Galesburg Writers


I was reading the September page in my 2004 "Farmer’s Almanac" when what should I see?

"Little drops of water,

Little grains of sand,

Make the mighty ocean

And the pleasant land."

That’s right. The once-famous opening lines of "Little Things" by Galesburg’s own poetess Julia Fletcher Carney.

It reminded me of how many good writers have been associated with this "Athens of the Corn Belt."

Julia Carney’s poem was printed in many 19th-century collections, especially readers for children. As late as 1952, Mrs. Dwight D. Eisenhower cited it as one of her childhood delights. Few short poems in the English language were as well-known and recited. In her later years, she lived across the street from Galesburg’s greatest poet, Carl Sandburg, who knew her as a white-haired old lady watching from her front porch as Carl and his friends played baseball in the street. Because Galesburg had two colleges–Knox and Lombard–it fostered a climate of authorial activity. Sandburg, of course, led all the rest. But there was also Edgar Lee Masters, of "Spoon River Anthology" fame, who attended Knox for nine months. Eugene Field, Knox 1869-71, was also known as the Children’s Poet and a Chicago newspaper columnist. Earnest Elmo Caulkins, a founder of modern advertising, also wrote eight books, including "They Broke the Prairie," a centennial history of Galesburg and Knox College. Graduate Otto Harbach was a famous lyricist in the early 20th century. Samuel S. McClure attended Knox and later founded "McClure’s Magazine," the famous muckraking magazine which gave Knox professor Herman Muelder half the title of his study of the college’s first century, "Missionaries and Muckrakers."

George Fitch, Knox class of 1897, wrote humorous stories for the "Saturday Evening Post" about his college, which he called Siwash–a Knox nickname which stuck until struck down by political correctness in the late 20th-century. The college also stakes a minor claim to Don Marquis of "Archy and Mehitabel" fame because he attended briefly. They have a better claim with graduate

Jack Finney, whose "Body Snatchers" and other books have been reprinted and made into movies. His "I Love Galesburg in the Springtime" appeared in "McCalls" and is still a sci-fi classic.

Of course, with distinguished professors on its faculty, Knox has been associated with other books which gained national attention. George W. Hunter (1920-25) was the author of a textbook called "A Civic Biology" which dealt in part with evolution and was the centerpiece of the famous Scopes "monkey trial" in Tennessee.

Robert Hellenga of the English Department has drawn critical praise for two best-sellers: "The Sixteen Pleasures" and "The Fall of a Sparrow." Douglas Wilson turned out an excellent study of Lincoln, "Honor’s Voice," and co-authored "Herndon’s Informants" with the college’s Rodney Davis.

And last, but certainly not least, is Martin Litvin, whose biographies of Fitch, Bondi, Mother Bickerdyke and Mary Allen West have brought famous Galesburgers to life for new generations. Excerpts of his work have been published in the Zephyr; and I still consider his fiction (like "Black Earth") as under-rated because of his old-fashioned style and concentration on character.

And I’ve probably missed several more.

Not bad for a small city in fly-over country!