments down from the mountaintop. Carl knew the commandments, but wondered who had carved the tablets. Did everyone obey all the commandments? He knew he had broken at least one when he swiped an apple from the basket on display at the grocery store.

The mural which most fascinated young Sandburg was of Elijah rising to heaven in a fiery chariot provided by God. Carl had seen a balloon ascension some time before and thought it was similar. He wished that he would have a fiery chariot in which to ride up to heaven.

When August Sandburg took his seven-year-old son to see the dedication of the cornerstone of the new Knox County Courthouse in 1885, the boy wondered if the cornerstone held up the entire structure. And, why were those men of the Masonic order wearing aprons when they performed the ceremony?

Carl and some of his grade school friends saw their first human skeleton in a classroom at Lombard College. It was so scary. Who might that person have been? How was it held together?

Music became an interest of young Carl. He made his own instruments from twigs, cigar boxes, wire and whatever else he could find that made noise.. Willis Calkins taught him chords to play on the banjo. Carl participated in various programs and musicals at the Mission on South Seminary Street. That was the beginning of his lifelong career in performing before the public. While at Lombard College, he took six elocution courses to learn public speaking.

When a boy he found a pamphlet which accompanied packs of expensive cigarettes. He was able to persuade smokers of that brand to save the little biographies for him. He continued to  collect the biographies of Civil War generals and other notable people of the day. The booklets were just the right size to keep in his pocket. He could take one out and read it whenever he had a little time. Carl also read books at the YMCA and the public library. He was always ready to learn new things. There were many things in the books that he pondered, but didn’t have enough knowledge to sort out for himself.

By the time Sandburg reached his twenties, he knew he wanted to be a writer. He studied American and English poets and writers. Walt Whitman was especially important in Sandburg’s discovery of free verse.

While struggling to support himself, Sandburg worked endlessly to improve his writing and to find his own style. He traveled west as a hobo. He went east selling stereoscopic views. He went north as a socialist organizer. He was trying to find his unique style of writing and a way to bring money into his pockets. Along this irregular path, he acquired knowledge, experience and friends which were helpful to him the rest of his life.

Sandburg’s Hometown
February 4, 2013