The Literary Landscape of Carl Sandburg
“I was born on the prairie, and the milks of its wheat, the red of its clover, the eyes of its women, gave me song and a slogan.” (Carl Sandburg, “Prairie,” July 1918)
Located in Flat Rock, North Carolina, Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site is the first national park unit honoring the life and works of an American poet. Considered among the most celebrated writers, poets, lecturers, and musicians of the 20th century, Sandburg received the Pulitzer Prize in two separate fields: one in history for Abraham Lincoln: The War Years, published in 1939, and later for his book Complete Poems, published in 1950.
He landed a position as a journalist, working as a reporter for the Chicago Day Book from 1912-1917 and also for the Chicago Daily News. Sandburg reported on circumstances in industrial Chicago such as a lack of child labor laws, unsafe working conditions, and racial strife, including the Chicago race riots of 1919. Sandburg posited that economic inequality was the root of social conflict and focused his writings on the inequities of industrial society, including issues of poverty, immigration, and civil rights. His writings advocated for educational opportunities, job training, and equal access to housing, emphasizing both the hardships and perseverance of people.
For the next thirteen years, Sandburg researched the 16th president extensively, culminating in the four volume biography Abraham Lincoln: The War Years. Published in 1939, it won the Pulitzer Prize in history in 1940.
Eventually the desires to escape harsh northern winters and to find a more suitable environment for Mrs. Lilian “Paula” Sandburg’s growing goat herd motivated the Sandburg family to relocate from Michigan to the mountains of southwestern North Carolina in 1945. Landing at the home site known as Connemara, named after a region in western Ireland by its earlier occupant in 1900, the rural character of the farm and natural surroundings of the grounds provided an environment for the family to focus on their work and passions.
The Cultural Landscape of Connemara
Nature was an integral part of Carl Sandburg’s life and writings. This appreciation of natural change was expressed in the maintenance of the Connemara landscape throughout the historic period. Ongoing transformations and processes in nature, both natural and manmade, were celebrated. The changing patterns of additions and removals on the landscape were largely informal and flexible, with portions of the land managed and other portions left unmanaged, based on needs, interests, and availability of labor and time. The land was appreciated for its wildness.
Sandburg's LegacyConnemara was designated a National Historic Landmark and became a park unit a year after the poet’s death. Local legislators, with the assistance of Lilian Sandburg, worked for the authorization of Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site, which opened to the public in 1974. Today the park encompasses approximately 250 acres and the landscape is restored to the later historic period of approximately 1960-1967. The rural setting is well preserved with a high degree of integrity of location for its structures, roads, gardens, woodlands, and pastures.
Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site Cultural Landscape Report Amendment. Southeast Regional Office, National Park Service, Department of the Interior, 2006.
Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site. National Park Service, Department of the Interior. Accessed June 27, 2019. <https://nps.gov/carl>
Carl Sandburg Biography and Timeline. Public Broadcasting Service, American Masters: Carl Sandburg. Accessed July 1, 2019.
Connemara, Carl Sandburg Home, National Historic Landmark Form, 1968. Accessed June 27, 2019. <https://catalog.archives.gov/id/47718800>
Hart, Susan. Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site Cultural Landscape Report. Southeast Regional Office, National Park Service, Department of the Interior, 1993. <https://irma.nps.gov/DataStore/Reference/Profile/2188251>
Historic American Buildings Survey documentation of the Carl Sandburg National Historic Site. Accessed July 3, 2019. <https://www.loc.gov/pictures/search/?q=Carl+Sandburg&sp=1&co=hh>
The Poetry Foundation: Carl Sandburg. Accessed July 1, 2019. <https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/carl-sandburg>
Virtual Museum Exhibit at Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site, Museum Management Program, National Park Service, US Department of the Interior. Accessed July 1, 2019. https://www.nps.gov/museum/exhibits/carl/storyIntro.html