Renowned author Carl Sandburg loved Lake Michigan. In many ways, it influenced his writing. From 1928 until 1945, Sandburg and his family, which included three daughters, called Michigan home. During these years, he lived in the sand dunes in the southwestern Lower Peninsula. It was there that he produced some of his best known and highly regarded writings.
Born in Galesburg, Illinois, in 1878, Sandburg left school in eighth grade. For the next decade, he worked a variety of jobs. Following a stint in the U.S. Army during the Spanish-American War, Sandburg entered Lombard College, located in his hometown. He worked on his writing, publishing several poems. This success led him to tackle his state’s favorite son – Abraham Lincoln. In 1926, the first volume of Sandburg’s two-volume biography of Lincoln was published. Although his poetic style and the book’s lack of footnotes led some historians to criticize it, other reviewers admired Sandburg’s approach. The Prairie Years became a nationwide bestseller.
Exhausted by his many writings, Sandburg and his family left Chicago and spent the summer of 1926 in a cottage overlooking Lake Michigan near Harbert, a small town in Berrien County. Rather than return to Chicago at the end of the summer, the family stayed in Harbert, and soon built a rambling year-round cottage. It became their home for nearly two decades.
Swimming and long walks on the beach were part of the family’s daily routine. Working in a third-floor study, Sandburg continued his writing. Surrounded by hundreds of books and aided by his wife and daughters, Sandburg completed the second volume of his Lincoln biography. The War Years won Sandburg the 1940 Pulitzer Prize for history.
While the Sandburgs were happy in Harbert, the winters became too much. In 1945 the Sandburgs headed south, settling in North Carolina. In an interview before moving, Sandburg conceded, “I love it here. I love to skip stones. I’m going to miss it all.”
For more great stories on Michigan’s past, look to Michigan History and Michigan History for Kids magazines. For more information or a free trial issue, call (800) 366-3703 or visit www.michiganhistorymagazine.com.
You can get the scoop on Sandberg from Wikipedia and find out more about Harbert through these Harbert web sites on Absolute Michigan. I found a great site with some poems of Carl Sandberg. Here’s one with a Michigan feel:
ON THE BREAKWATER
ON the breakwater in the summer dark, a man and a
girl are sitting,
She across his knee and they are looking face into face
Talking to each other without words, singing rythms in
silence to each other.
A funnel of white ranges the blue dusk from an out-
Playing its searchlight, puzzled, abrupt, over a streak of
And two on the breakwater keep their silence, she on his
Photo credit: Office of War Information. Courtesy Library of Congress: LC-USE6-D-001429.