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WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
Published semiannually by
the University Library
and the College of Arts and Sciences
at Western Illinois University
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BOARD OF EDITORS
DONALD W. GRIFFIN VICTOR HICKEN
JOHN E. HALLWAS DENNIS J. READER
ROBERT P. SUTTON, Oiainnan
DAVID D. ANDERSON, 7V/zWn.?a// State University
MICHAEL BECKES, Dickson Mounds Museum
RICHARD W. CROCKETT, Western Illinois University
RICHARD CROWDER, Purdue University
JAMES E. DAWIS Jllinois College
RODNEY DAVIS. Knox College
ARLIN D. FENTEM, Western Illinois University
MYRON J. FOGDE, Augustana College
PEARCE S. GROVE, Western Illinois University
THOMAS E. HELM, Western Illinois University'
WALTER B. HENDRICKSON,A/flcM/rra>' College
ROBERT JOHANNSEN, University of Illinois
FREDERICK G. JONES, Western 'Illinois University
JERRY KLEIN, 'Peoria Journal Star"
CHARLES W. MAYER, Western Illinois University
DENNIS Q. McINERNY,5raJ/ev' University
RONALD E. ^ELSOn. District Historian,
Division of Land and Historic Sites
RONALD E. NELSON, Western Illinois University
RICHARD D. POLL, Western Illinois University '
STUART STRVEWER, Northwestern University
ROALD D. TWEET, Augustana College
WILLIAM L. VRB AN, Monmouth College
ELLEN M. WHITNEY, £'c//Yor
"Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society' "
DOVGEASmESON, Knox College
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Correspondence about subscriptions, contributions, and books for review should be
sent to Chairman of the Board of Editors, Western Illinois University, Macomb,
VOLUME I SPRING 1978 NUMBER 1
William Cullen Bryant: Illinois Landowner
David J. Baxter 1
The Garden Myth In "The Prairies"
Edwin R. Booher 15
Recollections of an Illinois Woman
Mark E. Nac/<man and Darryl K. Paton 27
Carl Sandburg's Influence on Modern Poetry
Richard /-/. Crowder 45
The Regional Essays of Jerry Klein
John E. f-ia/lwas 65
Notes and Documents 87
Reviews of Books 91
Copyright 1978 by Western Illinois University
REVIEWS OF BOOKS
Kushner and Sherill, JOHN HAY: THE UNION OF POETRY
By George Monteiro. 91
Hale, JOHN HAY.
By Br en da Murphy. 94
Buikstra, HOPEWELL IN THE LOWER ILLINOIS VALLEY.
By Michael R. Beckes. 95
Johnson, HISTORY OF MERCER COUNTY.
By Rodney 0. Davis. 97
Sandburg, BREATHING TOKENS, ed. Margaret Sandburg and
Helga Sandburg, A GREAT AND GLORIOUS ROMANCE.
By Charles W. Mayer. 99
WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT:
David J. Baxter
First as editor of the NEW-YORK REVIEW AND ATHE-
NEUM MAGAZINE (1825-26), and then during his long tenure as
editor of the NEW YORK EVENING POST (1829-78), William
Cullen Bryant enthusiastically endorsed America's westward
settlement. He supported legislation for the exploration and settle-
ment of Oregon twenty-five years before that area officially be-
came a territory. In 1830 he frequently editorialized in the POST
in defense of Andrew Jackson's harsh Indian policy, especially his
controversial Indian Removal Bill which called for the gradual dis-
placement of all eastern tribes to west of the Mississippi.
During the 1830's when the rights of squatters were being debated
by the Whigs and Democrats, Bryant, a sympathizer with the radical
Locofoco wing of the Democratic party, continually advocated
stronger pre-emption legislation in order to protect a settler's right
to buy land at the minimum government price when his sections
came into market. He was captivated in 1845 by Asa Whitney's
plan for a transcontinental railroad almost a quarter century before
such a railroad became a reality, and he supported unlimited im-
migration to America because he believed that the West was so
boundless that it could absorb all who wished to emigrate from
Europe. But beyond the editorializing demanded by his position,
he was also personally involved in promoting western settlement.
Although Bryant himself never resided in the West, his
family felt and followed its allure. As the Bryant farmland at Cum-
mington, Massachusetts, became less productive, William's
brothers prepared to move west, either to Illinois or Michigan.
Arthur Bryant left for Illinois in 1830 and squatted on a farm near
Jacksonville. John Howard Bryant, the other poet in the family,
followed soon after and went to work on Arthur's farm. Cyrus
WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
Bryant, meanwhile, was attempting to establish a farm near Adrian
in Lenawee County, Michigan. By 1835 William's four brothers,
mother, and sister Louisa were all settled in the West near Prince-
ton, Illinois. Evidence suggests that William influenced the family's
final selection of the Illinois prairies as a homestead instead of the
oak-openings of south-central Michigan. As Bryant's writings
before 1830 indicate, he had long conceived of the prairies as an
ideal landscape, and the reports of the soil and scenery sent back
by his brothers could only have enhanced his image of the prairies
as a vast, fertile garden where wealth and happiness could be se-
cured with little effort. His idealization of the prairies received its
fullest expression in his 1833 poem "The Prairies," which begins:
These are the gardens of the Desert, these
The unshorn fields, boundless and beautiful,
For which the speech of England has no name—
The Prairies. I behold them for the first,
And my heart swells, while the dilated sight
Takes in the encircling vastness!'
Not only did Illinois provide, as Arthur Bryant described in
a letter to his brother Cyrus, "beautifully romantic situations for
Courtesy of the Bureau County Board of Supervisors.
THE BRYANT BROTHERS
Seated: (Left to Right) John Howard Bryant, Cyrus Bryant, Austin Bryant
Standing: (Left to Right) Arthur Bryant, William Cullen Bryant
W.C. BRYANT: ILLINOIS LANDOWNER
farms, "^ it was healthier than Michigan, and there was not the
bother of hewing down so many trees and digging up stumps to
create a workable farm. During the summer of 1831 when John
Bryant contemplated abandoning the Illinois venture to join Cyrus in
Michigan, William talked him out of it, citing the negative reports
the western writer and editor Timothy Flint had published of the
stated Later, John, in turn, tried to convince his brother Austin that
a land of promise awaited his arrival in Illinois. John wrote home to
his mother in October, 1833, that it was "high time for him [Austin]
to be on his way. It is a pity for him to spend his strength in digging
the poor soil of the Green Mountains when there is so much first rate
land ready for the plough in these parts, where he can get a better
living than he gets there with one half the labor. "^ Cyrus too, once
he left Michigan, discovered the truth of his brothers' felicitous
reports and described his farm in the same pastoral mode all his
brothers were inclined to use. "There is a great variety of fruit on
it," he wrote his mother, "some sandy knolls making beautiful
places for buildings, for fruit trees and grape vines— a small creek
running through it having excellent bottom land on its margin for
meadow land,— and as much good first rate arable land as we
should ever want, & timber tolerably convenient— firewood enough
Bryant seriously considered joining the westward migration
as he grew increasingly dissatisfied with his strenuous editorial
duties for the NEW YORK EVENING POST. In 1833 he thought of
someday buying a farm in Illinois near his brothers, hopefully upon
his return from his first visit to Europe planned for the following
year. He and his wife wanted the farm "in order that," Frances
Bryant wrote, "we may have a place where on to rest (if we need
one) when we return."^ The idea of moving west was strong in the
poet again in 1836. He wrote to his brother John, "I think of making
some disposition of my interest in the EVENING POST and coming
out to the western country to try my fortune. ... I have had my fill of
town life, and begin to wish to pass a little time in the country."
William never did make the move, but he did visit Illinois in 1832,
1840, 1846, and 1851, and he invested periodically in land in and
near Princeton from which he received a moderate profit.
On April 10, 1832, Bryant wrote his friend Richard Henry
WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
Dana, Sr., an early editor of the NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW and
father of the author of TWO YEARS BEFORE THE MAST, that he
was going to Illinois "in the course of about four weeks, with no
other purpose in the world than to look at it/'^ln truth, he was also
interested in buying Illinois real estate. Shortly after arriving in
Jacksonville in June, 1832, William and John set out on horseback
for a tour of the prairies. William wrote his wife Frances, "The first
day brought us to Springfield the capital of Sangamon County
where the land office for this district is kept and where I was de-
sirous of making some inquiries as to the lands in market. "^From
Springfield William and his brother rode north toward Pekin,
crossing the Salt and Mackinaw rivers, and stopping for the night at
a place called Pleasant Grove with a man Bryant referred to only as
Shurtliff. William described the area in the same letter to his wife.
Shurtliff lives near the north end of Pleasant Grove and within four nniies of
the northern limit of the lands in market. The soil is fertile and well watered, the
streams being rather more rapid than in Jacksonville and the region more than
usually healthy. It is within eight miles of Pekin on the Illinois river, so that it
is within convenient distance of a market, there is plenty of stone within a few
miles and sawmills have been erected on some of the streams. I am strongly
inclined to purchase a quarter section in this place. ^°
In writing his mother after his return from Illinois, William related
that he had found a quarter section of 160 acres in Tazewell County
that he especially liked and had left John the money to buy it.^"*
Apparently the transaction was never made, however, for there
is neither a record of it in the Tazewell County Recorder's office,
nor did William ever write of the purchase again. Almost all of the
land in which William Cullen Bryant speculated lay in Bureau
County near Princeton, Illinois, where his brothers moved in the
spring of 1833.
The inducement that kept America moving west was the
promise of cheap land, for public land purchased at the minimum
government price of $1.25 per acre could be sold at a substantial
profit once an area became more settled. Speculation was a game at
which everyone along the frontier and many back East played. The
Bryant family was no exception, and William and his brothers,
especially John, were more successful at it than most. The involve-
ment of the Bryant brothers in the political affairs of Bureau County
gave them an advantage, carefully exploited, in the very risky
business of land speculation. Not only were John and Cyrus Bryant
W.C. BRYANT: ILLINOIS LANDOWNER
instrumental in the maneuverings that led to the formation of
Bureau County, John was also the county's first Recorder of Deeds,
and Cyrus the first Circuit Clerk. Both held a variety of political posi-
tions in the county throughout their lifetimes. When the Bryant
family first moved to Princeton in 1833, the town, as yet unincor-
porated, was part of Putnam County. The nearest land office was at
Springfield. In January, 1833, the citizens of Princeton petitioned
the state government at Vandalia for the establishment of a new
land district for their region. Whoever became the land agent, re-
corder, or receiver in the land office would be in favorable position
to speculate in land, to facilitate land purchases by absentee land-
owners for a fee or a share of the land, or to lend money to new-
comers at exorbitant interest rates of up to sixty per cent.^^Cyrus
Bryant tried to use William's influential positions as editor of the
POST and friend of Democratic congressman Gulian C. Verplanck of
New York to secure a position in the new land office. William wrote
to Verplanck about the matter on January 25, 1833.
My reason for writing at present, however, is, that I wish to get for my brother,
in case the [land] district is established, the place of either Register or Receiver in
the land office. Which of these offices is best I do not know; you perhaps may;
of course he would prefer the most lucrative. He has all the qualifications necessary
of both character and capacity, and being of a studious turn, would be perhaps
allowed leisure for the prosecution of his favorite pursuit, the natural sciences. I
need not say how much you would oblige, by doing what may occur to you as
likely to promote his appointment.''^
The Bryant petition failed, however, most likely because the poli-
tical power of Putnam County still resided in the county seat at
Hennepin, and not with the newcomers at Princeton. But when
Bureau County was formed in 1337 and Princeton incorporated as a
city in 1838, both John and Cyrus Bryant won appointments that
could aid them and William in the buying and selling of land.
The first years of John, Cyrus, and Arthur Bryant in Prince-
ton were financially difficult. In order to raise cash Arthur Bryant
taught school for a time, and John and Cyrus borrowed heavily. The
family's Illinois venture would have collapsed if William had not
provided emergency funds. On April 25, 1833, William wrote his
mother at Cummington about the aid he had furnished.
I "^ent Arthur $100 according to his request. As CyriB also wanted to borrow mon-
ey and as his case is even harder than Arthur's I sent him $100 also. This with what
I lent him before makes $300. I have as I suppose you know advanced to John $200.
I have also $300 in Illinois of which $200 are at 25 per cent and $100 at 33 1/3
per cent. I have written to Cyrus and John to take the interest of this money as
it accrues. '•'*
WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
Later in April William would send Cyrus an additional $250. John
Bryant wrote of his tenuous situation in Illinois to his mother in
December, 1833. "I am very poor. If my debts were paid, I should
not be worth a farthing. William's assistance is all that has held me
up." During his first year in Princeton, nevertheless, John, despite
his poverty, began buying land with the money he borrowed, mostly
town lots ranging in size from one to eight acres and in price from
five to twenty dollars, and often in partnership with Lazarus Reeve,
whose son Tracy later married Austin Bryant's daughter Sarah.
In 1833 William also began his pattern of land investment which
would continue until 1878.
On August 15, 1833, William wrote to Cyrus,
I have concluded to take the two town lots you speak of, as I believe I have already
mentioned in a letter to you or John. I have written to John to pay for them out of
the money that is to come from Cutler. Since your foolish law limiting the rate of
interest to twelve percent, the effect of which will be to keep money out of your
state, I have no doubt it is better to invest money in land than to lend it. It must
be worth 33 or 25 per cent to the settler, or he would not offer it— if so, it must be
worth nearly as much to one who employs it in the same way with the settler—
that is, who invest it in land."'^
These lots, fifty-two and sixty-nine in the town of Princeton, were
purchased in Cyrus Bryant's name and not officially "sold" to
William until 1837. The sale of the lots some years later illustrates
the rising value of Illinois land in the mid-nineteenth century.
William purchased both lots for five dollars. He sold lot fifty-two
on January 16, 1865, to a Cyril Rawson for $1,600, and lot sixty-
nine on April 7, 1855, to a Dolan P. Bingham for $2,500. What use
was made of the lots between the times they were bought and sold
is not clear. Lot sixty-nine definitely had a house on it when it was
sold in 1855, and since this lot was to have been Fanny Bryant's,
William's daughter, the house was perhaps built according to plans
she made which were sent to John Bryant in 1846yA letter dated
March 29, 1855, discusses the sale.
I have hesitated somewhat to accept Mr. Bingham's proposition for this occasion.
When I had the two lots entered I designed one of them for each of my daughters.
The lot no. 69 was to be Fanny's as I have made it so by my will. If it is to be sold
the proceeds ought to be secured to her, so that she could receive the interest.
I have therefore concluded to have the place sold for the price you mention and
the amount secured to Fanny .... So, if Mr. Bingham buys the house and the lot
let the proceeds be secured to Mrs. Fanny Bryant Godwin of Rosly, Queens County
Long Island— or rather New York, for she is yet in New York— but let me have
the papers. ^®
W.C. BRYANT: ILLINOIS LANDOWNER
If houses were built on the lots, they were probably rented for a
number of years before being sold, adding further to William Cullen
Bryant's income from Illinois land investment.
From the extensive correspondence between William Cullen
Bryant and his brother John, and from the records of the Bureau
County Court in Princeton, the following pattern emerges of
William's investments in Illinois real estate. John acted indepen-
dently as William's agent throughout the decades during which they
speculated, often making initial purchases in his own name and then
"reselling" the land to his famous brother. William often did not
know until months later that he had acquired more land. On March
25, 1855, William wrote to John, "I have a deed from you and
another from Olds, both of them I suppose at Princeton, which I
shall be obliged to you if you would look up and send me. At the
same time you will give me a list of my lands in Illinois, which I am a
little uncertain about in the many changes which have been made."^®
Most likely, William informed John of an amount he wished to in-
vest, and John would buy the land he believed would bring a profit.
This was the case at least for the extensive purchases of 1860 where
Courtesy of the Bureau County Board of Supervisors.
John Howard Bryant's Cabin in Princeton, III. Built by hinn in June, 1834.
WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
William limited his investment to $20,000 when John wanted him to
go higher. William wrote to John on August 20, 1860 about the sum.
I wrote you not long since that I wish to invest only $20,000 at the West— repairs
and fencing Included. I have since received your letter relating to the matter. In
the $20,000 I do not mean to include the fencing of the lands which I already
owned, and which you thought of raising wheat upon. But all the new purchases
with the incidental expenses I wish brought within that sum. Having that amount
to invest, I wish to be understood literally that I desire literally to stop when it is
exhausted, and make no subsequent additions at least until I am in funds to do so. 20
Very little of the land William bought was left unimproved, most of
it being rented to new settlers until land prices warranted selling.
William occasionally arranged for his brother-in-law, Justin H.
Olds, who owned a brick kiln, to build houses and fences on his land,
thereby further increasing its value. Fences were an expensive but
necessary measure to keep neighbors from using the land to graze
William and John carefully watched the factors affecting the
land market. In 1848 William told John not to sell any of his land
until they could see what effect a new canal might have on prices.
With the natural increase in land values, the capital improvements
they made, rents from tenants, and interest from mortgages (seven
per cent or a portion of the crop) when the land was finally sold,
William's profits were assured. Of the more than 2,300 officially
recorded acres he purchased and sold in Bureau and Lee counties
between 1833 and 1878, he was forced to sell only 280 acres at a loss.
Two quarter sections were given as gifts to his niece Julia Louisa
Olds, and nephew John H. Olds, in 1872. It is possible, however,
that William owned more land than was officially recorded. His
letters hint at this, and an early history of Ohio Township, Illinois,
mentions the sale of some land owned by William Cullen Bryant to a
Mr. Conner, of which there is no record .^^ Some of the land pur-
chased with William's money probably remained in John's name.
By the extravagant standards of Illinois land speculators in
mid-century, when entrepreneurs like Henry L. Ellsworth bought
tens of thousands of acres at a time (18,000 in 1835 alone), William
Cullen Bryant's investments were small.^^ Even if he did keep some
of his land in his brothers' names, his total acquisitions over a forty-
five year period could hardly have exceeded 3,000 acres. Yet, in a
sense, it is ironic that Bryant invested along the frontier at all.
Because of his familiarity with the tenuousness of his brothers'
W.C. BRYANT: ILLINOIS LANDOWNER
frontier beginnings and his belief in the fundamental right of the
western settler not to be threatened by eastern businessmen,
Bryant fought in his editorials for squatters' rights. In 1837 during
the pre-emption controversy, Bryant referred to squatters as being
"adventurous," "moral," "intelligent," "some of the best and purest
men it has ever been our fortune to be acquainted with," and he
printed this argument in their defense: ^^
Nearly all that portion of this territory lying north of the Illinois, and bounded
on the west, north, and east, by the Mississippi, Wisconsin, and Rock Rivers
respectively, has been for sometime past in the market and subject to entry at the
land office at ten shillings per acre. This at most does not exceed one tenth part of
its actual value. This fact having become known to eastern capitalists, immense
tracts of the best land have been purchased by individuals or companies — not for
the purpose of improving it; but merely to leave it entirely useless until they can
sell it to actual settlers at vastly augmented prices, or settle it with their own
tenants! You will readily perceive what an incubus is thus fastened upon the settle-
ment and the prosperity of the country. . , . Immense tracts of country in Illinois and
Wisconsin are thinly settled by persons having no legal title to the land they
cultivate. Congress have at various times passed laws giving the right of pre-
emption to persons under similar circumstances, thus offering a direct encourage-
ment for the settlement of the public lands in this manner. No such law is, however,
in existence at the present time, so that the settler has now no legal security for
his title. 24
Bryant, however, in 1837, was an absentee landlord, even
though a small one, buying cheaply and selling at a profit to new
settlers, or, while land values increased, renting his land to tenant
farmers and reinvesting the proceeds. The Jacksonian Democrat
who publicly advocated cheap western land and the protection of
settlers from fluctuating land prices, privately engaged in actions
which compromised his principles, at least when those principles
were formed in the 1830's when the land around Princeton was a
frontier. Perhaps in the 1830's it was Bryant's compromise of prin-
ciple even more than lack of funds that kept his investments so
modest. The fact remains, nevertheless, that for most of his life
William Cullen Bryant had a deep personal interest in the growth of
the state of Illinois.
10 WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
William Cullen Bryant's Land Transactions in Illinois.
Compiled from Bureau County Court Records, Princeton, Illinois.
