June 6, 2010

The Sandburg Children

"How can we tell corn fairies if we see 'em?
If we meet a corn fairy how will we know it?"
And this is the explanation the man gave to Spink who is older than Skabootch, and to Skabootch who is younger than Spink"

Charles August “Carl” Sandburg, son of August Danielsson (Johnson) Sandburg and Clara Mathilda (Andersdotter) Andersson, was born 6 Jan 1878 in Galesburg, IL. His parents had immigrated to America from northern Sweden. After meeting several “August Johnsons”working for the railroad, August renamed the family.

After college, Carl moved to Milwaukee where he worked as an advertising writer and newspaper reporter. There he met Lilian Anna Maria Elizabeth Steichen (whom he called “Paula”), daughter of Jean-Pierre Steichen and Marie Kemp and sister of the photographer Edward Steichen. She was born 3 May 1883 in Hancock, MI.

Carl and Lilian planned their wedding, wondering what warm springtime would do to “two hearts that were mad in chilly March.” They married on 13 Jun 1908 and soon moved to Chicago, where he became an editorial writer for the Chicago Daily News. His poetry was being published in Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, encouraging him to continue writing. After moving to Elmhurst, IL, Carl wrote three children’s books: Rootabaga Stories (1922), Rootabaga Pigeons (1923) and Potato Face (1930).

The Rootabaga stories were originally created for Sandburg’s daughters … Margaret, Janet and Helga … whom he nicknamed Spink, Skabootch and Swipes. The whimsical, sometimes melancholy, stories were born of his desire for American fairy tales to match American childhood. He felt that European stories involving royalty and knights were inappropriate, and so set his stories in a fictionalized American Midwest called “the Rootabaga Country”.

The Sandburg daughters were aware over the years of a box of letters treasured by their mother. The letters are the basis for the first part of Helga’s 1978 book, A Great and Glorious Romance, which represents her poignant search for identity through an understanding of her gifted parents and uncle. While the letters are interesting for many reasons, they essentially tell a love story in language often poetic and passionate. On 30 Apr 1908 (four months after they met), he wrote:

The Soul of You, all that Sea of Surging Thought and Tinted Dreams that is you, all the sky of love and earth of beauty in you, I know from your letters.

Sandburg died on 22 Jul 1967 in Flatrock. Lilian died in Feb 1977 in Asheville, NC. In Helga’s search for the true story of her family she found love, genius and pain. In her Uncle Ed she found “romance, sensibility, sweetness, gaiety”. In her mother she found “firmness and beauty”. As for her father, she said, “Like a great wheel, everything had spun around him … his wants: quiet, food, sleep, companionship. When he died, the wheel stood still, and for the family, it was never the same in the world again.”

Children of Carl and Lilian Sandburg:

Margaret “Marne” Sandburg was born 3 Jun 1911 in Chicago, IL and died aft. 1930 in WHERE. She was Spink in Rootabaga Stories. At the age of 9, Margaret was diagnosed with nocturnal epilepsy and lived all her life with her parents.

By Carl Sandburg

Many birds and the beating of wings
Make a flinging reckless hum
In the early morning at the rocks
Above the blue pool
Where the gray shadows swim lazily.
In your blue eyes, O reckless child,
I saw today many little wild wishes,
Eager as the great morning.

Janet “Jannie” Sandburg was born 27 Jun 1916 in Chicago, IL and died WHEN in WHERE. She was Skabootch in Rootabaga Stories. As a child, Janet was struck by a car and suffered headaches for many years after. She lived all her life with her parents.

Baby Toes
By Carl Sandburg

There is a blue star, Janet,
Fifteen years’ ride from us,
If we ride a hundred miles an hour.
There is a white star, Janet,
Forty years’ ride from us,
If we ride a hundred miles an hour.
Shall we ride
To the blue star
Or the white star?

Helga Sandburg was born 24 Nov 1919 in Chicago, IL and died 1969 in Flatrock, NC. She was Swipes in Rootabaga Stories. She married: (1) Joseph Thorman; (2) Unknown; and (3) George Washington Crile.

By Carl Sandburg

The wishes on this child’s mouth
Came like snow on marsh cranberries;
The tamarack kept something for her;
The wind is ready to help her shoes.
The north has loved her; she will be
A grandmother feeding geese on frosty
Mornings; she will understand
Early snow on the cranberries
Better and better then.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sandburg's youngest daughter, Helga S. Crile, dies at age 95

Published: Monday, January 27, 2014 at 9:47 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 27, 2014 at 9:47 a.m.

Helga Sandburg Crile, the youngest daughter of Pulitzer Prize winning author and poet Carl Sandburg, died at her home in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, on Sunday evening after a period of failing health, her family announced today. Mrs. Crile was 95.

Born Nov. 24, 1918, in Illinois, Mrs. Crile was the youngest of three daughters born to poet and historian Carl Sandburg and Lilian Steichen Sandburg, sister of the photographer Edward Steichen.