Local association trying to “reopen” Galesburg Sandburg site


By Karen S. Lynch and Norm Winick


State government is in turmoil waiting to see what happens to Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The state budget is in a $4 billion hole. One of the most public budget cuts implemented by the embattled governor was the shuttering of several State Historic Sites and State Parks.

 Despite a closed sign currently hanging on the Visitors Center entrance at the Carl Sandburg Historic Site, the local association is working behind the scenes to continue to promote the work and life of Carl Sandburg and to again make the site and grounds the accessible historical resource it should be.

It’s not well know, but despite being “closed,” regular events are allowed to continue. The annual Penny Parade celebration will be held at 11am on Friday, January 30th. Area schoolchildren have been collecting Lincoln  pennies and other small change with monies raised going towards special projects at the site.

The winter lecture series, to be held on Sunday afternoons, is going ahead as are the folk music concerts in the Songbag series. Several events of the annual Sandburg Days Festival in April will be held at the site.

The Carl Sandburg Historic Site Association, the local support group, meets monthly and Tuesday approved a project to open the site to visitors even if the State doesn’t provide adequate staffing.

They have proposed a number of ideas to reopen the historic Sandburg home and grounds —  making them accessible to visitors every day including days and times when the location would be closed even if it were reopened.

TheAssociation purchased a low-power FM transmitter and are preparing an audio self-guided tour.  It will include an introduction to Carl Sandburg and Galesburg and a description of the site and grounds. Visitors will be able to listen to the audio recording from their car radios or any portable FM radio while in range.

The Association is also preparing signage so that the birthplace itself can be viewed and understood from outside the buildings. Remembrance Rock and the gardens will continue to be accessible. The combination of the audio tour and lighting and signage in the cottage will enhance the educational experience for visitors even if there is no human guide available.

In a letter to Director of the Historic Preservation Agency, Jan Grimes,  the Association notified the state of the improvements they are making to the visitor experience: “With these implementations, we are asking that the State of Illinois and our association be allowed to promote the site as open.” Attractive informational signage will be lit and visible inside the lighted cottage rooms, viewable from the outside windows of the Sandburg birthplace.

The Association also requested that the person on-site responsible for security and maintenance be allowed to unlock the door of the Visitors’ Center so that guests could tour the museum and maybe purchase something at the gift shop — the Association’s main source of income. The proposal included no extra expenses to the State of Illinois. Grimes responded positively that she would seriously consider the request.

The future of the site as a tourist attraction and educational resource is complicated not only by the uncertainty in the Governor’s office but also by local events. Site Superintendent Steve Holden announced Tuesday night at the board meeting that he is retiring effective January 31st. Holden’s 19 years of service at the site and extensive knowledge of Carl Sandburg will be difficult to replace. That also throws a monkey wrench in the request to have him open the doors when he is there anyway because it is unknown if there will be a new full-time person on site or not.

Further complicating things, for the good, is the stated intention of Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn to reopen the Historic Sites and State Parks if and when he becomes Governor.

Improvements being provided by the Association will continue in any case because they will make the site more user-friendly even when it is open and especially on those dates and times when it is not.

Beneath the large granite stone, inscribed with Sandburg’s own words, “Remembrance Rock” is the ashes of Carl Sandburg and his wife, Paula (Lilian). At his own request, Sandburg and his wife are at rest in his hometown at the place of his birth. Sandburg shall never be forgotten — at least not by those who feel he still has a lot to say.