July 14, 1835:
Purchased from the United States Government for $300— the
Southeast Quarter and also the East Half of the Southwest Quarter
of Section Number Seventeen, North of Range Nine, Bureau
County, containing 240 acres. Sold on February 28, 1851, to John
H. Bryant for $200.
Sept. 20, 1837:
Purchased from Cyrus Bryant for $5.00— Lots Number Fifty-two
and Sixty-nine in the town of Princeton. Lot Number Fifty-two
was sold on January 16, 1865, to Cyril Rawson for $1,600. Lot num-
ber Sixty-nine was sold on April 7, 1855, to Dolan P. Bingham
January 10, 1839:
Purchased from John H. Bryant for $100— the West Half of the
Northeast Quarter of Section Number Twenty-five in Township
Number Sixteen, North of Range Six, Bureau County, containing
eighty acres. Sold on September 14, 1853, to Charles Atkinson for
March 14, 1844:
Purchased from John H. Bryant for $500— the East Half of the
Southeast Quarter and the East Half of the West Half of the South-
east Quarter of Section Number Five in Township Number Sixteen,
North of Range Seven, Bureau County, containing 120 acres.
Sold on August 3, 1846, to Jacob Galer for $450 cash plus mortgage
terms. As part of this same purchase Galer obtained 120 acres
from John H. Bryant. Galer's mortgage was held by both William
and John and required him to pay 1,900 bushels of wheat over
the next four years.
March 25, 1851:
Purchased from John H. Bryant for $200— the Northeast Quarter of
W.C. BRYANT: ILLINOIS LANDOWNER 11
Section Number Fourteen; the East Half of the Northeast Quarter of
Section Number Eleven; the West Half of the Northwest Quarter
of Section Number Twelve; and the Southwest Quarter of Section
Number Twelve, all in Township Number Eighteen, North of Range
Nine; and also the Southeast Quarter of Section Number Twenty-
one in Township Number Seventeen, North of Range Eight, all in
Bureau County, containing in all 640 acres. Sold the Northeast
Quarter of Section Number Fourteen to Lyman Pratt on July 24,
1969, for $6,400. Sold the South Half of the Southwest Quarter of
Section Number Twelve in Township Number Eighteen on January
23, 1867, to Dennis Hayes for $2,500, $500 down plus $500 a year
at seven per cent interest for four years. Sold the Northwest Quarter
of the Southwest Quarter of Section Number Twelve in Township
Number Eighteen on January 23, 1867, to J. H. Bonless for $1,500,
$250 down plus $250 a year at seven per cent interest for four
years. Sold the Northeast Quarter of the Southwest Quarter of
Section Number Twelve in Township Number Eighteen on January
31, 1867, to John McKavitt for $1,250, $250 down plus $250 a year
at seven per cent interest for four years. Sold the Southeast Quarter
of Section Number Twenty-one in Township Number Seventeen on
July 16, 1869, to William Morgan for $4,500, $1,000 down plus
$875 a year at seven per cent interest for four years. Bryant's
sales of other tracts in this group have not been recorded.
June 10, 1854:
Purchased from John H. Bryant for $200— the Southeast Quarter
of Section Number Thirty-six in Township Number Nineteen, North
of Range Eight, Lee County, containing 160 acres. Sold on October
22, 1868 to James Fuller for $3,200.
Purchased from John H. Bryant for $640— the Northeast Quarter
of Section Number Twenty-nine in Township Number Eighteen,
North of Range Eight, Bureau County, containing 160 acres. Sold
on October 16, 1875, to Thomas J. Westbrook for $4,500.
October 25, 1858:
Purchased from William Carter for $3,100— Lot Five on the East
Half of Ithe Southwest Quarter and the West Half of the Southeast
12 WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
Quarter of Section Number Thirty-three; and also the Northeast
Quarter of Section Number Twenty-one, less twenty acres, in
Township Number Seventeen, North of Range Eight, Bureau
County, containing in all 140.5 acres. Sold Lot Five on April 15,
1878, to Thomas Bowin for $1.00. (Bowin sold this lot a month
later for $40. It is not clear why Bryant sold the lot for the token
price of a dollar.) Sold the Northeast Quarter of Section Number
Twenty-one on July 19, 1869, for $5,000 plus the 1869 taxes on
the property. John H. Bryant held the mortgage on $1850 of the
purchase price, payable at $462.50 a year plus seven per cent
interest for four years.
July 18, 1860:
Purchased from William Blake for $3,000— the Southeast Quarter
of Section NumberThirty-three in Township Number Sixteen,
North of Range Eight, Bureau County, containing 160 acres.
"Sold" to his niece Julia Louisa Olds on November 15, 1872, for
July 21, 1860:
Purchased from Jones P. Cooper for $4,755— the Southwest Quarter
of Section Number Eighteen in Township Number Sixteen, North
of Range Eight, Bureau County, less forty acres from the East
side, containing in all 117 acres. Sold on April 8, 1868, to William
Norton for $3,500.
July 31, 1860:
Purchased from William Porter for $2,000— the West Half of the
Northeast Quarter of Section Number Twenty-eight in Township
Number Seventeen, North of Range Eight, Bureau County, con-
taining eight acres; and also part of the Northwest Quarter of the
Southeast Quarter of Section Number Twenty-seven in Township
Number Seventeen, North of Range Eight, Bureau County, con-
taining 26.96 acres. For the sale of the West Half of the Northeast
Quarter of Section Number Twenty-eight, see the entry below for
March 27, 1861 . Sold the part of the Northwest Quarter of the South-
east Quarter of Section Number Twenty-seven on October 28,
1864, to David Warrington for $350.
W.C. BRYANT: ILLINOIS LANDOWNER 13
August 17, 1860:
Purchased from Robert Hauck for $3,970— the South Half of the
Southwest Quarter of Section Number Thirty, less twenty acres,
and the Northwest Quarter of Section Number Thirty-one, all in
Township Number Sixteen, North of Range Nine, Bureau County,
containing in all 264.72 acres. Sold all on December 6, 1867, to
Robert Kitterman for $6,000.
October 7, 1860:
Purchased from H. A. Starkweather for $4,000— the Southeast
Quarter of Section Number Thirty-three in Township Number
Sixteen, North of Range Eight, Bureau County, containing 160
acres. "Sold" to his nephew John H. Olds on November 25, 1772,
for $1 .00. See entry for July 18, above.
March 27, 1861:
Purchased from Thomas Vaughan for $1,600— the East Half of
the Northeast Quarter of Section Number Twenty-eight in Township
Number Seventeen, North of Range Eight, Bureau County, contain-
ing 160 acres. Sold all of the Northeast Quarter of Section Number
Twenty-eight (see entry for July 31, 1860, above) on September
28, 1866, to William Morgan for $5,600, $2,400 down plus $800
a year at seven per cent interest for four years.
14 WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
■"the POLITICAL WORKS OF WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT, Roslyn edition,
ed. Henry C. Sturges and Richard Stoddard (1903; rpt. New York: AMS Press,
1969), p. 130.
2Arthur Bryant to Cyrus Bryant, November 29, 1831. Bryant Family Associa-
tion Papers, Bureau County Historical Society, Princeton, Illinois.
3william Cullen Bryant II and Thomas G. Voss, eds., THE LETTERS OF
WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT, 1809-1836 (New York: Fordham Univ. Press,
1975), p. 306.
'^John Bryant to Austin Bryant, October 6, 1833, Bryant Family Association
SCyrus Bryant to Sarah Snell Bryant, October 8, 1832, Bryant Family Asso-
6 Keith Huntress and Fred W. Lorch, eds., "Bryant and Illinois: Further
Letters of the Bryant Family," THE NEW ENGLAND QUARTERLY, 15 (1943),
7parke Godwin, LIFE OF WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT (New York: D.
Appleton, 1883), I, 322.
^LETTERSOF BRYANT, p. 325.
9|bid., p. 345.
"•■•ibid., p. 356.
■•^Paul W. Gates, LANDLORDS AND TENANTS ON THE PRAIRIE FRON-
TIER (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1973), pp. 52-53.
^^LETTERSOF BRYANT, p. 368.
J^lbid., pp. 371-72.
"■^John Bryant to Sara Snell Bryant, December 25, 1833, Bryant Family
■•^LETTERSOF BRYANT, p. 378.
^^William Cullen Bryant to John Bryant, September 15, 1846, Bryant-Good-
win Oollection, New York Public Library.
■•^-'Bryant and Illinois," p. 642.
■•Slbid., p. 641.
20|bid., p. 645.
2'' Frederick J. Walter, "Some Ohio History of Great Interest," EARLY
PIONEERS AND SOME EARLY HISTORY OF THE VILLAGE AND TOWNSHIP
OF OHIO, Scrapbook of the Bureau County Historical Society (Princeton, Illinois,
n.d.), p. 12.
22LANDLORDS AND TENANTS, p. 241. Henry Ellsworth (1791-1858),
lawyer and agriculturalist, was born in Windsor, Connecticut. He became inter-
ested in western land in 1832 during a tour of the Southwest in his capacity as
superintendent of the settlement of the Indian tribes forced west of the Mississippi
by Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal Bill of 1830. Ellsworth became the first
United States Commissioner of Patents in 1835, the year he also began investing
heavily in the Grand Prairie region of Indiana and Illinois. He eventually took up
residence in Lafayette, Indiana. At the time of his death he owned over 120,000
acres in Indianaand Illinois.
23NEW YORK EVENING POST, 3 Feb., 1837, p. 2.
24NEW YORK EVENING POST, 1 Feb., 1837, p. 2.
THE GARDEN MYTH EN
Edwin R. Booher
One of the earliest major poems about the Midwest is William
Cullen Bryant's "The Prairies." Written after a visit to Illinois in
1832, the poem clearly embodies significant forms of American
idealism and denotes the emergence of the West as an important
literary theme. For several reasons— not the least important of
which is the difference between what Bryant saw on the frontier and
his poetical treatment of that experience— the poem is an instructive
excursion into American myth.
The lengthy journey from New York to visit two of his brothers
disclosed to Bryant the realities of life in Illinois, and the letters he
wrote to his wife indicate diverse and conflicting impressions.^
In the poem, however, the experience is transformed into a pastoral
vision of the prairies, a romantic blank verse treatment on the order
of his famous "Thanatopsis" and "A Forest Hymn" of the sublime
aspects of Illinois scenery. First published in KNICKERBOCKER
MAGAZINE in December, 1833, and subsequently included in
Bryant's 1834 and later collections of poems, "The Prairies" has
been generally praised and often anthologized. Bryant wrote other
poems based on the trip to Illinois— "The Hunter of the Prairies"
and "The Painted Cup"— and visited Illinois again in 1846 after his
mother and brothers had moved to Princeton; but "The Prairies"
is unquestionably his most significant poetic treatment of western
The route Bryant chose allowed him to see much of the Ameri-
can landscape. Leaving New York on May 22, 1832, he traveled by
stagecoach, boat, and (briefly) train to the Ohio River. Then, by way
of Cincinnati and Louisville, steamboats took him down to the
Mississippi to St. Louis and up the Illinois River to a landing about
twenty miles from Jacksonville. He arrived on the twelfth of June.^
16 WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
Interestingly enough, Bryant's western journey coincided with
relevant historical circumstances that are excluded from the poem.
At various river stops, he heard talk of Indian attacks in Illinois and
informed his wife that he would have to return by the same route
instead of crossing the prairie to Chicago as planned. A long-
standing conflict between whites and Indians had resulted the pre-
vious year in the use of a volunteer army to drive Black Hawk and
his Sauk and Fox people from their village at the junction of the Rock
and Mississippi rivers. On April 5, 1832, Black Hawk and about a
thousand persons, perhaps half of whom were warriors, recrossed
the Mississippi and moved about forty miles up the Rock River,
intending to exercise what they considered was their right to farm
the land there and expecting to gain support from other Indian
tribes as well as from the British if again confronted by the militia.
As preparations were made to send both the Illinois militia and
the United States Army against him. Black Hawk came to realize
that aid would not be given and that he could not remain with his
people and fight. On May 14, a week before Bryant's departure from
New York, Black Hawk attempted to confer under a flag of truce
with an advance detachment of the militia. However, the undisci-
plined militiamen took his messengers prisoner, fired upon those
who had been sent to watch from a distance, and then murdered one
of the captives.^ Following that incident and Black Hawk's re-
taliatory charge, the Indians were pursued through several encoun-
ters and, several weeks after Bryant's return to the East, were
trapped as they attempted to cross the Mississippi. On August 2,
in what is called the Bad Axe Massacre, the troops slaughtered
men, women, and children who were plunging into the river in
their desperate scramble for safety. By the time the poem was
completed for publication the following year, Black Hawk had been
imprisoned for several months and, still a prisoner, given a "celeb-
rity's" tour of eastern cities before being freed at Rock Island.
In September, 1833, most remaining tribes had been evicted by
treaty from territory in Illinois.
Nor were conditions in frontier towns idyllic. John Bryant was
a clerk in Jacksonville, which the poet described to his wife as "a
horribly ugly village, composed of little shops and dwellings, stuck
close together around a dirty square, in the middle of which stands
THE GARDEN MYTH IN "THE PRAIRIES" 17
the ugliest of possible brick court-houses, with a spire and weather-
cock on its top." Arthur Bryant farmed near the village, living in a
two-room log cabin with kitchen and parlor separated by an open-
roofed passage "large enough to drive a wagon through," as Wil-
liam put it. Arthur was not present to welcome his brother, however,
having prudently returned to Massachusetts for a suitable wife to
share his western venture.'*
Accompanied by John, William enthusiastically explored the
prairie, with its marvelous stretches of flat lands covered by tall
grasses and myriad wild flowers. Soon after his arrival, he and his
brother set out on horseback toward Springfield and rode about a
hundred miles over vast prairies with scattered settlements near
wooded groves and rivers. Bryant found the countryside to be "the
most salubrious" and fertile he had ever seen; "at the same time,"
he added, "I do not think it beautiful. Some of the views, however,
from the highest parts of the prairie are what, I have no doubt,
some would call beautiful in the highest degree. ..." Perhaps he
was thinking of these when he wrote the opening lines of "The
The fresh savannas of the Sangamon
.♦ Here rise in gentle swells, and the long grass
Is nnixed with rustling hazels.^
In his letters Bryant was also candid about the people and the
towns he saw. About thirty-five miles from Jacksonville, he and his
brother stopped at the federal land office in Springfield to learn
whether any land was available. He found the houses there "not so
good" as those of Jacksonville, "and the whole town having an
appearance of dirt and discomfort." After spending the night in a
"filthy tavern," he and his brother rode north for several days,
Bryant himself considering the purchase of a quarter section of land
not far from Pekin. Once, at nightfall, the travelers found them-
selves on the edge of an empty stretch of prairie fifteen miles wide
and sought lodging in the only habitation available, a one-room
cabin. They found a man sick with fever, a half-dozen or more chil-
dren, "brown with dirt," and several other travelers. The harried
woman of the household gave them food about ten o'clock, and they
slept on the floor— twenty men, women, and children in the same
WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
Courtesy of Charles Scribner's Sons from William Cullen Bryant, by Charles H. Brown.
Bryant at the age of thirty. Painting by Samuel F. B. Morse.
THE GARDEN MYTH IN "THE PRAIRIES" 19
room. At another cabin Bryant asked for corn for the horses and
saw "a fat dusky-looking woman, barefoot, with six children as dirty
as pigs and shaggy as bears. She was cleansing one of them and
cracking certain unfortunate insects between her thumb-nails.
I was very glad when she told me she had no corn nor oats. " Shortly
thereafter, however, they spotted a clean-faced youngster and,
pursuing that sign of civilization, found hospitality to their liking,
even though the woman had but one spoon with which to serve them
and that with only half a handle.
On the return to Jacksonville, Bryant encountered one of the
thirty-day companies called up in the Black Hawk campaign,
which introduced him to "a hardlooking set of men" who were
"unkept and unshaved, wearing shirts of dark calico, and some-
times calico capotes." The captain of the company was a lanky
young man who amused Bryant with his clever talk and frontier
wit. Years later, Bryant learned that the young man he had met
that day was Abraham Lincoln, whom he would memorialize in
1865 as "slow to smite, and swift to spare,/ Gentle and merciful
The day after Arthur returned from Massachusetts with his
new wife, Bryant left for New York by the river route, concluding
one of his letters with the remark that his experience must be
treated in "the only form of expression in which it can be properly
uttered." That form was implicit in a letter he wrote in October:
"These prairies, of a soft, fertile garden soil, and a smooth undu-
lating surface, on which you may put a horse to full speed, covered
with high thinly growing grass, full of weeds and gaudy flowers,
and destitute of bushes or trees, perpetually brought to my mind
the idea of their having once been cultivated."
Bryant's supposition that the prairies were gardens in antiquity
led him to use the agrarian myth, which informs the entire poem.
As Henry Nash Smith and Leo Marx have shown, the American
pastoral myth is a significant mode of belief in which the land-
scape, particularly the Middle West, has long been viewed as a kind
of garden, an idealized middle ground of nature and art, lying mid-
way between the primitive forest and populous city.^ "We are a
people of cultivators . . . united by the silken bands of mild govern-
ment, all respecting the laws, without dreading their power, be-
WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
Copyright © 1957 by The Regents of the University of California; reprinted by permission
of the University of California Press.
William Cullen Bryant. Painting by Frank Buchser, 1868.
THE GARDEN MYTH IN "THE PRAIRIES" 21
cause they are equitable," Crevecoeur wrote in the eighteenth
century .^And, as Marx summarizes it, LETTERS FROM AN AMER-
ICAN FARMER is a classic illustration of the myth: "Instead of
Arcadia, we have the wild yet potentially bucolic terrain of the
North American continent; instead of the shepherd, the indepen-
dent, democratic husbandman with his plausible 'rural scheme';
instead of the language of a decadent pastoral poetry, the exuberant
idiom, verging toward the colloquial, of the farmer. . . ."'° The most
notable political advocate of the myth was Thomas Jefferson, in
whose NOTES ON THE STATE OF VIRGINIA the familiar defense
of the agrarian society is found: "Those who labor in the earth are
the chosen people of God, if ever He had a chosen people, whose
breasts He has made His peculiar deposit for substantial and
genuine virtue. "^^
Many of the settlers who came to Illinois were deeply con-
scious of their roles in creating a new society on the fertile land,
and the Bryants were no doubt among them. In the presence of so
persistent an American belief, it is not surprising that Bryant's
Illinois experience is assimilated into it. The opening lines of
"The Prairies" establish his use of the myth:
These are the gardens of the Desert, these
The unshorn fields, boundless and beautiful.
For which the speech of England has no name—
Having announced his pastoral theme, Bryant then relates how
the Creator himself prepared a sublime setting for those who will
cultivate the prairies:
The hand that built the firmament hath heaved
And smoothed these verdant swells, and sown their slopes
With herbage, planted them with island-groves,
And hedged them round with forests. (II. 25-28)
Such natural gardens for a chosen people are "Fitting floor/ For
this magnificent temple of the sky" (II. 28-29), where the flowers
below "rival the constellations," and the heavens bend down
upon the earth in love. The hoofbeats of the horse create a "sac-
rilegious sound," disturbing the "dead of other days" who built
great mounds overlooking the Mississippi and "in the dim forests
crowded with old oaks" (I. 44).
Although Bryant is not explicit, the ancient inhabitants of the
22 WESTERN ILLINOIS REG ION A L STUDIES
prairie are clearly analogous to the Arcadians of old and were "a
disciplined and populous race" that built the mounds while the
Greeks were yet quarrying marble to build the Parthenon (II. 46-
50). Like shepherds of the Golden Age they were rewarded for
their artful affinity with nature:
These ample fields
Nourished their harvests, here their herds were fed,
When haply by their stalls the bison lowed,
And bowed his maned shoulder to the yoke. (II. 50-53)
A race so skilled in the agrarian arts that it domesticated the
buffalo might well be expected to excel in the other pastoral arts
of love and poetry, as indeed it did:
. . . and lovers walked, and wooed
In a forgotten language, and old tunes.
From instruments of unremembered form,
Gave the soft winds a voice. (II . 55-58)
Implicitly, the gardens of the desert are the physical and
spiritual legacy bequeathed by that happy people to western
settlers. Et in Arcadia ego , or in nineteenth-century terms, "thus
change the forms of being" (I. 86). The civilization of Mound Build-
ers was destroyed, Bryant relates, by the invasion of hunter-
tribes, which signify the force of primitivism impinging upon the
garden. With one exception, the peaceful cultivators were slaugh-
tered as the prairie fell under the dominion of the red men.
