In Sandburg’s Tracks

by Terry Hogan

I have become a fan of Carl Sandburg, not because of his early socialist views, but in spite of them. When he wrote of the prairie in his poems, he wrote of our collective experience, when farming was manual labor and a man was good to his word. He traveled a lot. He made lots of friends. He frequently stayed in private homes, rather than hotels. As his fame grew, more and more folks sought his attention. It was that way then, as it is now for famous folks.

I started collecting his books. Then I started collecting his autographed books. I progressed to collecting his limited first addition numbered and autographed books. And now I collect his personal correspondence. This is a rather challenging effort, assuming you don't want to pay retail for a nicely framed and matted three-liner letter with his signature for about $3,500. The real stuff is still out there, at a reasonable price, but it is hard to find. And when you find it, sometimes it is in a bundle, from an estate or at least a mass selling from a personal collection of correspondence.

Such is the case of a most fortunate find recently. I purchased four Sandburg books, all personally inscribed, dated, and signed by Sandburg. The four books were inscribed to the same woman, and covered a period of six years, extending from 1938 to 1944, based on the inscription dates. The woman, whose name is not (at least currently) important, lived in northwestern Indiana, near Chicago and near Michigan. Her first name was Doris. There is a fifth Sandburg book inscribed and signed by Sandburg to her that I do not own. That inscription is dated 1948. It uses the name "Doris" rather than the nickname used in some of the earlier inscriptions.

I also purchased at the same time, a typed, free-form, letter from Sandburg to her, using his nickname for her. The signed letter is really a poem to her, nearly 3/4 of a page in length, without standard poetic format, and largely without punctuation. It is classic Sandburg. It reads, in part,

"…may you wear a long garment of tawny gold feathers

lighter than bubbles

lighter than any film-dust on a gold-moth wing

lighter than any shimmering white splinter of the Northern lights….

(the breaks in text, shown above, are mine and are not in the original letter, which is written without structure or punctuation and thus were likely typed by Sandburg, himself)

Also included in the purchased items is a typed poem, entitled "Old Timers". It is not the published Sandburg poem of that name. I believe it is Sandburg's work, although it is not signed. I believe it has his distinct style. I also have not yet found evidence that it was published by him under some other title, although this might be possible. There is an old saying to the effect that "No amount of not finding something proves that it doesn't exist." This "Old Timers" poem begins:

"Have you set with poverty and tried

to guess its dirty riddles?

Then maybe we can travel together.

Have you torn off pages of struggle

too mean to remember-- and looked at a

long scar as a sphinx?"

There is also a Western Union telegram from Sandburg to Doris. It was acknowledging receipt of an overcoat that was shipped to him. The telegram was dated July 11, 1944 and originated in Wheeling, West Virginia.

There was also a letter for the president of Decca Records, Jack Kapp, dated September 29, 1941. The letter was addressed to the woman. The text of the letter reads, as follows,

"Mr. Carl Sandburg has asked us to

send you, with his compliments, his

album of recordings just released,

THE PEOPLE YES, which we are pleased to do.

He says his personal message to you

will be heard when you plan these


(Breaks in text are as found in the letter)

The letter is on Decca Records stationary, also bearing the printed "Office of the President". I do not own the record, but I have found the list of the selections from the poem, "The People Yes" that appear on the record. I have read the selections. The message, if there truly was one, is well hidden and will likely remain their secret.

Finally, there are two sheets of penciled music and lyrics, untitled, that the seller believed were written by Sandburg. I do not believe this is correct, as much as I wished it were. It is a romantic song. The lyrics rhyme. It is not Sandburg's style. And "the hand" is clearly not Sandburg's as I have several handwritten letter by Sandburg to compare against. It may more likely be from the woman herself. It may have found its way into the Sandburg materials that she kept for years. Unfortunately, no identified example of her handwriting was included in the material, so I can only speculate, and perhaps speculate incorrectly.

The material that was sold to me was originally from a relative, a grandniece of Doris, according to the seller. It is an interesting find. It might even be a source of one or two original Sandburg poems that have not been published - "Old Timers" and the untitled poem that is the majority of the text of his letter to her. Who knows? I don't, yet. But I hope to find out.

Everybody has to have a hobby or two or a collection or two. Sandburg is one of mine.

He's one of Galesburg's own.