Those of you not familiar with Sandburg's oeuvre will know him vaguely as a Chicago poet, but his prolificacy extended beyond verse. He won one of his three Pulitizer Prizes for a multi-volume biography of fellow Illinois resident, Abraham Lincoln. The American fairy tales that he dreamed up for his three young daughters were collected in a 1922 anthology called Rootabaga Stories. Folk music fascinated him, and long before he ever published any poetry, he taught himself guitar and played popular folk songs to an eager audience.
Always The Young Strangers is the account of his life, from his childhood in Galesburg, Illinois to his enlistment in the 6th Illinois Infantry during the Spanish-American War. (He never saw combat, in case you are curious.) Sandburg has signed the book on the half-title page with a felt-tipped pen and dated the signature 1953. The name that appears above the date is the previous owner's. Her bookplate is on the verso of the front blank flyleaf, but it can probably be removed with care. There's even a tiny smudge near the 'g' in Sandburg's last name; perhaps a smudge from the great author himself?
The endpapers of the book are illustrated with photographs of a young Sandburg and his parents. Galesburg figures heavily in this book: Chapter 2. is titled "The House on Berrien Street", Chapter 7. "Along Berrien Street", and Chapter 14. "Prairie Town."
Says Sandburg in Chapter 14., "This small town of Galesburg, as I look back at it, was a piece of the American Republic. Breeds and blood strains [stains?] that figure in history were there for me, as a boy, to see and hear in their faces and their ways of talking and acting" (280).
This childhood home on Berrien Street has been turned into a museum, the Carl Sandburg Historic Site Association. The house is unimaginably tiny, a veritable doll's cottage. It is boggling to imagine Sandburg, his parents, and six siblings squeezed inside. Unfortunately, I visited in late 2008, when then-governor Rod Blagojevich had shut down Sandburg's childhood home and numerous other historic sites across Illinois, so I could only peer in the windows of the house and walk through the yard, where the ashes of Sandburg, his wife Lillian, and two of his daughters are buried. If you're a fan of Sandburg, a holiday jaunt up to Galesburg with your family and friends might be in order.
Sorry for the small cell-phone picture, but holy cow! I'm sitting on the doorstep of Carl Sandburg's childhood home!
The only other thing I'd like to say about this book is that I've just managed to sell myself on it, so you'd better grab it before I do.