The treatment of the Mound Builders and red men as two
distinct races undergirds Bryant's use of the pastoral myth, with
its counterforce of primitivism, and derives from another nine-
teenth-century belief generally discarded today.^-' In a popular
history which Bryant collaborated in writing in 1876, a full chapter
is devoted to the Mound Builders, who are described as a shadowy
people "of a singular degree of civilization" antedating the Indians
found here by discoverers from the old world.^* It was they who
built "the mighty mounds/ That overlook the river" (II. 42-43),
which Bryant had seen at St. Louis and which are regarded today as
the relics of the Mississippian Indian culture. As for contemporary
tribes, the comment in the history reflects a popular misconception
that Bryant wrote or allowed to stand, at least, through editorial
prerogative: "It seems irrational to assume that such a people,
whose contact for two centuries and a half with the culture of
THE GARDEN MYTH IN 'THE PRAIRIES" 23
another race has been unproductive of any good, can have once
fallen from a semi-civilization possessed by their ancestors, but of
which they have neither distinct inheritance nor even dim tradi-
The force of primitivism, epitomized by the "red man" in the
poem, does not itself escape the mutability of being nor perhaps
the gentle breezes of the garden landscape. According to Bryant's
account, "hunter-tribes, warlike and fierce," savagely destroyed
the peaceful civilization of Mound Builders. After the plain had
been heaped with corpses and all but one slain, that lone survivor
returned to the captured stronghold in despair, expecting nothing
better than death:
Man's better nature triumphed then. Kind words
Welcomed and soothed him; the rude conquerors
Seated the captive with their chiefs; he chose
A bride among their maidens, and at length
Seemed to forget— yet ne'er forgot. . . . (II. 79-83)
The recent conflict between whites and Indians in Illinois is com-
pletely absent from the poem. The explanation given for the In-
dians' departure is that the forms of being change and
The red man, too,
Has left the blooming wilds he ranged so long,
And, nearer to the Rocky Mountains, sought
A wilder hunting-ground. (II. 89-92)
Although the prairies have been the scene of earlier conflict
and sorrow, they remain untainted. The poem concludes with a
description of a natural garden in which men may live in perfect
harmony. The birds have scarcely "learned the fear of man,"
and the "sliding reptiles of the ground,/ [are] Startlingly beauti-
ful" (II. 106-08). For the moment, it seems inevitable that humanity
will fulfill here in this new Eden its old Utopian dream. Actual con-
ditions that Bryant had seen are relegated to the prose; no Martin
Chuzzlewit will suffer the ague in these surroundings.""^
Now, as the poet's horse moves over the prairie, in a bucolic
and prophetic reverie, Bryant envisions an advancing multitude
to build anew on the foundations of that earlier race of gardeners.
Listening long to the "domestic hum" of the bee, the poet hearkens
to still another sound:
24 WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
From the ground
Comes up the laugh of children, the soft voice
Of maidens, and the sweet and solemn hymn
Of Sabbath worshippers. The low of herds
Blends with the rustling of the heavy grain
Over the dark brown furrows. (II. 117-22)
Destined to build new lives on prairies across the continent, the
colonists will doubtlessly be as skilled as their predecessors in the
agrarian and aeolian arts. Their virtue will be that of the child, the
maiden, and the Sabbath worshipper.
The reports of travelers and of pioneers who settled the
prairies— at first near the timber groves and later on the open
plain— leave no doubt of the sublimity of the virgin landscape and.
its capacity to inspire hope. In fact, Bryant poeticizes a thought
expressed more than once in accounts by early settlers of Illinois:
I behold [the prairies] for the first,
And my heart swells, while the dilated sight
Takes in the encircling vastness. (II. 4-6)
In "the sound of that advancing multitude" (I. 116) near the end of
the poem, Bryant evokes a nationalistic theme that received strong-
er affirmation in years following 1833 and fuller poetical expression
with Whitman, whose "western youth" of "Pioneers! O Pioneers!"
carry on the work of progress and regeneration when older races
droop with weariness:
All the past we leave behind,
We debouch upon a newer mightier world, varied world,
Fresh and strong the world we seize, world of labor and the march.
Pioneers! O pioneers! ^^
Eventually, as Marx points out, the American concept of progress
made it imperative to introduce the machine into the garden, while
the myth was assimilated into a literature of the "technologically
sublime."^® Thus, through technology, Whitman's pioneers are
enabled to transcend time and space in their spiritual passage to
India and return
To reason's early paradise.
Back, back to wisdom's birth, to innocent intuitions.
Again with fair creation. ^^
By treating the prairies as gardens and the Mound Builders
as Arcadians, Bryant, like Whitman, defines the nation's destiny
in the context of a golden age and reveals the significance of the
THE GARDEN MYTH IN "THE PRAIRIES" 25
western myth to America's spiritual quest. In reality, of course,
neither metropolitan corruption nor primitive anarchy were ex-
cluded from the garden. With the machine came the industrial
city— big business, crowded tenements, and political dishonesty—
and in the removal of the Indians beyond the Mississippi, white
settlers demonstrated their own savagery; but for a poet of the
nation's spirit and geography the myth of the garden was a promis-
ing and powerful theme.
26 WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
"• William Cullen Bryant, "Illinois Fifty Years Ago," in PROSE WRITINGS OF
WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT, ed. Parke Godwin (1884; rpt. New York: Russell
and Russell, 1964), II, 3-22. Unless otherwise indicated, Bryant's quoted comments
about Illinois are taken from this synthesis of private letters.
2charles H. Brown. WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT (New York: Scribner's,
1971), pp. 204-05.
3Anthony F. C. Wallace, "Introduction: Prelude to Disaster," in THE BLACK
HAWK WAR: 1831-1832, ed. Ellen M. Whitney (Springfield: Illinois State His-
torical Library, 1970), I, 50-51. According to Mrs. Whitney's estimates, the war
resulted in casualties of between 442 and 592 members of Black Hawk's band and
^Brown, p. 205.
5tHE POETICAL WORKS OF WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT, Roslyn edition,
ed. Henry C. Sturges and Richard Henry Stoddard (1903; rpt. New York: AMS
Press, 1969), p. 196.
^POETICAL WORKS, pp. 316-17. The poem of four stanzas was written for
services in New York following Lincoln's assassination.
7parke Godwin, A BIOGRAPHY OF WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT WITH
EXTRACTS FROM HIS PRIVATE CORRESPONDENCE (New York: Appleton,
^Henry Nash Smith, "The Garden of the World and American Agrarianism,"
in VIRGIN LAND: THE AMERICAN WEST AS SYMBOL AND MYTH (New York:
Vintage, 1950), pp. 138-40. Leo Marx, THE MACHINE IN THE GARDEN: TECH-
NOLOGY AND THE PASTORAL IDEAL (1964; rpt. London: Oxford Univ. Press,
1969), pp. 36-40.
9st. Jean de Crevecoeur, LETTERS FROM AN AMERICAN FARMER,
Letter III, in THE AMERICAN TRADITION IN LITERATURE, 4th ed., ed. Sculley
Bradley etal. (New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1974), I, 182.
lOMarx, p. 114.
■" ■'Query XIX, in THE COMPLETE JEFFERSON, ed. Saul K. Padover (New
York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1943), p. 678.
"•^POETICAL WORKS, pp. 130-33. Lines from this edition are indicated in the
^^Operations at the Koster Site, an archaeological project on the Illinois River
near Kampsville, Illinois, have revealed evidence of Indian villages dating back
at least 8,500 years and are expected to indicate the presence of Indians in the area
"•^William Cullen Bryant and Sydney Howard Gay, A POPULAR H ISTORY OF
THE UNITED STATES FROM THE FIRST DISCOVERY OF THE WESTERN
HEMISPHERE BY THE NORTHMEN, TO THE END OF THE FIRST CENTURY
OF THE UNION OF THE STATES (New York: Scribner's, 1878), 1,20.
^^Bryant and Gay, p. 19.
^Charles Dickens visited America in 1842 and two years later wrote MARTIN
CHUZZLEWIT, in which he described a dilapidated log-cabin town called Eden
built on a swampy piece of the American frontier. Chuzzlewit became an investor
but after nearly dying of a fever was happy enough just to escape.
"•^LEAVES OF GRASS AND SELECTED J'ROSE, ed. Sculley Bradley (New
York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1967), p. 193.
■"^Marx, pp. 219-21.
■'9"Passageto India," in LEAVES, p. 344.
AN ILLINOIS WOMAN
Mark E. Nacknian and Darryl K. Paton
This is the memoir of a woman whose life straddled the nine-
teenth and twentieth centuries. Born in 1848, she waited 89 years
before recording her family's history during the month of January,
1938. There is nothing remarkable about any of the family members,
save her grandfather's brother, Samuel F. B. Morse, and the events
of their lives appear so unspectacular as to hardly require mem-
orializing. Yet her account is compelling. With openness, warmth,
and unflagging spirit, she tells what she remembers, and in this
story of an ordinary American family over five generations, a uni-
versal chord is struck. Here is a daughter and sister, a wife and
mother, in her various stages and roles as the years flash by. So
concentrated is her focus on her family that she fails to mention the
name of only one person: herself.
Emma Morse Loomis was the second child and daughter
of Charles and Abigail Morse, who were living in Wilton, Maine
when she was born on November 8, 1848. She spent her childhood
and teens in Waterville, where she attended a private school for
girls with her two sisters, Mattie and Hattie. A brother, Charles,
the last child, was born in 1859. These were the blissful years of
youth, and she recalls with avidity the games and amusements and
pastimes of a Maine girlhood. A detailed description of her father's
seven-bedroom house, purchased on a railroad ticket agent's salary,
reminds us today that the American standard of living may have
regressed, in some aspects, from Victorian times. History has
already had its say by mid-century, as she notes the abandoned
water-powered cotton mills on the Kennebec and the passing of the
Indian frontier, where an aging block house stands as a monument.
The Civil War, however, seems to have made no impression; at
WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
Courtesy of the authors.
The "Illinois Woman": Emma Morse Loomis.
RECOLLECTIONS OF AN ILLINOIS WOMAN 29
least it merits no mention and apparently disturbed Waterville not
at all. But carefree times are forever at an end when her father must
seek new employment. He looks to the "growing West" for work
and finds it in Illinois, on the Chicago & Alton Railroad. The family
moves to Jacksonville in 1866.
For the 72 years that will follow, our narrator remains in
Illinois. Here she completes her schooling in 1869 at the Female
Academy in Jacksonville, and here she meets John Loomis, whom
she marries in 1873. Here she rears their five children and provides
a nesting place for them, their spouses, and her grandchildren
during the entire 45 years of her marriage. Outside happenings
scarcely impinge upon their lives; she gives only passing notice
to such landmark events of national and world history as the Phila-
delphia Centennial and the 1918 influenza epidemic. Hers is a world
of familial relationships which transcend, on the individual's level,
the large events that historians are prone to highlight. The value of
the memoir is in its revelation of the commonplace and in the very
timelessness of its subject.
Yet a picture of middle class society in post-Civil War America
emerges, and it is not a pretty one. In these years of explosive
economic growth, America appears to be something less than the
land of opportunity, even for native-born whites. Jobs are hard to
come by, and job insecurity and instability is endemic. The self-
made man does not exist in this family. From the experiences of
father Morse and husband Loomis, as well as the third generation
of sons and sons-in-law, it seems that joblessness must often be
remedied by a well-placed friend or relative.
Employment possibilities are not limited by immobility.
Family members are only too ready to leave the hearth in search
of work (or health) and we find them ranging the full breadth of the
United States, from New York to California and back again to
Illinois. Geographic mobility is at least matched by frequent intra-
state residential movement, but without any accompanying change
in status. The surprising habit of renting houses or rooms is sympto-
matic of chronic instability and financial inability. This may explain
the practice of "doubling up," even in the cramped quarters of a
boarding house, as the sons and daughters, with their children in
tow, come home at intervals to stay with father and mother Loomis.
30 WESTERN IL L INOIS REG I ON A L STUDIES
An extended family it has beconne by 1900, but the parents are never
deserted. If anything, their grown children still betray a dependence
in time of need. And they are always welcome to live at home, along
with their spouses and children, even for years at a time. From this
account it appears that the American family was not irretrievably
splintered by national expansion in the nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries, and that the isolated nuclear family of the
post-World War II era may be a product of unemployment compen-
sation, pension plans, and social security.
This handwritten memoir was recorded in two blue Spiral No.
87 composition books, which came into the possession of a grand-
son-in-law, Howard Mollestad. They were discovered in 1977 by
Darryl K. Paton, a student at the University of Washington, who
was helping Mr. Mollestad clean out and close down his house.
Mr. Paton brought the notebooks to the attention of his history
professor, Mark E. Nackman, and then secured the written per-
mission of Mr. Mollestad to have the contents published. The
editing has involved transposition of paragraphs and sentences, as
indicated by ellipses, and minor alteration of punctuation to improve
readability. The editors of WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL
STUDIES abridged the manuscript to concentrate on matters
dealing only with the region.
This is the 8th day of Jan. 1938. I am 89 years old. While my
mind is clear and my eyesight good, for which I thank God, I am
going to write my family history for my dear children and grand-
children. It is all I have to leave them for a legacy.
The Morse Family
My Grandfather, Charles Morse, was born in Maine in the year
May 27, 1785. He lived in the town of Wilton. He was quite a promi-
nent man in that village and owned some property there. He was
RECOLLECTIONS OF AN ILLINOIS WOMAN 31
twice married. After the death of his first wife he married Abigail
Scales: they had three sons, Samuel, Charles Moody, and Moses
Leiand. Charles Moody was my father.
My father was not a college graduate as was his brother Leiand
but he attended an Academy which was probably about the grade
of our present day High School. In his "teens" he went to Augusta,
Maine and clerked in the Post Office. My mother Elizabeth Bickford
was living there at the time. Father was born July 21, 1820, my
mother Nov. 16, 1820. In August, 1841 , they were married. They left
Augusta and went to Wilton where they lived with his parents.
Not till May, 1844, was their first child born, my sister Martha.
After I was born Nov. 8th, 1848, they moved from Wilton to Skow-
hegan where another sister ["Hattie"] was born on Oct. 8, 1850.
["Mattie"] was a little over a year old grandfather passed away.
The next move was to Waterville, a college town on the Kennebec
river. Father's position there was a ticket agent in the office of the
Maine Central R. R.
During our last year in Waterville father acted as Supt. of the
R. R. The reason of it was that the Supt. had disappeared: He was
found in Canada, brought to New York and put in the Tombs. He
had been caught stealing from the R. R. After a trial he was free,
and for what reason I don't know, he was reinstated in the Co. and
had his Supt. office given back to him. My father was expected to
resume his same office under him; but no, my father refused to work
under a man of that character, so he resigned.
About that time there was oil discovered in Canada. Father
went there hoping he might be lucky enough to strike "ile"; he was
not successful and came back home. His brother Samuel was living
in Wis. He had been connected with the R. R. a long time as engi-
neer and conductor. Father went west thinking he might find a
position in the growing West. Through the influence of friends
he obtained a position on the Chicago and Alton R.R. as division
Supt. on a branch that ran to and, later beyond, Jacksonville. He
came back to Waterville, sold his property, pac [sic] out household
32 WESTERN IL L INOIS REG ION A L STUDIES
goods, shipped them to Jacksonville, Illinois and we embarked for
a new home in the West. Our route was by the way of Canada;
we stopped off a day in Montreal, then on to Chicago and down to
We stayed in a hotel until a house was found and made ready
for occupation. The last family who had lived in this house were very
poor housekeepers. They had left much to be done before my tidy
neat mother would live in it; plenty of soap and water and fresh
paint and vermin to be exterminated: rats, mice, and bugs! Jack-
sonville was a college town; this house was on the college campus.
It was formerly a dormitory; part had been burned and the rest
arranged for a family residence. There was a basement; in it was the
dining room, kitchen and a servants sleeping room. (Mother didn't
think it a fit sleeping place so she had the servant use a room in the
attic.) The first floor had double parlors and a hall, upstairs three
bedrooms and two finished attic rooms. I forgot, there was also a
bedroom off the back parlor at the end of the hall. It was Sept.,
1866, when we landed in Jacksonville and many years passed before
the last of the family left there for homes in different states. Some
still in Illinois, in Penn. and some in Alabama.
There was three schools for girls in Jacksonville. The Athe-
neum, Female Academy, Methodist College. The latter is still
used and is now called McMurray College. Hattie and I attended the
Atheneum first year, then we went to the Acadamy from where
we were graduated, June, 1869. I studied music, both instru-
mental and vocal. Hattie took drawing and painting. One of the
pictures was the head of the Madonna. It was quite a large
picture and in later years she used to smile and say the work
on it was so much of her teacher's touching up that she felt it was
not her work and she ought not get the credit of it. At the com-
mencement graduating exercises each girl stood up and read her
own composition. It was discovered sometime after that the vale-
dictorean [sic] had copied hers from some former graduate. She had
more courage than the rest of— no, had to brazen the face of the
audience with a lie. The rest of us may not have been credited with
much nor any literary talent but our effusions were at least honest!
There was music on the program furnished by the music pupils
of the school. I played with three other girls a selection on two
RECOLLECTIONS OF AN ILLINOIS WOMAN 33
pianos. The following year I sang an aria from some opera, some
nerve that. It was not my selection by my teacher's. She must have
thought and felt confident that I'd get through without failing and
that would show her ability as a vocal teacher.
After leaving school I was governess to three little girls in their
country home. Their mother preferred that way, did not like to send
them to the country school. Their father was a dealer in
cattle; he was called a "cattle King" as he raised large herds of
beef and fattened them on his many acres of grassland for shipment
to the eastern markets. He owned a comfortable home on one of
his pastures. It was a short distance from Jacksonville by rail.
The station where the train stopped was named for this man Alex-
ander. I was recommended to the mother of these little girls— 8,
10, 12— by my profesor [sic] of the Academy. I taught there two
years. I used to go home week ends about every two or three weeks.
There were two boys in the family about 16 and 18. One of them
would drive me to the station Friday evening and when I returned
Monday morning I was met by a carriage and a saddled horse.
I had learned to ride horseback in the country and old "Ben" was a
safe horse for an amateur to ride. The road was across the front
[of] the depot to the house. There were no cattle in the pasture when
I had to cross it. The little girls had ponies so we had many rides
together around the country. They were dear little girls and their
mother was so kind to me that I enjoyed my two years with them.
While I was teaching in Alexander, Hattie was giving music
lessons in another country town of the R. R. and Hattie had a few
pupils in drawing. All this after we had left the house on the campus
and now lived in town where we were nearer all were engaged
in. . . .
While Hattie and I were in the Academy, Mattie, when she was
about 20, went to a boarding school in Worcester, fs/lass. The pro-
prietors were a Dr. Pattison and his wife. He was formerly the
president of Waterville College. (This College was not co-educa-
tional then; it is now and is called Colby University.) Mattie was in
that school two years. Her roommate the second year was a girl
from New Rochelle, N.Y. Her name was Essie Davids. During the
vacation she visited Essie in her home; she met her brother Ed.
After a few months they became engaged, and he followed us to
34 WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
Jacksonville. He boarded and lived with us. Our house was in the
west end of the city; the R. R. office where father worked was in the
extreme eastern end so it was a long walk between home and
business. Father had given Ed a position in his office. Our friends
and acquaintances were among the families of the college faculty
and church. It was not a gay crowd and Mr. Ed wanted livlier [sic]
evenings than these people could produce so he moved nearer the
center of the city. He came out to see his sweetheart often at first
but soon became intimate with the city men and girls and his visits
were fewer and far between till Mattie's eyes were opened and she
realized that she was no longer "all in all' to him. She broke her
engagement and he left for New York. . . .
My sister Mattie, after her engagement was broken, had many
friends among the young men and girls in town and she was well
liked and included in all their social life. She still kept up her paint-
ing and joined a class conducted by a professor in art who taught
in the Academy. He had outside pupils besides the inside pupils.
He was the son of the former President of Waterville College who
conducted the boarding school in Worcester, Mass. where Mattie
was one time a student. He had been abroad for several years
studying in Paris and other art centers; his name was James Wm.
Pattison. After he left Jacksonville he lived in Chicago and was
connected with the Art Institute there. Mattie, besides being a pu-
pil also assisted him with the younger members of his class. My sis-
ter carved on wood one piece of her work she did for her brother
[Charles]. It was a bookcase and writing shelf combined: there is
a long shelf at top and bottom, narrow ones at one side and on the
other the writing compartment, pigeon holes and small drawer;
a door which let down by small chains to support it forms a space for
writing. She carved a design on each of the long panels and quite
an elaborate one on the door, also the words as follows: "A few
friends and many books both true." This case is in this house, a
part of the family heirlooms which fell to me after the death of all
There was a young lawyer in town who was fond of drama:
he formed a club of amateur players. I was one of them; Mattie and
John [Loomis] and most of our crowd belonged. We put on several
RECOLLECTIONS OF AN ILLINOIS WOMAN 35
plays, not very difficult at first. This man was so enthused with his
hobby that he decided he [would] try one of Shakespeare's plays.
