Confessions of a Sandburg and Ebay Junkie

by Terry Hogan

Great moments in history are caused by the confluence of two or more forces that react to one another in an unanticipated manner. Apparently minor moments can be caused the same way.

Over the years of researching ancestors, mostly from the Galesburg area at one time or another, I became more and more wrapped up in the history occurring at the time of my ancestors’ lives. I was interested more in the "bug dust" than the great moments. I wasn’t interested in the causes of the Great Depression as much as I was interested in the effects of the Great Depression on the folks of small Midwestern towns.

Galesburg is fortunate that it has a couple of local historians that recorded life in Galesburg, not in the great sweep of things, but in the daily lives of its inhabitants. Ernest Elmo Calkins ("They Broke the Prairie") and Carl Sandburg ("Always the Young Strangers") should be required reading for genealogists doing work in or near Knox County. You really can’t understand Galesburg, or what it is today, without understanding its roots — sometimes its manic-depressive roots. Galesburg, a hundred years ago, can be seen not from the "movers and shakers" perspective, but from the "moved and shaken" (and sometimes "stirred") perspective of a young Swede, working odd jobs in Galesburg. Sandburg gives a unique insight of Galesburg, somewhat tinted by Swedish glasses, but what better bias in Galesburg.

You should be able to tell by these statements, that I’m in trouble. I’ve traveled from a high school student who thought that Sandburg could take his little "cat’s feet" and fog and stuff them "you know where", to a Carl Sandburg groupie. I must confess (its good for the soul, I’m told), that I now own several Sandburg books. Worse than that, I now own several autographed books by Sandburg. Worse than that, I now own an original, signed letter from Sandburg, complete with his letterhead, and the original envelope. Did I mention owning a copy of the 1938 "Life Magazine" cover featuring Sandburg?

But this did not happen alone. As I said, even minor moments in history can be caused by the intersection of two independent events. For me, it was the growing interest in all things Sandburg, and the discovery of Ebay. Contrary to all good sense, it appears that not every one admires the work of the Pulitzer-Prize-winning author as much as me. Go figure. As a result, new Carl Sandburg items become available on Ebay nearly daily. They beckon for me to place a bid. The beckon me to place a bid, not just any bid, but a bid higher than anyone else. They beckon me to claim another Sandburg item for my own.

I need help. "Hello, my name is Terry Hogan and it has been four days since I have placed a bid on Ebay." In fact, my Sandburg letter has a tie with Alcoholics Anonymous. The letter from Sandburg is written to Elizabeth (Betty) Love the one-time secretary to the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson. Now isn’t that ironic?

Perhaps one of the items that I enjoy most from my Ebay Sandburg collection is a recording of Sandburg reading from his autobiography of growing up in Galesburg — "Always the Young Strangers" (1953). Until I saw the record for sell on Ebay, I didn’t know that this particular record existed. I have seen records by Sandburg reading his poems, singing, and reading excerpts about Lincoln. But I had never seen nor heard about him recording selections about growing up in Galesburg. Ebay will expose you to things that you just have to have, but you didn’t know you wanted until you saw it.

On the last selection, on the second side of the record, Sandburg, who has a beautiful voice and oratory style, is reading about the death of his mother. About in the middle of the selection, there is a pause, a soft chuckle, and Sandburg’s wavering voice saying that he can’t go on. He says, that he needs a cup of coffee, and perhaps some Jack Daniels. The album ends at that point. I believe the record was made in the mid-1960s, perhaps 1966, but it doesn’t say. In any event, it is an elderly Sandburg that is recorded. It is a Sandburg who is facing his own end soon. It is a treasured moment, and my hat goes off to all who made the decision to make this the final selection of the record.

But this compulsive buying of Carl Sandburg stuff isn’t my fault. "Its not my fault" — the cry of our decade. I don’t blame myself (of course). I blame Ebay. I blame my ancestors. Hundreds of generations ago, Man was a "hunter and gatherer", before farming was invented. The best hunters and gatherers survived. The worse did not. Natural selection did its thing, selecting those who hunted and gathered the best to survive and continue the species, passing on the successful traits. "Its not my fault." I’m merely a victim of my genes, selected and refined for this moment of hunting and gathering. Ebay saw me coming.

So, now you have it. I’m probably one of the few folks born and raised in Galesburg who has become a big fan of Carl Sandburg. Humor me. Read his autobiography. * You may see a little of Galesburg you recognize, or you may remember a story from a parent or a grandparent about earlier days in Galesburg. "What’s it gonna cost ya?" So you’ll miss a few hours of journalists interviewing journalists about the Iraq war, and what will follow. That alone, should be enough to drive you to reading it. Like all good junkies, I’m also a pusher. I want you to become hooked on Sandburg too. I need someone to share my guilt.

I gotta go. I need to check Ebay.


*Sandburg’s autobiography of growing up in Galesburg (Always the Young Strangers) can be purchased in Galesburg at his birthplace. Audiotapes of Sandburg readings are also available.