All Things Sandburg

by Terry Hogan

From a high school kid who thought Sandburg's Fog poem was seriously over-rated, I have, some 40 years later, become a collector of all things Sandburg. At least all things that I can afford. They say confession is good for the soul. Perhaps, but it is not really my fault.

There are a lot of theories around why so many of us feel it necessary to collect. A popular one is that it is not our fault. It is natural selection at work. The early man (or woman) who collected and saved "stuff", it is suggested, had a better chance of survival during hard times. I suppose that makes sense if you have a really large cave and lots of wall space. But if you were a hunter/gatherer who moved a lot, and were subject to predators, I'd think that the serious collector might have been slowed down a bit. Natural selection may not have been so kind to a collector under these circumstances. But in any event, I am pretty sure that whatever drives me to collect Sandburg materials, it is not my fault.

My first urge was a signed "Always the Young Strangers" that was for sale for about $100, if I remember correctly. It was in the Galesburg Antique Mall. I resisted. My mother raised no dummies. Galesburg generally isn't the cheapest place to buy Sandburg stuff, particularly when the Sandburg item was his autobiography about growing up in Galesburg. But a year or so later, I found a copy of "Always the Young Strangers" signed by Carl Sandburg in an old, run-down used book store in Indianapolis. It was only five dollars. This was my first Sandburg autograph. I was hooked. I knew it wasn't going to be my last.

I now own a number of autographed Sandburg books, including two copies of the true first additions of "Always the Young Strangers". These are a limited edition, signed and numbered and issued with a different cover. If you are worried about forgeries, these are the safest to buy. I also now own two more regular signed "Always the Young Strangers" and a couple of other autographed books by Sandburg that he wrote, and two that he didn't write. In the latter category was a biography of Sandburg written by Harry Golden, a long time friend of Sandburg. A number of these double-autographed copies are around, signed by both Sandburg and Golden. I also have a double-autographed copy of a book written by his daughter, Helga Sandburg, that is signed by Helga and Carl Sandburg.

I have expanded into collecting his immediate family, as well. Helga Sandburg was gracious and signed a copy of a Zephyr article that I wrote in 2003 about her father*. She was visiting Galesburg as part of the Sandburg Days. Helga is Carl's youngest daughter and she is also a published author. I have several of her autographed books, as well as correspondence that she sent me, concerning other Carl Sandburg items I have collected. Helga has been more than generous with her time, responding to my questions about the acquired Sandburg materials. Most recently, I bought a couple of books by Helga that she had autographed. They were for sale at Sandburg's birthplace in Galesburg.

I suppose like a drug user, I got hooked and went from the "soft stuff" - autographed books, to the hard stuff - original correspondence. I own three original letters from Carl now. One is a 1932 letter on "The Chicago Daily News" letterhead. The letter references his eye troubles, and his plan to write about some "photostat" copies of Lincoln's letters, apparently provided by the addressee. The other two letters were to the same addressee, Betty Love. She was a young woman who had a number of associations with famous historical figures. One letter is dated, and is the more recent. It is from Sandburg, noting that he had to hear second hand that she had recently married. The earlier, the undated letter, was written when Sandburg was traveling on the Blue Bird train. He mentions this in the letter and it is on Blue Bird stationary. It is a friendly, personal letter, entirely handwritten. It invites her to come see him at his Chicago newspaper office.

Other items collected over the year include an original photo of Carl that came in a collection of Sandburg family Christmas cards that were mailed to an old family friend, Dr. Arthur W. "Jim" Freese. Dr. Freese is also in the photo with Carl**. I bought the bunch of Christmas cards, a letter, and the photo on Ebay, as a single bid item. The contents were poorly described in the Ebay offering and hurt the price. I took a gamble. I was very happy with what I received. Also included in this gold mine of material was a letter from Margaret Sandburg to Dr. Freese, explaining Margaret's intent on the disposition of some Sandburg written materials. This was dated in 1969, after Carl's death. The Sandburg family Christmas cards appear to have been signed by Carl's wife, Lillian.

Perhaps one of my favorite Sandburg items is a long-play record of Carl reading from "Always the Young Strangers." It is a rare opportunity to hear Carl in his truly unique voice and style, recall his early years in Galesburg. I had seen other records of Sandburg reading poems and Sandburg singing. But this is the only copy of him reading "Always the Young Strangers" that I have seen. It is a treasure.

Such are the confessions of a local boy "gone bad." My soul doesn't feel any lighter. I enjoy the small insights on Sandburg offered by this meager collection. I must admit that my collecting continues. I bought an autographed copy of "Always the Young Strangers" in Parkersburg, West Virginia this week. I also bought the Sandburg pictorial biography, cited below. It was not until when I was writng this article that I discovered the two photos of Dr. Freese in this pictorial biography. These photos confirmed my belief that the man in "my" photo with Carl Sandburg was Dr. Freese. All in all, it wasn’t a bad week for a Sandburg "hunter and gatherer."

But remember. It's not my fault. It's in the genes. It’s natural selection at work. Hey buddy, ya know where I can get some cheap Sandburg?


* "Confessions of a Sandburg and eBay junkie". May 1, 2003 issue of the Zephyr.

**Two photos of Sandburg with Dr Freese are reproduced on page 111 of Haus and Lovitz's (1967) "Carl Sandburg, a Pictorial Biography". These photos were taken in 1928 and 1960.