He chose THE MERCHANT OF VENICE; he took the part of Shy-
lock. I was not cast in that, but played leading lady in one or two oth-
er plays. No more of Shakespeare's were attempted. The people
enjoyed our performances as the house was well filled whenever
we put on a play. There was a very good opera house with a stage
equipped with scenery where we performed. I think we all enjoyed
that winter. I know I did and did not find it hard to learn the parts
I was assigned.
Sol Smith Russel was an actor on the real stage, a professional.
His home was in Jacksonville; he came home for visits with his
family at times. On one occasion he was urged by his friends to put
on our stage one of his repertoires. He consented but had to
have assistants selected from our club. He chose a play that did
not require many actors. I was one he chose, among others. I was
rather dubious about appearing on the stage with a noted actor
but as I was not the only one I concluded I 'd not be very conspicuous
and agreed to take part. The morning of the evening selected for
the play I awoke with a sick headache. I was subjected to them
for many years when I was young. By keeping quiet and dosing
remedies I was relieved by night and ready to do my part, altho'
rather weak and shakey; but I got through the performance without
showing what the day had been for me. Mr. Smith congratulated me
and thanked me for assisting him to make his play a success.
This was my last winter as a care-free maiden. John and I
decided to be married: he was 30 and I 24. We chose May 8th,
1873 as our wedding day. We were married at home, the house was
small so we could invite but a few of our most intimate friends.
We would have liked to invite all of the young folks we had had so
much good times with the past winter. The wedding was in the
evening: my dress was white organdy with a train. I wore a tulle
veil which reached to the bottom of my train. This was the age
when women's dresses were elaborate with flounces, ruffles, puffs,
tucks and bows. It required many yards of the lighter weight mate-
rials to make a dress; but the dressmakers had enough sense to
leave the heavy brocades, satins and silks without all these furbe-
lows; and our undergarments were made of muslin and cambric
36 WESTERN IL L I NO IS REG I ON A L STUDIES
(cotton cloth, full petticoats— no slips— drawers below the knee,
chemises and corset covers). When I see my grandchildren dress
in their short shorts, slips, and brassiers made of soft dainty colored
silk and simply made dresses I wonder how the women and girls
of the 1800's survived under the lbs. of clothing we wore.
The year 1876 was centennial year celebrated in Philadelphia.
Father and Mattie went; mother could have gone but she would not
leave me as another baby was expected that month, August. She
felt she must be with me and take care of George [our first-born]:
he was two years and 5 months old when Leiand was born on the
27th of Aug.
For nine years my mother was kept busy watching her grand
babies come into the world. My sister Hattie was married the year
after I was: her wedding day was in June. Her babies came every
two years as mine did. The last one oefore mother died was my
little boy who lived but one day. A month before John was two
years old I was not well, sort of run down and depressed. Mother
said I needed a rest and change. She took George, Bess and John
and grandmother Loomis took Leiand ([grand] father Loomis was
teaching in the town of Virginia near Jacksonville). I went to St.
Louis where my brother [Charles] was living at that time. I took the
Swedish movement cure. It consisted of machinery which rolled,
and massaged all parts of the body. I suppose it was to stir up the
blood and slugish [sic] muscles. I was there six weeks and took
the cure every day. It did help me, that and the complete rest
from care, and when I went home I felt able to take up my duties
When Leiand was nearly one year old my husband had to give
up his position in the bank where he had been employed since
before we were married. The son or nephew [of] some director of
the bank needed a position so one of the clerks had to retire to make
room for him; and it was my husband who had to step out! Now to
find another bread-earning job to be sought. A new Post Master had
just been appointed; John knew him well and applied for a clerkship
in the office; he was given a place; the salary was very small but
RECOLLECTIONS OF AN ILLINOIS WOMAN 27
"beggars" can't be choosers so he was glad to take it instead of
being idle, while keeping his eyes open for something more re-
We could not keep house, pay rent and keep up with the cost
of living, so we broke up and went to board in one room in a large
house with a woman we knew, who rented this property and was
keeping boarders. The room we had was one of the parlors; we
took the back one as it had a southern exposure and a fireplace
which made it very cheerful. We furnished it ourselves; and to help
out our board we allowed our landlady to have the use of our cow,
also our dining room table and chairs and a small cottage set of
furniture— bedroom— which mother gave me. We lived there a
year and a few months. John was on the look out for a position
that would give him a salary large enough for us to rent a house
and keep house again. A friend of John's was running for county
clerk. He told him that if he was elected he'd appoint him deputy.
He won and we felt we could live on the salary he'd receive, so we
rented a five room cottage and moved in.
After the twelve years in this house John had to seek another
job as a change in administration occurred and he must leave the
Court house. My brother Charles and John's brother were both
living in the West, Charles fy/lorse in Kansas City, and Charles
Loomis in Omaha where he was in partnership in the dry goods
business. John took a trip to both cities hoping he might find
something to do there; nothing doing so back he came to old
Illinois. He had [a] friend in politics— a young man [Richard Yates]
who was later the Gov. of Illinois— whose influence was enough to
secure a political job in the Revenue service as Rev. collector for
the two distilliries [sic] in Pekin. His work required his presence
right away in that city; he went but did not take his family with him
at first. . . . When John went West to seek for work my father said
I'd better come with our 5 children and live with him and Mattie
and save paying rent until we had to go to Pekin. I did not feel right
to bring so many into their quiet life, but he insisted and we moved
in on them bag and baggage, where we lived 4 years until John felt
he had a permanent position and we could get settled again in
home making. . . .
38 WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
At the end of our living four years with father and Mattie we
moved to Pekin. We lived in a big house across fronn the distillery
where John's office was. It was too large for us; it needed a lot
furniture to make it homelike and we had not enough. The kitchen
was immense and it seemed a mile from the cookstove to the dining
room. I think father [John] was satisfied with it as he was happy
to have his family with him again. But Bess and I were lonesome; it
was too far from town for us to have neighbors and we were strang-
ers. John was in high school and walked in every day; it was too
far for Emma, altho' she was just the age to begin. Bess didn't
want to enter a strange school to finish her last [year?] so she stayed
at home and helped me.
Before we went to live with father and Mattie, George left
school. He was in the preparatory school for the college. He felt he
ought to be earning money to help pay expenses. He got a minor
position in one of the banks. Within two years after we were living
in father's home he became very unhappy; the bookkeeper under
whom he worked in the bank was very indifferent and didn't assist
him as he might have done as this was new work for him. George
was very sensitive and it hurt him; that and with worrying over our
situation (he felt we must be a burden on father and Mattie altho'
they didn't feel so) made him despondent. One gloomy dreary day
in Feb. he left the house for the bank feeling terribly blue. He was
the first one to arrive after the janitor. For an instant he lost his
mind, and didn't realize the sorrow he'd bring to his family, nor the
wrong he was about to do. He saw a pistol on the desk and used it!
He shot himself in the head! He must have been insane just then.
Poor boy, only eighteen. O, if someone had come in before he
touched that pistol he would have been saved. He was burried
[sic] beside his grandmother [Morse] and baby brother in the
cemetery at Jacksonville. There was left our beloved son and
brother. He had been our pride and hope, for he had always been
thoughtful of his parents and would not do such a dreadful act
when he was himself. . . .
Father had reached the age when he could retire from business
activity: he received a pension from the R. R. where he had been
Supt. so long. After we moved to Pekin he and Mattie gave up the
RECOLLECTIONS OF AN ILLINOIS WOMAN 39
house they were living in and rented a few rooms in a friend's
home and did light housekeeping. They lived that way a year or
two then Charles [who had moved from Kansas City] wanted
them to come to Philadelphia and live with him. They broke up the
light housekeeping, shipped the household goods to Philadelphia
and spent the summer with us in Pekin before they left for the
home which was the last one for all three of them. I don't recall
just how many years they lived there before father died; he was
81. They brought his body to Jacksonville where he was buried.
Charles and Mattie went back to Philadelphia and within a year she
died and Charles had to bring her body to be buried beside her
father and mother. Charles never married.
The first winter we lived in Pekin on New Years day it was very
cold; the river had frozen solid so Bess and John decided to go
skating. It had snowed and then thawed furiously so the ice was not
clear. As they were skating towards town planning to go as far as
the bridge and then back, they came to an air-hole, but not realizing
in time what it was they both fell in. The ice around it was strong so
John managed to climb out still holding on to Bess and succeeded
in pulling her out in spite of her heavy clothes. They were frighten-
ed, almost speechless, they got to shore at last, and of course their
clothes froze, which caused them difficulty in walking and they
couldn't help laughing altho' they had just escaped an awful death.
They reached the house and came in the room where I sat reading
and said "we fell in the river." I did not at first grasp what they
meant. As soon as I did, it dawned on me what a narrow escape they
had had. I was so shocked that I came near fainting. If that accident
had been fatal how different would have been my life; but God was
good to us; the lives of those two children were spared to be a
comfort to us for many years After the tragic death of our oldest
son we were not asked to suffer another. For years the thought of
what might have been made me shudder.
Leiand worked in the distillery for a few months then went to
Chicago where his uncle Sam Loomis lived. He got a position there
in a meat market. His uncle had married a French girl whose father
was a photographer and Sam worked with him. Through them
40 WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
Leiand met her sister; they fell in love and were married. They were
too young and he was not earning enough to support a family, and
after the baby came they had a hard time to meet expenses, and the
baby was not getting enough nourishment. So John wrote them to
come home to us. He got work again in the distillery and they lived
with us. We called a Dr. to examine the baby and he told us what to
do for her; we were to rub her daily with warm olive oil and give her
good rich milk. We followed directions and the baby soon began to
show the results, and grew plump and pretty as she should look.
They remained with us and Leiand wanted to be back in Chicago
again; then another daughter was born. After a few years in Chicago
they moved to Trenton, N. J., and finally to Brooklyn where Leiand
had a small meat market. He and Sara disagreed and finally sepa-
rated; she took the two little girls and went back to Chicago where
her relatives lived.
As soon as we moved in town from the distillery Emma entered
school; she was way behind girls her age as she had never been to
school. She was 9 yrs. She learned rapidly and was soon promoted
and in two years had caught up with her class. She went three years
to the High School and instead of going back to finish the 4th yr.
she began the study of music, both instrumental and vocal.
Our new home was in a neighborhood of people who owned
fine, comfortable homes, quite a distance from the business center
of the city. . . . We lived about five years in this house; father had
bought a horse and cow when we moved to this place. . . . Our
nearest neighbor was a German family named Friederich. One son
[Walter] was Bess' age; he was living at home at the time we
moved. He soon became very friendly with our children. Walter's
father was formerly sheriff but now retired from active service as
he was in poor health. He was a prisoner in Libby Prison during the
Civil war; that was enough to ruin any man's health. Walter had a
cousin living in New York. He went there shortly after we became
acquainted with the family. One day Mr. Friederich was sitting in
the Court House lawn talking and joking with friends when he
suddenly put his hand over his heart and exclaimed, "My God,"
and died instantly. Walter came home to be with his mother and
aunt, his mother's sister who lived with her. . . . After Mr. Fried-
erich 's death Bess and Walter became engaged.
RECOLLECTIONS OF AN ILLINOIS WOMAN 41
The man we rented this place from wanted it himself so we
must move again. We rented a small house down town; after a year
Bess and Walter were married. Walter's aunt Mrs. Frings owned a
little house of five rooms and bath. They rented this and began
housekeeping. Within two years a baby came. Bess was dreadfully
sick during the birth and when the baby was born it was dead; she
was a very large, beautiful child. She almost caused her mother to
die: only the quick attention of the nurse saved her. Bess never
had another child. Her sister Emma's children were especially dear
to her as she loved them so much.
When they were married Walter had an electrical stove; he was
an excellent electrician. After a few years he gave up his shop and
they stored their furniture and went to New York City. Walter
ventured several things but did not find any that he could or cared
to make permanent. He was interested in slight-of-hand magic,
he had read considerable about it and privately experienced some
The movies were beginning to start so Walter was in for that,
something new again! He rented a room and began showing pictur-
es; he was successful from the start and when the time was ready for
another change he had bought the building he now exhibited in.
It was a large building, formerly the town hall where all the out-of-
town and home shows were given. He sold the house and business
to a woman who owned another movie house. Soon after Mr.
Friederich's death his wife and her sister moved into the cottage
where Bess and Walter began housekeeping. Mrs. Friederich
sold her property. After her death Walter fell heir to all the pro-
perty. He now had a good income so he and Bess could live without
having to be tied down to steady work. . . .
When Walter and Bess came back from New York he bought
a car; he made two or three changes before he got the one he owned
when he died and which came to Emma in his will. The last was a
7-passenger Buick, that seemed a large car for four people. He said
he wanted one roomy enough to bring the whole Crumbaker family
[Emma, Ed, and their five children] to Pekin when they could come.
Ed had not yet bought a car; he got one later on. We all loved to
have this family with us as often as possible. Bess and Walter loved
42 WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
to do things for them and was [sic] very fond of Emma's child-
ren. .. .
Soon after Ed and Emma moved to Abingdon we moved to a
house across the street. It was a two story house; it was for sale and
considered a good bargain. Father was advised to buy it. He had no
money to buy it at once but terms for payment were made easy so
he took it. We moved in the month of May and were not thoroughly
settled when poor sick Leiand and his family came. I have already
written of his sickness and death that summer . Father had
not been well for some time; he had sinking spells when he [would]
fall unconscious. The Dr. who examined him said he had hardening
of the arteries. He had to give up working in the fall after Leiand's
death and on January 15th, 1918, he died.
Walter assumed the payments on the property and all was
transferred to him. I was to have a home there as long as I lived;
now all is gone, the two children dead and the house burned to the
ground. I am here with Emma and John [my son] alone in Pekin.
So we four— Walter, Bess, John, and I— were settled in a perman-
ent home; we lived there 15 years until Bess died. That made
another change in our lives. . . .
In the year 1918 a Co. of Home Guards was formed in Pekin.
Walter was elected Capt., John a private. One night in the summer
they were called, awakened from sleep, by telephone to come on
duty immediately as there had been a terrible boat disaster on the
river a short distance above Pekin. An excursion boat loaded with
people from Pekin and towns below had been to an Amusement
Park above Peoria. On the way home the boat had struck a snag
which tore a hole in it and it was sinking. As soon as word could
reach Pekin aid was rushed to them. Many were on the lower deck
dancing; these were in the greatest danger and many drowned.
As bodies were recovered they were brought to a temporary
morgue. The Home Guards and others spent the night rescueing
[sic] all those who survived. The Guard remained on duty as long
as needed for protection and to keep order. It was a terrible shock
to the community and there were no more excursions on the river
that season. Following this, during the fall and winter, there was an
eperdemic [sic] of "flu" and many cases were fatal. Many new
RECOLLECTIONS OF AN ILLINOIS WOMAN 43
graves were added to the cemetery. When we bought a lot at the
death of Leiand there were many vacant lots around the one we
bought; after these two disasters there was not one left. This
showed what a great loss of life there was in the months between the
summer of 191 7 and 1918.
Within the next few years Bess and Walter took a trip to
Macinac [sic] Island and one to Kansas City. In 1929 Bess had to go
to a hospital for a serious operation. It was an anxious time for us
until we knew the operation had been successful and she was out
of danger. I wonder if one is just the same after an internal opera-
tion. Bess seemed to be, but in Feb., 1932, she was sick enough to
go to bed with a feeling of lassitude and slight cold; she was never
down stairs again, and on March 19, Walter, John and I were left
desolate. How could we live without that dear one?
I had become more and more dependent on a cane as this
arthritis I am afflicted with crept on me. I could no more walk far
from the house and going up and down stairs was a slow tedious
effort. We all realized that now I could not be able to keep house any
more. Emma said I should come and make my home with her and
here I am. I left the old home for this new one on the 1st day of May
following the death of my dear Bess in March.
When I came here to live I was able to be of some use. I took
upon myself the job of ail the darning and mending. Could do
everything for myself and take care of my room, help sew for the
children, Emma, and what clothes I needed; occasionally washed
and wiped the dishes when the girls were in school and Emma
washing. About the fourth year of my residence here I began to fail
in my activities; this insideous [sic], creeping arthritis was getting
more and more of a hold on me. I had to have help in dressing and
undressing and had to have my cane handy all the time. Then that
was not enough support and someone had to help me go from one
room to another until I couldn't walk at all. Now I am perfectly
helpless, spend my days and nights alternately in bed and chair.
I have not had any clothes but a nightgown and bathrobe on for over
a year; not even stockings as my feet are swollen [so] that they don't
44 WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
look like human feet any more. I can't move myself in bed and as I
can't lie on one side more than two hours or 2V2 at a time I have to
call for help, and I have to be lifted from bed to chair just like a baby.
In addition to this affliction my hearing has completely gone from
one ear and one has to be very close to my other and speak rather
loud in order to make me understand what they say. I keep a scratch
pad on the table with a pencil where one can carry on any long
communication with me. Thank God I still have my eyesight so I
can pass my weary hours with books. John got a rack to hold the
book which I keep on the table in front of my chair. My hands are
too crippled and tender to hold [a] book; holding the pen does not
strain them. I have best of care and all is being done for me that can
be. I don't suffer excruciating pain often but always have discomfort
and my joints are so tender and sore that every move hurts. Emma is
a wonderful nurse. It grieves me to have her so confined but she
never lets me feel that I am a burden; but it does seem too bad
now that her children are grown and she could have more freedom
that I have to take so much of her time. I do not demand attention
oftener than absolutely necessary. Whenever she does get a chance
to go away from the house she sees that I am not left alone. Ann
[my granddaughter] can attend to my wants almost as well as her
mother; she has the strength, and knows how to use it, in lifting
me. Patricia [her sister] has it as much as Ann and doesn't use
what she has so well. I think that she is so afraid of hurting me that
she is shy of using what she has. I have much to be thankful for
so grit my teeth and try to bear my affliction with fortitude.
This is all up-to-date of my family history. I am the last child
of Charles Moody Morse.
CARL SANDBURG'S INFLUENCE
ON MODERN POETRY
Richard H. Crowder
In 1914 critical readers (as well as uncritical) found in Sandburg
some disturbing departures from the poems they were accustomed
to enjoy. Stephen Crane, it is true, had experimented, but he was
dead. That eternal sophomore, Richard Hovey, had written in-
nocuously of wanderers, lovers, and comrades, but he too was dead.
James Whitcomb Riley had long before run out of steam with a few
stilted sonnets commemorating his departed friends, and he too
would be dead in two years. Lizette Woodworth Reese, Louise
Imogen Guiney, Edith Matilda Thomas, Anna Hempstead Branch,
Josephine Preston Peabody— all these three-named ladies and more
like them had been providing devourers of verse with their fare:
moods of gentility, second-hand emotions, sterile and hackneyed
line structure and stanzaic patterns. Like the snows of yesteryear,
where are they now? An exception was E. A. Robinson, a stickler for
classic rhyme, rhythm, and stanza. He was an original with several
published volumes which nobody was reading much except Teddy
Roosevelt, for, in spite of their conventional appearance, they were
out of the accepted rut. Robert Frost had needed to go to England
to find a publisher and was only now beginning to be mentioned in
his home country, and possibly for the wrong reasons.
Small wonder that readers were shocked by the raucous "Chi-
cago" and were puzzled by the typographical arrangements of
"Lost" and "Jan Kubelik." These were in a cluster of poems in the
opening pages of Harriet Monroe's POETRY: A MAGAZINE OF
VERSE for March, 1914. Two years later they were in Sandburg's
first book (not counting the earlier privately printed works). The
contents of CHICAGO POEMS were distasteful, puzzling, in-
vigorating—depending on what critic's comments one read. The
reviewers were being called on to suspend reliance on the iambics
46 WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
and trochees of Richard Watson Gilder, the expected enclosing
rhymes of John Banister Tabb, the neat structures of Madison
Cawein, the philosophic abstractions of George Santayana, the un-
surprising subject matter of Robert Underwood Johnson.
When young poets started reading this new collection, what did
they find? For one thing, there was a free verse modified from the
poet's beloved Walt Whitman. More often than not, Sandburg's
lines were shorter than his mentor's, and his unity was generally
achieved not in the line itself (for he often divided clauses in the
middle or even into thirds and fourths), but through frequent
rhetorical repetitions— sometimes exact, sometimes with incre-
ments—and through modestly climactic conclusions. Younger
readers also found in Sandburg's poetry the Populist point of view—
the idea that the people are the central resource in the American
experience. Other poets too found that this new man was free in his
use of the idiom of the streets and factories— words and phrases
uttered by what he called "the mob," in the purlieus of the city.
