Counting Pennies

By Karen S. Lynch



Holding a parade at the end of January in the frigid Midwest may not seem like a good idea but the Penny Parade celebration held last Friday inside the warmth of the Carl Sandburg State Historic Site museum was no less exciting for area schoolchildren bringing monies they collected for the annual site fundraiser.

Bert McElroy, Penny Parade coordinator and Carl Sandburg State Historic Site Association secretary sees children as the future of the site. Children enjoyed an ice cream birthday cake to celebrate Sandburg’s birthday while watching a short video. Sandburg was born Jan. 6, 1878, 131 years ago. The Penny Parade also celebrates the birthday and heritage of Abraham Lincoln, the subject of extensive Sandburg writings and books that brought him one of two Pulitzer Prize Awards.

Children clapped along to lively Folk songs performed on acoustic guitar by John Heasly. A brief viewing of the exhibits concluded the tour of the site for each group of students from Gale, Steele, Nielson, Mable Woolsey—and for the first year—Costa Junior High.

The money children raise during the annual Penny Parade goes towards special projects to enhance the site—such as speakers for the barn and landscaping projects completed in prior years. This year two new projects being planned to enhance visitor experiences and accessibility for self-guided tours include a low power FM radio transmitter and lighted signage inside the three-room cottage, making the site self-explanatory. The cottage and grounds will be accessible even during hours the site is normally closed.

Last November former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich closed several state parks and historic sites—sites Gov. Pat Quinn has promised to reopen. The Carl Sandburg State Historic Site Association members developed ideas for self-guided tours, both in response to the closure and as an enrichment to visitor experiences.

The site will see more changes next year after the retirement of Steve Holden, Carl Sandburg Historic Site Superintendent at the site. Holden, from Bishop Hill replaced former superintendent Carol Nelson, who retired in 2002, holding the temporary site position until his official promotion to superintendent three years ago. During the Penny Parade celebration a tribute from association President, Norm Winick honored Holden in recognition of his retirement at the end of January, after 19 years of service at the historic site.

Holden’s extensive knowledge of Carl Sandburg will be difficult to replace. A picture on his desk sits next to a bust of Carl Sandburg of a younger Steve Holden with Margaret Sandburg at her Asheville home. “I met all three of Sandburg’s daughters and his granddaughter, Paula.” As he began to reminisce, Holden continued talking about the snapshot. “Margaret was reading from the Sandburg book, ''Breathing Tokens'' that she edited.”

A New York Times article published April 16, 1997 details the publication of the posthumous Sandburg book of poetry.


“Margaret Sandburg, who edited the final book of poetry by her father, Carl Sandburg, died here on Saturday. She was 85 and lived in Asheville. After her father's death in 1967, Ms. Sandburg became active in insuring the accuracy of historical information about him. She helped the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site in Flat Rock, N.C., to recreate a valid picture of the Sandburg family residence. She also assisted the University of Illinois Library in sorting and evaluating Sandburg's papers. She edited her father's final book of poetry, ''Breathing Tokens,'' published in 1978, which included more than 100 previously unpublished poems, and ''The Poet and the Dream Girl: The Love Letters of Lillian Steichen and Carl Sandburg'' (1987).”  

Holden shared a little-known special memory. During a Sandburg Days visit one year by Helga Sandburg-Crile, Helga and Steve Holden placed the ashes of her two sisters, Janet and Margaret, joining her father and mother’s ashes beneath Remembrance Rock at Carl Sandburg’s birthplace in Galesburg.

Besides his extensive knowledge and experience on the history of Carl Sandburg, Holden also has an interesting history of his own. After training in music at Illinois Wesleyan University, Holden was a potter in Bishop Hill for 16 years. Drafted into military service in 1968, Holden served in the Signal Corp during the Tet Offensive in Viet Nam. Holden’s wife, Linda was a postmaster. Holden did not state any specific plans for his retirement but he will be missed at the little white cottage on Third Street.