They found unabashed expression of anger, of pride in strength,
of tender compassion, but not the pointed ironies or the bookishness
of William Vaughn Moody. Edgar Lee Masters and Vachel Lindsay
may have been leading the way, but Sandburg was actually to take
up the part of the American bard, to break completely away from the
Meanwhile, ever since those first pieces in POETRY, Ezra
Pound and Sandburg had been exchanging poems and compliments.
Pound said he liked the way Sandburg had kept "down to brass
tacks," though he missed the restraint that rhyme would have given
the verses; he said, typically, that another urban poet was superior
in this regard— the fifteenth-century French chronicler of the seamy
side of Paris, Francois Villon. Pound also criticized the use of gutter
language, which he said was often the easiest way out of a problem
of communication and not always the best. In turn, Sandburg testi-
fied that Pound had "done most of living men to incite new impulses
in poetry." Yet, when Pound tried to induce Sandburg to join the
new movement of Imagism, Sandburg expressed preference for
going his own unaligned way.
The next year following the publication of his book, it appeared
certain that Wilson was not going to keep America out of war. In
CARL SANDBURG'S INFLUENCE ON MODERN POETR Y
order to demonstrate their basic loyalty to American ideology,
Carl and his wife Paula left the Social-Democrat ranks in which they
had served for years. To avoid any hint of association with the Bol-
shevik point of view, they declared themselves Independents,
though their daughter Helga assures us they were in truth Demo-
crats.^ The change in part was parallel with the poet's gradual
Courtesy of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. from SANDBURG: PHOTOGRAPHERS VIEW
CARL SANDBURG, copyright © 1966 by Edward Steichen.
Carl Sandburg, about age 35.
48 WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
turning away from what Amy Lowell said had been too much propa-
ganda in his writing. Always there would be traces of his Populist
provenience. From this time on, however, beginning with CORN-
HUSKERS in 1918, there was a noticeable shift from efforts delib-
erately to change the face of the country. More and more, Sandburg
was showing acceptance of what he found.
Was he a loner at the beginning of his career? He may have
been an innovator in the matter of poetry, but think of Dreiser's
Carrie Meeber, who, like some of Sandburg's young women, leaves
the prairies for the city. Her portrait could be an extension of the
poet's vignettes of the adventurous girl in "Red-Headed Restaurant
Cashier," a restless Chick Lorimer in "Gone," a bored "Mamie"
up from a dull Hoosier hamlet and finding no more in life in a
Chicago bargain basement.^ Think of Frank Morris's Sam Lewiston,
who is ripped off by the wheeler-dealers of the grain market. How
like a Sandburg character he is, but without hope. Sandburg in all
fairness must be read in quantities if the reader is to see that he
goes beyond Dreiser and Morris in ultimate trust even in the face
of adversity. The point here is, however, that Sandburg was not
alone in making the common people the center of his interest.
It is another point that he showed them to be a complex of pride,
bravery, stoicism, humor, hard work, and eternal expectation.
CHICAGO POEMS gained some converts. So did CORM-
HUSKERS, and two years after that so did SMOKE AMD STEEL,
which appeared in October, 1920. Earlier that year, in January,
Sandburg had made a platform appearance at Cornell College,
Iowa, the first of many, many college performances during the next
forty years. His public readings, which conveyed his warm personal
traits, helped a great deal to enhance his popularity and to sell his
books, just as James Whitcomb Riley's road trips had done for him
in the preceding generation. Again after another two-year interval,
Sandburg published his fourth book of poems, SLABS OF THE
SUMBURMT WEST. It was now 1922, a mountainous year in the
history of American and British literature. Most important for my
focus, it saw Eliot's THE WASTE LAMD published in both England
and the United States.
Here let me indulge in a quotation from something I wrote
years ago: "Sandburg's techniques were the same as they had been
CARL SANDBURG'S INFLUENCE ON MODERN POETRY 49
in 1914. He was no longer a revolutionist in prosody and language,
for his revolt had now beconne habit and had lost its novelty. Sand-
burg had in his beginnings elbowed out John G. Neihardt, George
Sterling, and Madison Cawein. Now he was giving way to a new
generation; he belonged to the status quo and was himself an old
boy. It is significant that Malcolm Cowley's review of SLABS OF
THE SUNBURNT WEST appeared in the same issue of THE DIAL
as the first momentous publication of THE WASTE LAND. The
tide had turned."^ I wrote that in the early 1960's; now in 1978 we
can say that temporarily the tide had turned.
Sandburg had succeeded as no other poet had in the first
quarter of this century in loosening the poem's structure, making it
more flexible: in freeing the line endings of the restriction of rhyme,
in broadening the scope of the language to include words and
rhythms of the streets and factories, in speaking out as one of the
people both from his own view and in the voices of others with
whom he was sympathetic, in vivid description of urban detail
as well as rural, of broad landscape as well as intimate garden.
But we must admit that Sandburg's first burgeoning as poet was
indeed over. His poetic influence would not be felt again for another
twenty years or more.
Though the elitist DIAL had published the Eliot poem gladly
and had admitted Cowley's comments on SLABS OF THE SUN-
BURNT WEST, it had with right good will in general given short
shrift to the writings of Sandburg. Oddly, the work of the two
poets had certain similarities, but critics did not acknowledge
them. The first poem in Sandburg's book was "The Windy City,"
obviously using Chicago as its scene, just as THE WASTE LAND
was also urban, centered in the exile's London. The poets had
developed their themes in works of similar length: THE WASTE
LAND is 434 lines long and "The Windy City" only 70 lines shorter.
Line lengths are irregular in both poems, even though Eliot resorts
to rhyme whereas Sandburg's verse is totally free. Both poems
use a river bridge as an image central to the theme— an idea I
will discuss shortly.
These may appear to be superficial likenesses. The differences
between the two works are more profound. They reflect the attitudes
of personalities poles apart. THE WASTE LAND is freighted with
50 WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
irony. It pictures a fragmented world broken up by a sense of futility
and an alienation of men from each other and from the power,
beauty, and fulfillment of past civilizations. It reflects the fashion-
able attitudes among sophisticates toward contemporary social
reality. Its thought is cosmopolitan, derived from the cultures of
western Europe, from Homer to Baudelaire.
On the other hand, in "The Windy City" Sandburg's tone is
Inclined toward the matter of fact, toward acceptance. His world
Is built on the solidarity of the laboring classes. Most of his people,
while independent, have a sense of belonging together. Whereas
Eliot's view envelops a pointlessness, a lost spiritual community,
Sandburg's attitude leans toward hope. His thought comes chiefly
from his long-time Social-Democratic connection, from the pub-
lications of the Populists, from the folk wisdom of his subjects,
and from his reading of Whitman and Emily Dickinson (with a nod
to Stephen Crane). He does not condescend to the "people": he
accepts them and enters into their life as participant-observer.
Eliot's technique, then, is formed out of reference to his
favorite authors of the past, near and far. He echoes and quotes
them in passages placed next to slang, scraps of words from pop-
ular music, parody, and scenes from London life, both working-
class and aristocratic. His is a complex of culture and style, but
always a blend of theme and meaning in delivering fundamental,
profound commentary on the state of today's world as it appears
Sandburg's technique, also juxtaposing contrasting manners
of speech, draws on the common man's vocabulary with more
sympathy, more daily familiarity than does Eliot. A good exercise
here would be to contrast the monologue in the pub about Lou and
Albert in part II of THE WASTE LAND with the breezy dialogue
overheard in part 3 of "The Windy City." One sees, here, how
Sandburg's lines are shaped by the common man's aphorism as
well as his humor and pathos, born of experience which Sandburg
had shared from childhood. If he is not so consciously literary in
his imagery and suggestion, he nevertheless makes his earthy
commentaries neighbor to the gossamer and somewhat mystical
fabric of moonlight and leafy trees, a practice he claimed again and
again was central to all poetry. In the opening pages of GOOD
CARL SANDBURG'S INFLUENCE ON MODERN POETRY 51
MORNING, AMERICA (1929) his thirty-sixth definition of poetry
calls it "the achievement of the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits."
Likewise, in 1963 he published a last book of poems before his
death, which he called HONEY AND SALT. His lyrics (hyacinths,
honey) are as important to us as his realistic pictures (biscuits,
To underscore further the differences in attitude between Eliot
and Sandburg in 1922, let us examine specific passages. About
half way through part III of THE WASTE LAND, "The Fire Ser-
mon," is tucked a brief section describing the camaraderie of some
O City city, I can sometimes hear
Beside a public bar in Lower Thames Street,
The Pleasant whining of a mandoline
And a clatter and a chatter from within
Where fishmen lounge at noon: where the walls
Of Magnus Martyr hold
Inexplicable splendor of Ionian white and gold.
In Eliot's view the nearness of the hustle and bustle of a midday
rendezvous for laborers and the gorgeous glories of a Christopher
Wren church only emphasize the marvels of civilizations past and
the vulgarity of life present. For Eliot the fellowship of these men
only draws attention to the alienation from society of a man of
It is just such a situation that Sandburg would reverse. For him,
he says in more than one place, "The past is a bucket of ashes." His
interest is in the vitality, the common purpose, the optimism of
the fishmen. The man in his poem "Fish Crier" (p. 9) "dangles
herring before prospective customers evincing a joy identical with
that of Pavlowa dancing." For Sandburg there is no separation
from life; there is only the likeness of emotions of fish dealer and
prima ballerina assoluta . Instead of hearing in passing the jollities
of a pub at noontime, Sandburg joins his own kind, "the little
Family of Man hugging the little ball of Earth" (p. 471). In the
poem "Neighbors" (p. 169) Sandburg hears not just a general
"clatter and a chatter" from the ""Greek coffee house" he ob-
. . . men at tables
Spill Peloponnesian syllables
And speak of shovels for street work
And the new embankments of the Erie Railroad
At Painted Post, Horse's Head, Salamanca.
52 WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
He hears not just a noise but the actual words they are saying,
the sense they are making about their daily living, what Wallace
Stevens frequently called the"quotidian." Sandburg is not an out-
sider: he hears and appreciates the intimate details of the work-
men's conversation; it is not just raucous racket for him, but the
communication of his neighbors, the very stuff of life, of survival,
of fruitfulness. In contrast, if Eliot had "neighbors," they were
historical literary figures like Juliana of Norwich, George Herbert,
Lancelot Andrewes, and John Donne.
To return to the differences between THE WASTE LAND
and "The Windy City," let us examine bridge and water in each
poem as setting and as metaphor. In the Eliot work, London Bridge
is overflowing with citizens and world-wanderers, mostly spirit-
ually dead and unconcerned with the life around them. ("London
Bridge is falling down," the poet reminds us.) In "The Windy
City" the Michigan Avenue Bridge, too, accommodates great
crowds of people, but they are communicating with each other, if not
through ideas born of theoretical and philosophical meditation, yet
through folk wisdom and street slang. They are interested in each
other on a familiar, daily basis. Whereas the Londoners only look
down at their feet, the Chicagoans look at each other. If Eliot's
bridge is falling down, Sandburg's bridge, with the alertness of a
jackknife, opens to let the boats of thriving commerce through and
then closes to allow the crowds to flow again, alive, aware.
Near London Bridge is King William Street, where the clock of
the church of St. Mary Woolnoth announces the time, but is most
binding for the listener when it is mysteriously silent on the stroke
of nine. This is one of Eliot's gnomic references: it suggests com-
plexly the hour of Christ's death and, in converse, the ninth month
of the fertility process. At the north end of the Chicago bridge is
the clock in the tower of the Wrigley Building, a structure openly
related to business and a vigorous, on-going life, in contrast with
St. Mary Woolnoth, a church structure which attracts very few
worshippers, because faith and morality are falling apart. Once in
a while, on the other hand, a passing Chicagoan admits that the
imagination, planning, and execution that went into the building of
the Wrigley skyscraper is at least worth remarking. In Eliot's
London scene, night is just that— despair, separation, despair.
At night in Chicago, however, the "lights" and "dots" of the
CARL SANDBURG'S INFLUENCE ON MODERN POETRY 53
bridges make a "gray and yellow" show— an entertainment, a
diversion, a lively performance for a lively crowd of onlookers.
Sandburg is accepting what he has found.
Because of the literary modes and the philosophic moods
of the 1920's, then, the Eliot poem became the prototype. Its
tone was despair, its subject was loss of impulse toward the re-
finement of life, its method was highly referential, placing classical
and Elizabethan poetry next to contemporary street argot and jazz
rhythms in, I must say, a condescending way. The mood of the
poets, the writers of fiction, and the critics in general was toward the
esoteric, the tragic view, and, in a plain word, the "difficult."
Sandburg, of course, had his readers and his audiences, but, with
few exceptions, in the main these were the people of his audiences,
members of what he called the "Family of Man," "the Mob," Whit-
man's "en masse." They did not read Hart Crane, Archibald Mac-
Leish, Marianne Moore, or Wallace Stevens as did the younger
After World War I the writers and the academics of Sandburg's
poetic prime were inclined to be of closed minds about Sandburg's
achievement. Some of them had left America for the cultural
thicknesses of Europe, as Eliot and Pound had done earlier, though
possibly not enough emphasis has been placed on the fact that,
except for occasional visits, the poets in the main did not follow
Pound and Eliot. Frost stayed in New England; William Carlos
Williams was in Rutherford; Wallace Stevens was in Hartford;
Marianne Moore was in Brooklyn; Robinson Jeffers was in Carmel;
and so on. Sandburg had gone abroad on a newspaper assignment,
but he stayed firmly rooted in the States, studying and writing on
American subjects, developing themes based soundly on the
American dream. The 1920's and even the '30's of F.D.R., how-
ever, seemed to be no time for Sandburg's poetry among critics
and fellow writers. They apparently wanted to luxuriate in self-
pity and despair and thought they needed their version of the
Sandburg's people, let it be said, can suffer, but the suffering
is not an Eliotic "ai, ai!" It is experience in a life cycle, to be borne
and transcended, to be used as a stepping stone, an upward-bound
ladder rung. Let us hear Sandburg himself in THE PEOPLE, YES
54 WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
The learning and blundering people will live on.
They will be tricked and sold and again sold
And go back to the nourishing earth for rootholds,
The people so peculiar in renewal and comeback,
You can't laugh off their capacity to take it.
I n the darkness with a great bundle of grief
the people march.
In the night, and overhead a shovel of stars for
keeps, the people march:
"Where to? What next?" (pp. 615-17)
This is the conclusion of the poem. It is that "shovel of stars" in
the sky that keeps them going. Contrast the people on London
Bridge in THE WASTE LAND, where "each man fixed his eyes
before his feet" — "each man," alienated, mind you, not "the
people"; "his eyes before his feet," not lifted up to "a shovel of
stars for keeps."
Like the poets, not all novelists followed Hemingway and
Fitzgerald to the despair of post-war Europe. James T. Farrell,
John Steinbeck, William Saroyan, for example, were attached
to their native soil. Farrell 's Chicago is Sandburg's Chicago in many
ways; Steinbeck's pilgrims and California little people are the
poet's "common man"; Saroyan's ethnics are his ethnics, though
more gushing. Like the French Impressionist painters at the turn
of the century (recall Renoir), these writers preferred the material
of everyday life, the non-epic, the unimportant. Theirs were the
scenes and voices of Sandburg's poems too. Nearly always, when he
wrote of headline makers, of "big shots," he wrote as a debunker or
as a satirist. He was related in this attitude to such muckrakers as
Lincoln Steffens and Ida M. Tarbell, who in the first decade of the
century had pictured Philadelphia and the Standard Oil Company no
better than they deserved. Sandburg's explosion in the face of Billy
Sunday was in the same vein. His straight-faced comment in
"Limited" actually was satirizing the middle-class smoking-car
traveler whose only goal was Omaha.
In the other arts American subjects and motifs also interested
the craftsmen of the period. Many composers worked with Amer-
ican ideas that were reflected in their rhythms, melodies, and
moods, though, like Sandburg, they were often of a new kind in
exploring and expressing their own harmonies. A list of Charles
Ives's orchestral works in the decade of the Steffens and Tarbell
CARL SANDBURG'S INFLUENCE ON MODERN POETRY 55
exposes reads like a chauvinist's catalogue (ANTI-ABOLITIONIST
RIOTS, SOME SOUTHPAW PITCHING). George Gershwin re-
mained exuberantly American to the end. Aaron Copland invented
the music for the ballets BILLY THE KID and RODEO. In 1944,
the year Sandburg began work on his novel, REMEMBRANCE
ROCK, Copland produced the lovely APPALACHIAN SPRING
and a composition Sandburg surely would have applauded— FAN-
FARE FOR THE COMMON MAN. The poet, then, was not left
standing alone by the composers of the music as he explored
American themes, scenes, and people in his own pioneering idiom.
Likewise, painters and graphic artists were absorbed by the
same Americana that fascinated Sandburg and gave him inspira-
tion, theme, and subject matter. Thomas Eakins drew from two
sides of his personality to paint the athletic JOHN BIGLEN IN A
SINGLE SHELL (Yale) and the aesthetic THE CELLO PLAYER
(Pennsylvania Academy). We are here reminded jf, on the one
hand, Sandburg's muscular poems "A Tall Man" (pp. 42-43)
and "Plowboy" (p. 68) and, on the other, of the fine long lines of
"Kreisler" (p. 125) and "Jan Kubelik" (p. 33): "Your bow swept
over a string, and a long low note quivered to the air." George
Luks's THE SPIELERS (Phillips Andover) is a joyous picture of
two little girls dancing, daughters of laborers. They could just have
stepped off Sandburg's "Picnic Boat" (p. 10) still responding to
the Polish brasses sounding out "a folk-song for the home-comers."
The row of houses in winter snow in Charles Burchfield's SIX
O'CLOCK (Syracuse) parallels the "six hundred porches" the milk-
man visits in Sandburg's "Psalm of Those Who Go Forth before
Daylight" (p. 116). Reginald Marsh's WHY NOT USE THE L?
(Whitney, New York) could be the scene of Sandburg's "Poems
Done on a Late Night Car" (pp. 61-62). George Bellows' DEMPSEY
AND FIRPO (Whitney) has all the strength and motion of Sand-
burg's "The Shovel Man" (p. 9). There are more, but these show
that, in spite of Eliot's ascendancy, Sandburg was not a loner in
his American creativity.
Parenthetically, in 1976 I published an article on "Sandburg's
Chromatic Vision in HONEY AND SALT," which might have been
subtitled "The Poet's Painterly Eye," for I focussed attention on
the vivid colors in the 1963 volume.^ My conclusion was that because
of his unrestrictive use of tints and shades and primary colors he
56 WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
had, unlike most of his contemporaries in their old age, retained a
youthful verve and awareness not only in his view of the externals
of nature but in his observance of life as a whole. Whereas poets
like Stevens, Frost, and Eliot had turned to blacks and grays or to
actual colorlessness in many instances, Sandburg had still pictured
his world in reds, blues, pinks, yellows, as well as steels, bronzes,
and grays— a riotously kaleidoscopic experience. The result was not
altogether unlike a pointilliste painting. All the separate spots of
color had to be absorbed by the reader to understand ultimately
the unities of the poet's world. In technique, then, as well as in
theme and subject matter he was neighbor to the artist.
Sandburg has been accused of lacking depth, of giving us
nothing but noncontinuous, immediate images with no past or
future. ("The past is a bucket of ashes" needs to be examined in the
context of the complete poems.) His unity, however, is of a remark-
able sort, born of his unchanging emotional center. If one must read
many poems to conceive the whole range of color, so he must read
many poems to recognize the single-mindedness running through-
out. If the later poems are less pounding in propaganda, there is
no slack in underlying anger at injustice and hypocrisy, in com-
passion for the ordinary person and the underprivileged, and in
loving acceptance of natural and man-made objects. He maintains
his controlled ecstasy rising from his absorption in the colors and
moods of nature, and he shows constantly his love for family,
friends, and humanity— especially the American masses, who had
almost totally engaged his concentration during the early years of
this century. We say it again: the cataloguing of details does, after
all, add up to a total and steadily glowing image, the expression of
the sturdy emotional experience of a very sane man, gifted with
There are critics who say that no one has yet stepped into the
role that Whitman outlined for the future poet of his America.
It seems to me, however, that, the more I read Sandburg, the more
he appears to have come close to filling the bill as Whitman's truly
American poet whose country has absorbed "him as affectionately
as he has absorbed it." There have been other roads to follow than
the one Sandburg chose, but he has succeeded in giving shape on
the page and permanence through his books to the words, the
CARL SANDBURG'S INFLUENCE ON MODERN POETRY 57
rhythmic phrases, and the received symbols of everyday American
life. Often with notable subtlety he has given memorable expression
to the ideals of the American masses, his beloved "mob." As Frost
has encouraged us to achieve moral insight and maturity through a
Republican individualism in appreciating nature ourselves with
sharpened sensitivity, so through Sandburg's eyes we see the
Democratic point of view, our moral responsibility for society—
both individuals nearby and crowds afar— enriched by a cherishing
of the shapes, sounds, and colors in the natural world in which that
society pursues its upward march. Sandburg's poems embrace all
of life in a way Frost's do not attempt, through street slang, bluster,
populist support, love poems, nature lyrics, city descriptions, and
outbursts against hypocrisy. The scenes of America remain through-
out all the books— city, the farm, the lakes and rivers, the moun-
tains, the sea— and the people remain, the common people, the
family, the friends, both modest and distinguished. And always the
themes are there: love of humanity and of nature, the need for
sympathetic understanding, the indignation at evil and deceit.
Almost alone of the well-known scholars who wrote reviews
twenty-seven years ago of the first edition of COMPLETE POEMS,
Louis Rubin was thorough and sympathetic, bringing balance and
justice to earlier reviewers' opinionated myths. ^ Recently, in com-
menting on BREATHING TOKENS, the 1978 book of Sandburg
poems edited by the poet's daughter Margaret, Rubin says that
Sandburg will be remembered for his first book, CHICAGO
POEMS, and for several dozen additional lyrics.^ He sees Sand-
burg's reputation as high for his poetry up to 1926, making a strong
contribution to the break-up of the legacy of the mauve decade.
Then public attention was turned to his Lincoln biography and his
skill as platform performer. In fact, his next major book of poetry,
THE PEOPLE, YES (1936), did not come out for ten years, by which
time it was obvious that he had taken a different road from the
Imagists, whom Pound had futilely urged him to join in 1914. He
had written over the years many small impressionist poems, but his
techniques and subject matters had ranged far beyond the limita-
tions imposed by the little band of poets first under the guidance of
Pound and then of Amy Lowell. Rubin calls attention to the attitudes
expressed in current college anthologies, that Sandburg's poems
58 WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
may be unpolished and lacking in intensity, but they make vigorous
and immediate response, especially to the experience of the city.
Rubin says that there is more to Sandburg's poems and that the
truth will come out eventually, because not only did Sandburg use
our vernacular with skill and sophistication, but his poems are
indeed unique and sometimes spectacularly beautiful.
Eliot, Pound, and the New Critics were powerful influences to
the end of World War ll.lt was modish to be difficult and existential
and especially aware of subtleties of meter and rhyme, to be cor-
ralled in the kennel of European culture. Then the war was over and
a new breed appeared. True, fine poets like Richard Wilbur con-
tinued to be loyal to their heritage; Robert Lowell and Theodore
Roethke emerged. But others found nourishment in another direc-
tion. Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti were among the
foremost spokesmen for a new freedom, back to Emerson— at
least to his dictum if not to his praxis— with Emerson, Whitman,
and then Sandburg as its pioneers. Even when not acknowledging
Sandburg, poets began to feel that Sandburg-like liberation was
perhaps closer to the American temperament of the time than Eliot
and Pound, than Brooks and Warren would ever be. Ginsberg was
shocking with his four-letter words and his explicit evocations, but
he was in the long run honest and forthright. He was a founder of
that seemingly footloose movement, the Beat Generation, marked
by a freedom and mobility that Sandburg might have identified
with. Listen to the first two lines of Ginsberg's "Howl":
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed
by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn
looking for an angry fix. ... ^
The lines are generally longer than Sandburg's, more like Whit-
man's in their self-containment. But the Sandburg release has
returned: freedom of diction, of subject matter, from linear re-
striction. Karl Shapiro in a recent review finds little distance be-
tween Sandburg and Ginsberg: says he, "both are political dream-
ers, idealists, impractical, joyous and outraged by turns, full of
high seriousness and just plain bull."^
A different quotation from Ginsberg will show another side.
"In Back of the Real" is an effort on the poet's part to see through
ordinary ugliness to spiritual loveliness. These are the closing lines:
CARL SANDBURG'S INFLUENCE ON MODERN POETRY 59
Yellow, yellow flower, and
flower of industry,
tough spikey ugly flower,
with the form of the great yellow
Rose in your brain !
This is the flower of the World
Does this not recall the Sandburg of "Nocturne in a Deserted Brick-
yard," "Moonlight and Maggots," and "Lumber Yard Pools at
Without specific data it is difficult to assess the influence of an
older poet on a new generation. I am going to quote from an early
Sandburg poem and from a late one, and then follow that with
excerpts from other poets born after the publication of THE WASTE
LAND to show they are not far from the Sandburg vein in many
ways. The first lines are from the close of "Old Woman" (p. 69),
Chicago realism in the customary unrhymed verses of irregular
length, the last line a climactic single word of two syllables. The
observer is on the last streetcar of the night schedule.
The headlight finds the way
And life is gone fronn the wet and the welter-
Only an old woman, bloated, disheveled and bleared
Far-wandered waif of other days,
Huddles for sleep in a doorway.
The second example is the first section of "Contemplation
Basket" from the latest volume, BREATHING TOKENS. Note how
colors are still in this poem of an older writer.
The flamewash swim of five scarlet fish
gives eyes a deed of motion and light.
One fast line of a redbird flight
can hold the heart of a sunrise cry.
A basket of yellow corn,
a bowl of black-and-gold pansies,
may feed hungering blood and thirsting eyes.
The slide of a spotted snake to a slant of sun
or the f lagrance of the June bloom of peonies
or the laughter of a bushel of new potatoes—
they may speak to the eyes and the blood.
The hushed rituals of gold and shadow
move over summer oats, over harvest corn. . . .■"
The first of the parallel poems appeared in THE NEW YORK-
ER for January 23 of this year, and is by Louise Gluck, a thirty-five-
year-old New York poet much in vogue. The poem is her reaction to
a painting in a museum. The lines are short, irregular, unrhymed.
60 WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
The language is uncomplicated, apparently naive, for there are
many monosyllabic words. Comparison with Sandburg can be made
in line structure, diction, mood, theme. Called "The Sick Child
(Study in Oils)," it reads, in part:
A small child
is ill, has wakened.
And the child
relaxes in her mother's arms.
The mother does not sleep;
fixedly into the bright museum.
By spring the child will die.
Then it is wrong, wrong
to hold her—
let her be alone,
without memory. . . .""^
And now, excerpts from several poets born in the mid-1 920's.
First, three men, friends at Harvard, leaders in the group in the
fifties called the "New York Poets." Their urbanism links them to
Sandburg as does their imagery, drawn from the little acts of daily
life that add up to significance for the unpretentious and unpres-
tigious man. Here is the first stanza of "A Step Away from Them,"
by Frank O'Hara:
It's my lunch hour, so I go
for a walk among the mum-colored
cabs. First, down the sidewalk
where laborers feed their dirty
glistening torsos sandwiches
and Coca-Cola, with yellow helmets
on. They protect them from falling
bricks, I guess. Then onto the
avenue where skirts are flipping
above heels and blow up over
grates. The sun is hot, but the
cabs stir up the air. I look
at bargains in wristwatches. There
are cats playing in sawdust. ''^
Could not Sandburg have collected these details, adding up to a
summer noon in the city?
The second in this group, by John Ashbery, is the sestet of
the first of "Two Sonnets," in which you will seek in vain the rhyme
scheme set down by Petrarch or Shakespeare. Intimacy, color,
and popular culture crowd into these six lines:
The iodine bottle sat in the hall
And out over the park where crawled roadsters
The apricot and purple clouds were
And our blood flowed down the grating
Of the cream-colored embassy.
Inside it they had a record of "The St. Louis Blues." '^
CARL SANDBURG'S INFLUENCE ON MODERN POETRY 61
In Kenneth Koch's poem called "Thanksgiving," the first two
stanzas are marked by Sandburgian colors and fantasies:
What's sweeter than at the end of a summer's day
To suddenly drift away
From the green match-wrappers in an open pocket-book
And be part of the boards of a tavern?
A tavern made of new wood.
There's an orange-red sun in the sky
And a redskin is hunting for you underneath ladders of timber.
I will buy this tavern. Will you buy this tavern? I do.^^
Now we move to the countryside. David Wagoner is, like
Sandburg, of Midwest origin. Like Sandburg he has a keen eye for
the phenomena of nature. Moreover, his lines are unrhymed, his
diction plain. Like Sandburg he can make nature strange, a cause
for wonder. Here is part of a poem Wagoner has called "The Poets
Agree to Be Quiet by the Swamp" :
strokes of light like heron's legs in the cattails,
Mud underneath, frogs lying even deeper.
Therefore the poets may keep quiet.
But the corners of their mouths grin past their hands.
They stick their elbows out into the evening,
Stoop, and begin the ancient croaking."'®
The next poet is Galway Kinnell. He here addresses a chief
American poet to champion the challenges of rhyme and of high
discipline in the classic sense. The colloquial style would be close to
Sandburg's heart. This is the first of five sections:
Why do you talk so much
Robert Frost? One day
I drove up to Ripton to ask.
I stayed the whole day
And never got the chance
To put the question.
I drove off at dusk
Worn out and aching
In both ears. Robert Frost,
Were you shy as a boy?
Do you go on making up
For some long stint of solitude?
Is it simply that talk
Doesn't have to be metered and rhymed?
Or is gab distracting from something worse? ^ ^
The last excerpt is again from THE NEW YORKER, January
30, this year. The poet, much older than the others I have been
quoting, was seventy-three on April 24. A leading proponent of
the New Criticism, he is editor of a new and monumental anthology
of A-merican literature. Robert Penn Warren has been inclined to
62 WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
patronize Sandburg, yet he can sound like this (the last eight lines of
"Heart of a Backlog"):
Has the thought ever struck you to rise and go forth— yes, lost
In the whiteness— to never look upward, or back, only on.
And no sound but the snow-crunch, and breath
Gone crisp like the tearing of paper? Listen!
No, no— just a tree, far off, when ice inward bites.
No, no, don't look back— oh, I beg you!
I beg you not to look back, in God's name.
Possibly someone is warning Lot's wife here, but don't I catch the
echo of a familiar voice: "The past is a bucket of ashes"?
I am firmly convinced that these seven poets I have quoted
would not sound as they do if Sandburg, beginning In 1914, had not
made those initial explorations.
Now let me quote, finally, from a poem in BREATHING TO-
KENS. It is called "Poplars" and will remind us once more of how
our poet sounds. Note, in the three-line song of the trees at the end,
the beautiful word "loaf" that Whitman loved so much.
A few poplars standing to the west
And one star and two stars and three,
And a sky changing every so little
And to this a few poplars singing, strumming
Steady to the wind their music:
This fills an evening hour.
Here we loaf an hour, half a night.
Here we find who keeps our memory.
If this new volume neither adds to nor subtracts from Sand-
burg's status as a poet, it nevertheless does give us a further
opportunity to feel his emotions, envision his scenes, flavor his
diction, absorb his themes. Reading the reviews, one senses that the
condescensions of the Eliotic era are fading before the important
truth that Sandburg has been a vital element in the history of
twentieth-century poetry. Karl Shapiro makes no bones about it.
Himself a poet of no mean reputation, he sees Sandburg as being
as strong an influence on American verse as Pound or William
Carlos Williams. Today's poets have in him a model for their own
free verse, language experiments, street argot. He could indeed
be called "the first American Street Poet," such as one sees and
hears nowadays in city taverns and campus hangouts. Sandburg
would appreciate the current drive for equality. He would applaud
the loud, corny sentimentality. If we can judge by his letters and by
CARL SANDBURG'S INFLUENCE ON MODERN POETRY 63
anecdotes about him, he would be amused and diverted by the
vulgar epithets and the obscenities that go beyond frankness.
If Sandburg lacks the gifts of prophecy claimed for Whitman, the
master craftsmanship ascribed to Frost, and the "subterranean
spirit" associated with Poe, heat least has not been relegated to the
arid theories of the academics who are tearing Pound and Eliot
V. S. Pritchett said recently, "To end not with a bang but a
whimper may have suited the twenties, but it is useless now."
We might add that it was always useless to Sandburg. The poets of
the present generation (beginning with the tiny tyros of the public
elementary schools on through college to Warren himself) are
nearer to him at this moment than they may realize or are willing to
admit. He continues to loom large and serene as a major poet in our
64 WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
(This essay was adapted from an address delivered at The Sandburg Synnposium,
Cornell College, April 13, 1978.)
■"See Helga Sandburg, A GREAT AND GLORIOUS ROMANCE (New York:
^HE COMPLETE POEMS OF CARL SANDBURG, rev. ed. (New York:
Harcourt, 1976), pp. 166, 64, 17. All quotations from Sandburg's poems are from
this edition, and hereafter page numbers will be given in parentheses.
^Richard Crowder, CARL SANDBURG (New York: Twayne, 1964), p. 87.
*T. S. Eliot, THE WASTE LAND, in THE COMPLETE POEMS AND PLAYS
(New York: Harcourt, 1952), p. 45.
^Richard Crowder, "Sandburg's Chromatic Vision in HONEY AND SALT,"
in THE VISION OF THIS LAND, ed. John E. Hallwas and Dennis J. Reader
(Macomb: Western Illinois University, 1976), pp. 92-104.
^Louis D. Rubin, Jr., "Chicago Revisited," HOPKINS REVIEW, 4 (Winter
1951), pp. 63-69.
'Louis D. Rubin, Jr., Review of BREATHING TOKENS, THE NEW RE-
PUBLIC, 28 Jan. 1978, pp. 35-36.
^Allen Ginsberg, "Howl," in AMERICAN POETRY AND PROSE, 5th ed.,
ed. Norman Foerster, et al. (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1970), p. 1471.
Varl Shapiro, Review of BREATHING TOKENS, Chicago TRIBUNE, 1 Jan.
1978 sec. 7, p. 1.
^^Ginsberg, "In Back of the Real," in AMERICAN POETRY AND PROSE,
"•■•Carl Sandburg, "Contemplation Basket," in BREATHING TOKENS, ed.
Margaret Sandburg (New York: Harcourt, 1978), p. 170. Copyright 1978 by Mau-
rice C. Greenbaum and Frank M. Parker, Trustees of the Sandburg Family Trust,
copyright 1978 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. Reprinted by permission of
■•^Louise Giack, "The Sick Child (Study in Oils)," THE NEW YORKER, 23
Jan. 1978, p. 46.
■"^FrankCHara, "A Step Away from Them," in THE VOICE THAT IS GREAT
WITHIN US, ed. Hayden Carruth (New York: Bantam, 1970), p. 586.
I^John Ashbery, "Two Sonnets," in THE VOICE THAT IS GREAT WITHIN
US, p. 593.
ISKenneth Koch, "Thanksgiving," in THE VOICE THAT IS GREAT WITHIN
US, p. 545.
"•^David Wagoner, "The Poets Agree to Be Quiet by the Swamp," in THE
VOICE THAT IS GREATWITHIN US. d. 589.
■•^Galway Kinnell, "For Robert Frost," in THE VOICE THAT IS GREAT
WITHIN US, p. 600.
"1 8 Robert Penn Warren, "Heart of a Backlog," THE NEW YORKER, 30 Jan.
1978, p. 34.
I^Carl Sandburg, "Poplars," in BREATHING TOKENS, p. 73.
20v. S. Pritchett, "An Exile's Luggage," THE NEW YORKER, 20 March
1978, p. 146.
THE REGIONAL ESSAYS OF
John E. Hallwas
In 1918 Carl Sandburg said in "Prairie"— his most extensive
poetic interpretation of the Midwest— "The land and the people
hold memories. . . ."^ By this, he meant that a slowly changing land-
scape and people who are reluctant to let go of the past make
remembrance an important aspect of midwestern life in the non-
metropolitan areas. A few years earlier Edgar Lee Masters had
demonstrated as much with his SPOON RIVER ANTHOLOGY
(1915), in which the dead residents of a western Illinois town
(and its rural environs) recall their lives. But Sandburg's comment
now also applies to another regional literary achievement: the
essays of Jerry Klein. The latter is a Peoria newspaperman who has
written a number of feature articles about the landscape and people
of western Illinois during the past several years— articles in which
the past is a deeply felt aspect of the present. Taken together, his
essays represent the most thorough literary examination of regional
life since SPOON RIVER ANTHOLOGY appeared. Moreover,
Klein's prose has much in common with Masters' poetry, as it does
with Sandburg's, and there are also some thematic resemblances
to Vachel Lindsay's work as well. Hence, his achievement is re-
gional by virtue of its literary associations as well as its subject
A true native of the region, Klein was born in Peoria on Decem-
ber 19, 1926, and grew up in the East Bluff area of the city. He
attended St. Bernard's parochial school and Spaulding Institute,
graduating from the latter in 1945. However, he entered the Navy
in December, 1944— before receiving his secondary school diplo-
ma—and served as a radioman in the South Pacific during World
War II. In 1950 he received his Bachelor of Music degree from
66 WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
Bradley University, which was followed by two years of graduate
work in music at the University of Illinois.
He liked his home town well enough to want to stay in the area,
but Peoria held few opportunities for a young concert pianist.
After a one-year stint as a "rod man" and surveyor for the state
highway department, he responded to a Peoria JOURNAL STAR ad
for an editorial writer. That was in September, 1953.
Fortunately, the managing editor, Gomer Bath, did not insist
on much by way of experience— for Klein had none. Instead, he
offered the tall young man a chance to prove he could fill the posi-
tion. "Bring me in three editorials tomorrow," Bath said.^ Klein
went home, looked at some editorials, wrote three of his own, and
brought them in the next day. He got the job.
On June 4, 1955, he married Mary E. Dudas, who had also
been raised in Peoria, and in the years that followed the Kleins had
seven children. ^ They now live in Lourdes, about nine miles east
Klein's writing for the JOURNAL STAR during his twenty-
five-year career falls roughly into three categories. Criticism of the
performing arts in Peoria has been his main assignment. Also, for
a few years he wrote a humorous column called "Once Over Light-
ly," which appeared in the newspaper's WEEKENDER supple-
ment. However, his literary achievement resides in the occasional
feature articles that he has written during the past several years,
virtually all of which deal with Peoria and its hinterland in west-
Regional essays became a prime concern for Klein early in 1973
when he got the idea of reviewing the area's communities "like you
do a concert." That is, he decided to "just walk in and be totally
impressionistic about a town," to try to simply "get the flavor of it
and write about it." He soon expanded his focus to include Peoria
itself and the rural landscape of the region. For most of these essays
he worked with photographer Jack Bradley, who recently left the
Of course, their success in responding to a community in this
way depended, in part, on what happened when they got there.
In one place, as Klein put it, "it seemed like the whole town was
standing there waiting for us," and "the sense of time and place and
THE REGIONAL ESSA YS OF JERRY KLEIN 67
character was so interwoven that it was kind of amazing" — but in a
couple of other locations "the stories never turned out."
In those essays that did turn out, Klein brought to the task a
regional native's sensitivity to the people and places he wrote about,
an often poetic style of writing that is almost unique in the world of
journalistic prose, and a conviction that "there Is something of in-
finite value" in the life of the region. The best of his articles power-
fully communicate that view.
During the past several years Klein has also had articles and
stories published in REDBOOK, READER'S DIGEST, and FORD
TIMES. The last of these magazines carried a regional piece called
"Steamboat A-comin'," the story of the JULIA BELLE SWAIN, in
1977. He has also written several articles that have been carried In
the New York TIMES.
That Klein has been influenced by Edgar Lee Masters there is
no question. In a 1968 article called "Along the Spoon"— which
preceded by a few years his more systematic attempt to survey the
region— he quotes several lines from "The Hill," the opening lyric
in SPOON RIVER ANTHOLOGY, and all of "Hare Drummer,"
the most nostalgic epitaph in the volume. The essay, in which Klein
records his impressions along the newly opened Spoon River Drive,
is in perfect keeping with the spirit of the latter poem:
It [the Spoon River] passes through sleepy valleys and under
bridges where cars seldom cross any more. Trees in places
bend almost to the water, the maples, elms and willows, and
sometimes they meet across the middle. There are still clam-
shells buried in the soft mud along the banks, and the water
occasionally splashes with the jumping of a fish. In the fields
there is the ceaseless sound of the crickets, and the old cem-
eteries along the hillsides with their crooked tombstones are
immensely peaceful in the chill wind of an October afternoon.'*
Much more recently, in July of last year, Klein wrote about the
upper Spoon River Valley in a beautiful piece of descriptive writing
called "The Other End of the Spoon." Although he claims that the
upper Spoon is quite different from the area "which Edgar Lee
Masters made forever famous," he closes the essay by saying,
"There are the weak of will, the strong of arm, the clown, the
boozer, the fighter sleeping on their hills up here too. "^
But undoubtedly the essay that reveals most about Masters'
influence on Klein is "Lewistown," written in 1976. The author's
WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
Photo by Jack Bradley. Courtesy of Peor/a JOURNAL STAR.
Spoon River Bridge south of Wyoming.
theme, announced in the opening sentence, is the elemental nature
of small town life: "Life goes slowly here, geared almost to the great
ebb and flow of the seasons and the even greater coming and going
of life and death. "^Moreover, the high point of the article is Klein's
visit to Oak Hill Cemetery— "generally regarded as The Hill'"
of the ANTHOLOGY— where he clearly relates his theme of con-
tinuity amid slow seasonal change to the work of Masters:
The old graves here go back a hundred years and more
and there is at this time of year [spring] a sense of deep peace.
The wind in the newly leafed trees takes on a new sound. It
is not the dry and scratchy rustle of winter, but a warmer,
full-throated, urgent plea. And the ground is soft, springy.
Bird songs and stirrings. Lichen on the headstones.
Some of these more prominent graves are surrounded
by wrought iron fencing, partly fallen now, the gates with
rusted hinges. . . .
But Masters' hill and Masters' people range all along the
valley of the Spoon, the merchants, the bankers, the brawlers,
in quiet little cemeteries where crickets sound on warm autumn
afternoons and tall grass bends in the wind.
Of course, Lewistown is a thriving community, but Klein can not
help but view the residents as slowly departing toward the hill with
THE REGIONAL ESSAYS OF JERRY KLEIN
their memories. Referring to the boom years during World War II,
he says, "All that happened over thirty years ago. Third of a
century. And the memories are partly gone, out on the hill now,
beneath the soft spring turf of Oak Hill. Lots of people die in 30
years' time. Lots of people born, moving in." It is not surprising
that the article closes with the author again at the cemetery,
meditating on the people who lie there— "Each one a story that
has been edited down so tightly that there are only names and
Clearly, the fact that "The land and the people hold memories"
in the writing of Jerry Klein is partially the result of the influence of
Masters' ANTHOLOGY. Indeed, several of his essays find him
meditating on the gravestones in some western Illinois cemetery.
If the Spoon River poet captured the essential life of the west-
ern Illinois town of a century ago (Masters grew up in the 1870's
and 1880's), Klein has managed to reflect the unique character of
various towns in his recent essays. The best of his articles on
regional communities view the present and past of the town through
Photo by Jack Bradley. Courtesy of Peona JOURNAL STAR.
Upper Spoon River.
WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
a combination of Klein's own impressions and carefully selected
comments by local residents. The effect is both penetrating and
"Beardstown" is a good example. The article opens with
Klein's own view of the community:
Mention Beardstown and the mind will sketch a series of
quick and lasting impressions: a sleepy river town that still
has the melodious notes of the packet boat whistles ringing in
its ears; the river forever rolling past, bankfull and treacherous
in the spring, more lazy come July; memories of stage coaches
clattering off to the east, to Springfield, and a tall, circuit-
riding lawyer, boots thick with prairie dust, riding into town to
defend Duff Armstrong; a boy sitting along the levee watching
the river and waiting for a catfish to strike the hook at the other
end of his bamboo pole.^
It also contains one of his best regional characterizations, "Happy"
Jamison, Jr., a 79-year-old resident who leads the author to his
home, "opens a voluminous scrapbook, and begins talking about
the old days on the river" :
One can almost hear the faint hiss of steampower as he goes
on, feel the decks trembling, and see the long corrugated wake
rolling out astern.
Photo by Jack Bradley. Courtesy of Peoria JOURNAL STAR.
THE REGIONAL ESSAYSOF JERRY KLEIN 71
He talks about old boats and old days and the sharp mennory
keeps dredging up names and places — the barge PEARL, Tread-
way Lake, Mascoutin Bay, the Meredosia bridge, Little Beards-
town, Throckmorton's Button Factory, the DAVID SWAIN,
the Clendenin Slough, Little Field Spreads, and on and on.
"Had lots of pecan trees along the river in the old days,
before they cut that Chicago canal. Hundreds of 'em. Water
killed all that stuff off. I've fished and hunted all my life. Had a
hundred ducks lying on that kitchen floor one time. You get on
that river and you just love it."
It would be hard to find a better literary illustration of Sandburg's
comment, "The land and the people hold memories," than Klein's
The same could be said for "Havana: The Memories Linger
On. . . ." which appeared in April, 1974. Of course, the subject
here too is an old Illinois River town. At the beginning of the essay
Klein offers his own impressions: "The fishing is only an echo of
the great days, the steamboat whistles and cries of the drovers have
all died away, and the sounds of the slot machines— cherries
clicking into windows and the silvery gush of coins— are only
memories now, but Havana still has the flavor of a rugged town out
of the Twenties, maybe earlier."^ The first characterization he
presents is probably the essential Havana resident, an old fisher-
man with memories of the "great days":
They once took a carload of fish out of here every day for
30 days straight. That was back about 1915 or so, and there was
20 to 25,000 pounds in each car.
We had Thompson Lake to fish in then. And Spring Lake.
Now they're all levied into farms, and the fish have got no place
but the river. The traffic takes care of them there.
We used to see boats once in a while, the Bald Eagle,
the Golden Eagle, the Commanche, and so on, but now we
get up to 15 boats a day, and it tears hell out of the river."
This is Bill Riley talking, 79 years old now, sitting in the
back room of Foster's Fish Market, where a few pitiful buckets-
ful of buffalo and catfish are gasping and twitching.
"I helped make the last haul at Thompson Lake. The dredge
boat was waiting for us to get out, and when I got out, he
closed the levy. Took 40,000 pounds of fish. We worked two
nights and three days to get 'em out of the seine."
The wonder and the tragedy of Bill Riley's life is summed up in
this carefully constructed memory sequence— which resembles
the epitaphs in Masters' ANTHOLOGY. But the Havana essay also
has another fine characterization, through which Klein offers a very
different view of the town's past. Bud Cullinane is a wealthy man
who lives in a house "right out of the great days of Natchez, with an
72 WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
interior like a Parisian salon and a garden from 'The Great Gatsby , ' "
and he is as obviously cosmopolitan as Riley is regional:
Bud Cullinane, a local landholder, sits . . . near his grand-
father's roll-top desk. Old Irish, from settlers who canne over
impoverished from the potato famine, found land, and ultimately
wealth. On his desk is a copy of Strunk's "The Elements of
Style" and Stephen Birmingham's "Real Lace."
Cullinane lives in the house built by Maj. Fullerton of
Natchez; Lincoln once stayed in it. And Cullinane has a hunting
lodge in the country where pianist Arthur Rubenstein was
once a guest and was served his favorite wine— Mouton-Roths-
Cullinane is equally at home in Paris, which he loves, or in
Havana, which he also loves. "An exceptional town," he says,
and he waves at people as he passes. He has friends in high
places and in low and talks with ease about Baccarat crystal or
a sagging farm gate.
This remarkably detailed characterization conveys enormous in-
formation about Cullinane's outlook and style of life— much of it
through implication. In short, the three carefully put together
paragraphs— each beginning with the man's name and ending
with a reference to some object of wealth— have poetic density.
If Havana reminds Klein of a town "out of the Twenties,"
Canton reminds him of the Thirties — and hence, of the days he
remembers so vividly from his own childhood. "Canton— The 30's
Stay" appeared in August, 1973, and it opens with one of the
author's most nostalgic passages:
Driving into Canton late on a summer evening brings the
feel of going backwards in time into the 30's, when kids played
kick the can on quiet streets or roller-skated in the lingering
dusks, when the soft summer nights folded themselves around
little towns, leaving long echoes of familiar sounds. Car tires
whining on brick streets. Bugs swarming around street lights.
Distant voices crying, "You're it" or "oily oily ox in free."
Porch swings creaking. The slam of a car door. Mothers calling
their children across darkened yards. Radios all tuned to Fibber
McGee and Molly or the Joe Louis fight. The whirr of electric
fans, the far-off wail of a train rushing through the night to
some far-off place. ^
While in town, Klein visits the establishments where memories
are bound to linger— such as the Hotel Canton, where "long car-
peted halls creak with the echoes of over 60 years of footsteps,"
and the turn-of-the-century drugstore of Edward Lewis, who
"has the kind of memory that begs to be picked." He also stops at
the oldest grocery store in town:
Along the square there is one of the last of the old-time
grocery stores. Tony's Fruit Store. It is run by 73-year-old
THE REGIONAL ESS A YS OF JERRY KLEIN 73
Tony Pusatere. The store has been there since 1901 and he
has run it since 1930. Inside is a dark and savory clutter, with
high shelves stacked with a bewildering array of food. "There
used to be forty, fifty stores like this in town," Pusatere says,
"Now I'm the only one left. The rest is big nnarkets. People will
be sorry one day."
Before the author leaves the old store he sees a boy come in for
candy, looking like a vision from his own childhood: "It seems
strange that he is not wearing knickers." By the close of the article,
he is caught between two realities— the Canton of the 30's and the
it is when night falls that the feeling of having retreated
in time becomes strongest. Dusk lingers and then fades. There
are crickets, then fireflies.
From a television set comes an eerie glow and the sound of
laughter. It is not Edgar Bergan and Charley McCarthy, or
Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor, but something newer. Car tires
whine across the brick and lights wash across curtained win-
dows. A motorcycle tears into the night and then it is silent
again. It is a deep and peaceful silence that has worn so well
and lasted so long that it is hard to realize that it is 1973 and not
1937 all over again. But it is. It is.
Although "Canton— The 30's Stay" is well unified, Klein's
most carefully structured article about a town is probably a 1975
work called "There's No Rush in Rushville. ..." In this essay he
deliberately avoids lengthy recollections in order to focus on a
summer day in the life of the community. The opening very subtly
introduces the article's main theme, the slow but relentless passage
of time— which is the adversary of the old men who sit on the
benches in the square:
Mid-morning and already hot. The cornfields begin to melt
into a watery haze far across the prairie, and the thermometer on
the bank blinks into the 80's.
It will reach 90 before this day is past, and the men sitting
on the green slat benches in the square will slide backwards
toward the shade as the sun burns its way across the sky above
and the lawn at their feet.''^
Throughout Klein's description of the summer day a circus is
referred to as setting up in town, and for one of the old men-
Donald Juett— it brings memories of the distant past and an accom-
panying sense of how old he's getting:
Donald Juett, retired farmer and "retired just about every-
thing," leans on a thick square yardstick that he uses as a cane
and watches the proceedings. "Used to be some pretty decent
circuses here in the old days," he says. "Barnum and Bailey
were here, but never Ringling Brothers." He says that he goes
around every day now and "stirs up the neighborhood." He says
that he will be 77— if he makes it to fall.
WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
Photo by Jack Bradley. Courtesy of Peoria JOURNAL STAR.
Men on benches in Rushville's square.
After describing several aspects of the town, which convey a sense
of "peace and stability" mingled with "vitality," the author returns,
at the article's end, to his central theme. He indicates various
ways in which the passage of time is measured in Rushville on
this early summer day:
The men in the square lannent that Friday and Saturday
nights are not what they used to be, when crowds of people
surged along the streets and filled the grassy square, and when
there was band music and a sense of the festive life. "Lot of
that gone now" says one of the men. "Lot of those people gone
too, planted out in the cemetery. Maybe some of us will be, too,
next time you come by. Be a whole new bunch here. "
The sun pushes on to the west, and the shade from the
trees dapples the grass. The flag uncurls slowly in the hot
breeze. Ninety degrees now. Two girls in short skirts climb
into an Oldsmobile and drive away, noisily. The McShane Bell
in the courthouse tower clangs again, once, twice.
Almost time for the circus matinee. Barefoot boys with
dollar bills crumpled in their jeans pockets begin to head toward
the fairgrounds, down the wide street, past the houses with the
deep lawns, on sidewalks set far back from curbs.
Step right up. Time to start the music. Time to start the
show. Time to start the summer that has, in Rushvile, the gentle
and easy flow of cool water through a meadow creek, a cloud
THE REGIONAL ESSA YS OF JERRY KLEIN 75
drifting across a hot sky, the talk of old men beneath the trees
in the square, or that of the women on the benches along the
sidewalk or in the cafe.
Tomorrow the circus will be gone. For the young, summer
will stretch away endlessly, like the great shimmering prairie.
Fall, for the older ones, comes far too soon.
There is a subtle but effective contrast here between the young-
sters—hurrying to the circus, living thoroughly within the present
moment, starting a summer that "will stretch away endlessly" —
and the old men on the square, who measure the day's activity
in relationship to the past and who are concerned with making it
to the fall.
Also written in 1975 is Klein's essay on Goofy Ridge, the most
unusual community he visited in the region. As he says at the out-
set, "It is a chaotic collection of old and new trailers, pig houses,
shacks, sheds, cabins, outhouses, permastone cottages, garages
and old buses. . . . "^^ As this perhaps suggests. Goofy Ridge is
really not a town at all, but "a non-town, listed on no highway maps
and possessing no governmental entity," a place where the people
"have achieved and stoutly defend an individualistic democracy of
near Jeffersonian proportions." Located along Lake Chautauqua
on the Illinois River, it developed as a unique sort of resort area:
"Gabby Hartnett and other big people from Chicago used to come
here for something different. Drink and fish with the local folks
down along the Illinois. A midwestern Dogpatch."
Klein once commented that "the real soul of a town is in
bars."^^ Of course, people in bars also usually have the time and
inclination to talk to a visiting writer, but his remark certainly
applies to Goofy Ridge, which has four taverns for only 400 people.
Indeed, he comments at one point that the community's social
life "centers largely around the taverns." In one of them Klein runs
across someone who is as close to the soul of the community as any
resident. Elizabeth Buchanan, who runs the Goofy Ridge Tavern,
keeps "clippings from old newspapers in the drawer behind the
bar" and tells "stories about the crowds that used to gather for
Ditch Day, a political and social celebration held in honor of the
dredging of the Goofy Ridge ditch."
As one might expect, Klein's description of the rustic commun-
ity is appropriately serio-comic, right down to his closing medita-
tion, which depicts outhouses in a late winter dusk:
76 WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
Quiet now. No one out in the yards yet. Dusk settles slowly
through the woods. Lights conne on in the old pre-war trailers.
Stoves glow. The door bangs on an outhouse. One has polka dots
on the outside and the sign, "Sapphire Beanery." Another
appears to be made of brick. One has a screened-in porch.
There are new moons carved into the doors.
Ice breaking up along the river. Soon the long lines of geese
going north again. Fishing. Warm days. And the easy, easy
But as this also indicates, even in Goofy Ridge life somehow has
a quiet splendor, attuned as it is to the slow pace of seasonal
Klein has written so many articles on western Illinois towns-
more than two dozen— that it would be impossible to deal with all
of them in the present study, but the few which have been discussed
should indicate that the best of them are very fine essays. Not
since SPOON RIVER ANTHOLOGY has regional community life
been so thoroughly examined or native characterizations so vividly
It would perhaps be overstating the case to say that Klein's
essays show the influence of Carl Sandburg, but there are some
remarkable similarities between the former's prose and the latter's
poetry. The resemblances are primarily thematic, but Klein's
style in a few articles is also reminiscent of the poet's free verse.
"Galesburg" was published in April, 1973, the first of Klein's
proposed series of feature articles on towns in the Peoria vicinity.
It is not one of his finest literary achievements, but it does indicate
that he has been exposed to Sandburg's continuing presence in
the region. While in Galesburg he visited the poet's birthplace
and spoke with Lauren Goff, who offered "endless stories about
Sandburg and his family and how the house was saved and re-
stored. "^^ He also read some copies of Sandburg's poems that
hang on the walls of the home, and he stopped in the back yard
at Remembrance Rock: "Out in the back, flanked by evergreens
that whisper softly in the spring wind, is the rock under which
Sandburg's ashes lie. '. . . for it could be a place to come and
The theme of remembrance is one great similarity between
the achievements of the two authors. For example, in November,
THE REG I ON A L ESS A YS OF JERR Y KL EIN 77
1975, Klein wrote an article called "Armistice Day 1975," and
although it does not deal with the region, it clearly displays his
literary kinship with Sandburg. The latter often wrote about remem-
bering the dead of American wars— in poems like "Shenandoah,"
"Grass," and "The Long Shadow of Lincoln: A Litany." "Grass,"
in particular, written during World War I, evokes the dead on the
. . . pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and the passengers ask the conductor:
What place is this? ..
Where are we now?
Klein makes the very same point in "Armistice Day 1975" after
visiting the battlefield at Verdun:
The fallen dead still lie here— at Verdun, where the very earth
is a massive graveyard, in scores of neatly trimmed cemeteries
with row upon row of orderly white crosses, in silent ossuaries-
all of them dating from that war which has scarred our century
much as it has scarred the land here with these inerasable
trenches of the Western Front.
They are rather like quiet, ghostly parks, symmetrical and
orderly and sadly desolate. One has the feel of men and deeds
too much forgotten. ^^
One of Klein's finest essays, "Armistice Day 1975" was reprinted
in the New York TIMES the next year as "The Poppies, The Still-
ness" and in READER'S DIGEST (abridged) the year after as
"All Quiet on the Western Front."
Remembrance of the dead is also the theme of a regional
essay, "'Lost in the Cherry Mine,'" which appeared in April,
1977. One is reminded of Sandburg's compassion for the American
workingman — "The Sayings of Henry Stephens" is about a miner—
as Klein tells the story of Illinois' greatest disaster: "They say it
was a cold day that Saturday with a hard, icy rain falling in the
pre-dawn darkness as the 481 men assembled at the tipple of the
St. Paul mine for another day's work. And another day's pay.
$1.56. Payday would be Monday. But only for some of them."'^
And at the close of the §irticle, his insistence on the permanence
of the event in human memory is even expressed in a Sandburg-like
style: "the memories will never pass, not as long as stone lasts,
or life. There will be those tombstones, those words, 'Lost his
life in the Cherry Mine. ' "
78 WESTERN IL L I NO IS REGIONAL STUDIES
It is also interesting to note that Klein has written essays
about Chicago and the Illinois prairie— surely the most famous
poetic subjects in the Sandburg canon. "Chicago ... A Visit in
Urban Purgatory" appeared in February, 1976. In it the author
stresses the same sort of mixture of positive and negative aspects
that Sandburg brought out in his CHICAGO POEMS (1916)— and
he also sees Chicago as the essential American city: "in many ways
this has become the quintessence of the American megapolis,
embodying the best and worst of what this country has been, of
what it is coming to. The extremes of splendor and squalor, hope
and despair, sanctity and corruption. "^^ On the one hand, he
celebrates the city's achievements— "It has the world's finest
symphony orchestra, the biggest hotel, the busiest corner, the
highest building, the biggest convention center, the most active
airport . . ."—but on the other, he acknowledges its ugly realities:
"It is crowded, deteriorating, violent, dull and gray, locked be-
hind its deadbolts at night, depressing and morally and culturally
deadening." And like Sandburg the Socialist of the CHICAGO
POEMS era, Klein sees "a gulf of . . . yawning infinity between
the rich and the poor, between the haves and the have-nots,
between those who live amid pneumatic playgirls and those who
are surrounded by cockroaches. ..."
"The Vanishing Prairie" appeared a year later. It is a state-
ment about the changes that are evident on western Illinois farms.
Wind is used in the essay as a motif that represents change itself:
In the tall grass of an abandoned farm house, the wind
seems to rustle, like scurrying mice. It hurries through the
windowless house, flapping across loose pieces of wallpaper
and whistling through a thousand cracks. The heavy blue jeans
on the farm line stretch out in their mad ballet. Dust, black and
rich, sifts imperceptibly through the remains of an old fence,
and across the road . Who has seen the wind? ' ^
One is reminded of Sandburg's use of the wind to represent tran-
sience in many poems— although it is not a motif in "Prairie,"
his long lyric about cultural change in the rural Midwest.
In September, 1975, Klein wrote an entire essay on aban-
doned farm houses much like the one described in the above quo-
tation. "This Old House" is one of his finest achievements. It
too resembles Sandburg's poetry— and for a variety of reasons.
The themes of transience and remembrance are evident, and the
THE REGIONAL ESSAYS OF JERRY KLEIN
Photo by Jack Bradley. Courtesy of Peoria JOURNAL STAR.
Black soil sifting through a fence.
wind motif, but the author also attaches great significance to
the common events of life, and he even repeats his opening line
at the end— two other Sandburg trademarks. The following passage
is approximately half of the brief essay:
They are empty now, these old houses, finished, like the
chapters of a book that has been read and put aside and no
more will be taken down or opened. They dot the countryside,
rising ghost-like at the edges of corn and soybean fields, win-
dows gone, doors gaping, alive now only with the sounds of
birds and the wind passing through with its ancient song.
Sometimes the door bangs, a shutter bumps against the siding,
a scrap of curtain waves and the haunting echoes and whispers
Once there might have been birth and death, new sounds
and new cries and the stiff and quiet bodies lying in wooden
caskets and in parlors and banks of flowers, farmers mumbling
their sympathies, gnarled hands clasping, and the women
bringing in casseroles.
Once these houses were new and it was all promise. Excite-
ment over the new curtains and shades, the men delivering the
new stove, children gathered around the Arvin radio listening to
the Kellogg Singing Lady and Eddie Cantor.
And other times came when the people left the houses
and moved off the farm, away from the wind, the long fields
and the little schools. Lives passed and the echoes became
softer. Curtains frayed, windows were broken and poison ivy
wound up the porch posts. The siding turned weathered, then
gray and seamed, like the hands of the tough old men. The
pump rusts, the wind blows and time passes. All things do.
The houses are empty now.^'
80 WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
More than just another essay on some minor facet of the region,
"This Old House" is a requiem for a way of life that is disappearing:
the family farm.
There is also something broadly meaningful about the subject
matter of "'No Kicks, No Regrets,'" an essay that appeared in
August, 1977. It is one of Klein's few articles that focus on an
individual. The opening is a description of cars going past Leslie
Ellen wood's old gas station on Route 81 between Cambridge and
Kewanee: "Outside, the incessant August rain turns the surface
of Rt. 81 into a glistening black ribbon, like plastic electrician's
tape. Traffic whines past, tires hissing in the wetness. Not many
cars stop here any more. . . ."^°Ellenwood, who is 76, opened his
station forty-five years earlier, and now the man and the place
have very little function. The pumps don't work, and so there is
no gas to sell— just an occasional oil change or grease job. As is
true of all men who live long enough, Ellenwood is a victim of
change. But he still comes to the station, not so much to operate it,
perhaps, as to remain there for awhile with his memories:
The place is full of memories. Flat tires in the night.
People running out of gas. The daily, unspectacular interchange
that marks a man's years in a business such as this.
"I've got no kicks against what we've done at all," Ellen-
wood says. "Wouldn't have done it any other way."
Noon. He puts the closed sign up in the window, bangs
the door and walks through the rain to his house, right next
door. No regrets. The road is still a glistening black ribbon.
Another car passes, tires hissing in the wetness. Not many of
them stop here any more.
Here, too, Klein repeats some phrases from the beginning of the
essay, phrases which stress that almost no one stops to enter into
Ellenwood's world any more, and which convey a sense of finality
about this segment of his life. The cars hissing along are appropriate
symbols of the world that is passing him by. Also worth noting
here is the author's effective use of words and phrases that are
disconnected from whole sentences. This aspect of his style is
evident in a number of essays and contributes considerably to the
emotional impact of his writing.
Ellenwood's perspective on his career— which Klein sum-
marizes in the article's title— gives him a certain stature: he is
satisfied with his life's work, even though it has been unspectacular
THE REGIONAL ESSAYSOF JERRY KLEIN 81
and has led to a period of inactivity. He has the kind of quiet
strength that Sandburg admired in the American workingman.
Moreover, the old worker with memories is portrayed by the poet
in such poems as "Jack," "Waiting," and "The Sayings of Henry
In fact, Klein's vision of life as a whole is rather like Sand-
burg's. He does not see a world of tragically frustrated people,
where only a few truimph over the problems of life, as Masters
does in SPOON RIVER ANTHOLOGY. Rather, his is a world where
transience is the central factor and memories are a natural response
to that condition, and where the everyday realities of life, along
with the great struggles and disasters, have enduring significance.
Vachel Lindsay's poetry certainly did not have an influence
on Klein's regional essays, but the latter's achievement is rem-
iniscent of the Springfield poet's work in a couple of ways. First,
Klein displays an awareness of Lincoln's lingering presence in
the state capital, and second, he celebrates his own home town in
some of his articles.
Klein visited Springfield in 1976 and wrote about it in an
essay called "Abe Lincoln Sleeps Here." Lindsay is not mentioned
in the piece— even though his home is preserved on Fifth Street—
but the author deeply responds to the presence of Lincoln in the
city, just as the poet did in "Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight."
As Klein puts it, "Lincoln's presence is that of a hallowed martyr,
a secular saint, and his myths and legends go straight to bed-
rock. "^^ Lindsay certainly felt that way, and he also believed that
Lincoln and the state government— to quote Klein again — "have
converged in a unique and permanent fusion, even though the
one is past and the other always present." Lindsay felt that this
fusion made Springfield a unique governmental center, one that
had national implications— and Klein says as much when he
comments, "This rare combination of historical presence and gov-
ernmental power makes Springfield in its way like a small Wash-
ington. . . ."
But the state capital is not the newspaperman's home
town— as it was for Lindsay, who celebrated its past and its poten-
tial in such poems as "On the Building of Springfield," "The Town
82 WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
of American Visions," and "The Springfield of the Far Future."
However, Klein takes a similar approach to Peoria in articles like
"The Best Place in Town" and "Downtown Peoria." The former
appeared in March of last year, and it is based on the author's
visit to the section of the city where he grew up. As one might
expect, most of the essay is composed of his memories:
We thought this was the best place in town. This East Bluff.
There were the hills and playing fields of Glen Oak Park where
we practiced football in the autumns and skated on the lagoon
in the wintertime, clumping into the coal stove heat of the
warming house on our tubular hockey skates. There were
woods along the bluffs, intriguing and mysterious with their
narrow footpaths and their vague and nameless fears about the
gangs from down in the valley. There were a hundred alleys
to explore where we sometimes unearthed such spectacular
treasures as an ironing board, a brass lamp, a broken wagon
with ball bearing wheels.
We thought this was the best place in town.22
Masters, Sandburg, and Lindsay also looked back nostalgically
to the days of their youth— in the farming community of Peters-
burg, with its pioneer atmosphere (Masters's THE SANGAMON),
in the rugged little prairie town of Galesburg, with its
mixture of immigrant groups (Sandburg's ALWAYS THE YOUNG
STRANGERS), in the state capital of Springfield, with its political
activity (Lindsay's "Bryan, Bryan, Bryan, Bryan"). Although
Klein spent his youth In a much larger city, the East Bluff section
of Peoria had a certain small-town atmosphere about it: "Families
sat on the porches and called back and forth to one another. The
mailman knew everybody by name. And there were peddlers
selling vacuum cleaners, brushes, Watkins products, and in the
summertime, corn and beans off the backs of their trucks. There
was a sense here almost of the village. ..."
But Klein also remembers downtown Peoria, and like Lindsay
in THE GOLDEN BOOK OF SPRINGFIELD (1920), he has high
hopes for the future of his city. "Downtown Peoria" appeared In
November, 1975, and it includes the author's recollections of the
city's center as a place of fun and excitement: "There were crowds
downtown until late at night. There were drug stores and candy
shops and places where the high school kids bought malteds and ice
cream. There were little taverns in the alleys and winking signs at
night and crowds of people waiting to get into these theaters."
THE REGION A L ESSA YS OF JERR Y KL EIN 83
But the downtown of present-day Peoria has enough empty build-
ings to create a depressing effect, and Klein sees the situation as
"a reflection, perhaps, of a social order so eager to embrace that
which glitters brightest that it abandons the old at the first sign of
decline." He is anxious to save the center of his city because, as
he puts it, "The roots of the city are here, in all these stores, and the
memories. ..." Hence, with an enthusiasm that would have
made Lindsay— the artist of "The Village Improvement Parade"
— overjoyed, he proposes some changes:
A farmer's market. Yes. Sculpture. Yes. Fountains and
But something more: maybe a real sidewalk cafe, or two
of them. Street vendors with hot pretzels or bagels and cold
drinks, as they have in New York. Music downtown, not canned,
but concerts by jazz bands, string quartets, quintets, guitarists.
A bakery where people can buy good bread and pastries. A wine
shop. Intriguing taverns and restaurants. . . .
This optimism, too, is characteristic of Lindsay. In fact, the
latter not only envisioned a better future for Springfield, in "The
Illinois Village" he urged all those who were disenchanted with
America, "Turn to the little prairie towns,/ Your higher hope
shall yet begin. "^*Sixty-five years later, Klein is able to report,
with evident satisfaction, that such a trend is under way. At the
opening of a 1976 essay called "Lacon . . . Where the Livin' Is
Steady," he says.
People keep coming back to these small towns along this
vital river, amid these fertile green prairies. More than ever
now, they say. Part of a national trend. People beginning to
get out of the big cities with their smog, traffic, crime and
chaos. Back to towns where people know other people, where
they are individuals with names rather than numbers, where
they can walk the quiet, shaded streets and feel a part of some-
As this remark indicates, in spite of his attachment to Peoria, he
is, like Lindsay, an advocate of the small town.
Thus, in many ways Jerry Klein is the legitimate heir of
Masters, Sandburg, and Lindsay in midwestern literature. He
probes into the life of western Illinois communities, and he is sen-
sitive to those who lie gathered together in the small-town grave-
yards. He expresses compassion for the soldier and the working-
man; he is a witness to the contrasts of the city and the cultural
WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
changes of the prairie. He feels the continuing presence of Lincoln
in the Illinois state capital, and he identifies closely with his home
town— recalling its past, envisioning its future.
While the kinship between these three poets and Klein is
undeniable, it is not the result of conscious imitation of their work.
After all, they were primarily poets; he is an essayist. Rather, the
real source for most of the resemblances is Klein's sensitivity to
the western Illinois region— a region which Masters, Sandburg,
and Lindsay also thoroughly absorbed and reflected, and which
now has absorbed them. In the process of examining the land and
the people of his native region, the newspaperman has naturally
come to reflect their perspectives in his own work. More impor-
tantly, he has, at the same time, raised journalistic prose to the
level of significant literary art.
Photo by Jack Bradley. Courtesy of Peoria JOURNAL STAR.
Western Illinois prairie.
THE REGION A L ESSA YS OF JERRY KL EIN 85
^"Prairie," THE COMPLETE POEMS OF CARL SANDBURG, rev. ed.
(New York: Harcourt, 1970), p. 83.
^Interview with Jerry Klein, October 12, 1977. All of the quotations in the
next five paragraphs are fronn this source. A tape recording of the interview is
available in the Jerry Klein Collection at the Center for Regional Authors, Western
Illinois University Library.
^Letter from Jerry Klein to John E. Hallwas, January 9, 1978, in the Jerry
Klein Collection, op. cit..
^"Along the Spoon . . . ," Peoria JOURNAL STAR, 13 Oct., 1968, p. C-1 .
Since nnost of the articles quoted from in this study appear on a single page of the
newspaper, subsequent quotations from the same article are not footnoted. Copies
of all of Klein's feature articles are in the Jerry Klein Collection, op. cit.. Per-
mission to quote from the articles has been granted by the author.
5"The Other End of the Spoon," Peoria JOURNAL STAR, 17 July, 1977,
6"Lewistown," Peoria JOURNAL STAR, 9 May, 1976, p. D-1 .
7"Beardstown," Peoria JOURNAL STAR, 17 June, 1973, p. E-1.
^"Havana: The Memories Linger On . . . ," Peoria JOURNAL STAR, 14
April, 1974, p. C-1.
9"Canton— The 30's Stay," Peoria JOURNAL STAR, 5 Aug., 1973, p. C-1.
■•O'There's No Rush in Rushville . . . ," Peoria JOURNAL STAR, 29 June,
1975, p. E-1.
1"'"Goofy Ridge, Where the Livin' is Easy," Peoria JOURNAL STAR, 16
March, 1975, p. C-1.
''2|nterview with Jerry Klein, op. cit..
13"Galesburg," Peoria JOURNAL STAR, 15 April, 1973, p. A-1.
14"Grass," THE COMPLETE POEMS OF CARL SANDBURG, p. 136.
■•5"Armistice Day 1975," Peoria JOURNAL STAR, 9 Nov. 1975, p. A-1 .
■'^"'Lost in the Cherry Mine,'" Peoria JOURNAL STAR, 24 April, 1977, p. A-1.
■'^"Chicago . . . A Visit in Urban Purgatory," Peoria JOURNAL STAR, 22 Feb.,
1976, p. A-1.
18"The Vanishing Prairie," Peoria JOURNAL STAR, 8 May, 1977, p. E-1.
■•^"This Old House," Peoria JOURNAL STAR, 14 Sept., 1975, p. D-2.
20"'No Kicks, No Regrets,'" Peoria JOURNAL STAR, 14 Aug., 1977, p. D-1.
21"Abe Lincoln Sleeps Here," Peoria JOURNAL STAR, 25 April, 1976, p. A-1.
22"The Best Place in Town," Peoria JOURNAL STAR, 27 March, 1977, p. A-1.
23"Downtown Peoria," Peoria JOURNAL STAR, 16 Nov., 1975, p. A-1.
24"The Illinois Village," COLLECTED POEMS, rev. ed. (New York: Mac-
millan, 1925), p. 72.
25"Lacon . . . Where the Livin' Is Steady," Peoria JOURNAL STAR, 22 Aug.,
1976, p. D-1.
NOTES AND DOCUMENTS
One of the first decisions of the editorial board of this journal
was that, in each of the initial issues, information would be included
concerning various regional resource collections existing in Western
Illinois. It is hoped that various of these collections at places such
as Knox, Augustana, Illinois, and other colleges might be des-
cribed, as well as those being gathered by other active historical
organizations in the area.
Since time has rushed by so quickly since the establishment
of this journal, it was decided that the work being done in regional
studies by Western Illinois University Libraries might merit one of
the earlier descriptions. Much of the work completed here is in the
Archives and Special Collections. A recently acquired collection of
materials relates to the life and work of Virginia S. Eifert (1911-
1966), a well-known nature writer and biographer from Springfield.
Altogether, Eifert wrote nineteen books, including RIVER WORLD
(1959), LAND OF THE SNOWSHOE HARE (1960), and LOUIS
JOLIET, EXPLORER OF RIVERS (1961). She also produced paper-
back guidebooks to Illinois flora and fauna, such as BIRDS IN YOUR
BACKYARD (1941), ILLINOIS MAMMALS (1943), and FLOWERS
THAT BLOOM IN THE SPRING (1947). Mrs. Eifert wrote special
pieces as well for such periodicals as AUDUBON MAGAZINE,
NATURE MAGAZINE, and CANADIAN NATURE. She was
most well known in Illinois, however, for her work with the journal
of the Illinois State Museum, THE LIVING MUSEUM, which she
not only founded but edited for over twenty-five years. The Virginia
S. Eifert Collection at Western Illinois University came into exis-
tence mainly through the work of Orvetta M. Robinson, a close
friend of Mrs. Eifert and a former student at W. I. U. (1939-1941).
The Eifert Collection is only one part of the Center for Regional
Authors, which is devoted to materials by and about writers from
western Illinois and immediate areas. The primary focus has been
upon Carl Sandburg, Edgar Lee Masters, Vachel Lindsay, and Mark
Twain; but with the help of various members of the faculty and
the library staff, the three-year-old Center for Regional Authors is
88 WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
continuing to develop collections of material dealing with John
Hay, Don Marquis, Floyd Dell, and others. In fact, Mrs. Gordana
Rezab, University Archivist, has built up a rather large file of
reference cards treating authors long since forgotten by western
Illinois, and even by the communities in which they lived. Individual
items in the Center for Regional Authors now number in the hun-
dreds, and include some unpublished poems and correspondence
by Masters and Sandburg, many of the scarce issues of the
REEDY'S MIRROR, POETRY, and other magazines, and a large
number of first editions.
The library has also acquired the papers of Congressman
Thomas F. Railsback. These cover his official activities from 1967
to 1974, including the work of the House of Representatives
committee which investigated the Watergate scandal. The files
contain studies of economic and social conditions in west-central
Illinois, juvenile delinquency, prison reform, gun control, and
self-government for Washington, D. C.The papers of Railsback's
first two years are presently being processed by Mrs. Sheila Nollen,
a graduate student in the Department of History.
One of the new activities of the Archives and Special Collections
Department is in the area of historical music and music education
materials of Illinois. The library has an almost complete collection
of the respected journal ILLINOIS MUSIC EDUCATOR from 1947 to
the present, many tape recorded interviews and stories of Illinois
leaders in music, old music, and various other music publications.
Though the library has not moved in the direction of actually record-
ing folk music as it might still exist in western Illinois, it is to be
hoped that, someday, if the General Assembly is generous enough,
such recordings might be made.
The one-half millionth volume accessioned to the library
holdings was received during the spring commencement exercises
of 1977. A leather-bound volume of DUCKS, GEESE, AND SWANS
OF NORTH AMERICA, by Frank C. Bellrose, Jr., was presented
by the author to library director Pearce Grove. Also included in
Mr. Bellrose's gift was a substantial collection of the author's
personal correspondence, notes, drafts, and manuscripts. Dr.
Bellrose worked for many years with the Illinois Natural Survey
in Havana, Illinois.
NOTES AND DOCUMENTS 89
Of particular interest to historians is the Illinois Regional
Archival Depository (I.R.A.D.). Beginning in the summer of 1976,
under the auspices of the Secretary of State, county records from
the sixteen counties of western Illinois began to be transferred to the
university Archives. Western Illinois University, along with five
other senior universities in the state, is now an ever-growing official
center for local historial records. Mainly nineteenth-century
accessions, the collection includes, among others: court records
collections books, reports of highway commissioners, poll books,
tally sheets, supervisor's financial reports, school district reports,
chattel mortgages, county clerk's minutes of meetings, treasurer's
reports, and township assessed evaluations. In addition to these
county records the university's I.R.A.D. houses special collections
of public records, such as microfilm copies of deed books, federal
and state census manuscripts (population schedules complete from
1820 to 1880), and Military Tract warrants. All of these collections
are now being transferred to magnetic tape for computer output
programs under the direction of Robert P. Sutton. Finally, the
department has on magnetic tape the complete election returns
for every Illinois county, for every election (federal and state), for
every party and candidate from 1824 to 1974. A tape dump of the
data is on file and available to the public.
Separated from the activities of the library at Western is the
Western Illinois University Museum. Begun several years ago
as a student-sponsored activity, the museum has grown to such size
that its sponsors and directors must soon decide about the necessity
of spacial expansion. The fall open house for 1977 included displays
in tole painting, Indian workmanship, and woodworking skills.
The spring open house for 1978 was centered upon the theme of
"Early American Life Styles." Students from McDonough County
were asked to conduct projects in areas such as: soap making,
canning, cooking with early recipes, quilting, butter making, and
A recent addition to the museum's holdings in the "Eph"
Mercer collection of store antiques and Civil War relics. The Mercer
antiques include an old drugstore counter, with commercial soap
and medicine bottles from fifty years past, and remnants and odds
90 WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
and ends from the Civil War era. Mercer evidently had a great
urge to collect items related to the 84th Illinois Infantry Regiment,
and these pieces are now on display In the museum.
We must congratulate Knox College for their fine celebration
of the centenary of the birth of Carl Sandburg. Held on four week-
ends through January, 1978, the programs included such names as
Gwendolyn Brooks, Poet Laureate of Illinois; Howard K. Smith, long
time commentator for the American Broadcasting Company;
Margaret Sandburg; Robert Johannsen, Department of History,
University of Illinois; Stephen Gates, Lincoln biographer and
historian; and numerous members of the intellectual community
throughout the state of Illinois. The Chairman of the Carl Sandburg
Centenary Committee was Douglas L. Wilson of Knox College, and
assisting him was Rodney G. Davis, also of the Knox faculty.
REVIEWS OF BOOKS
JOHN MILTON HAY: THE UNION OF POETRY AND POLITICS.
By Howard I. Kushner and Anne Hummel Sherill. Boston: Twayne,
1977. Pp.217. $9.95.
The traditional view of John Hay has long been that he was
a man of several talents, some of them bordering on genius, but
one who, for whatever reasons, could never bring himself to follow
though sufficiently in any area, be it poetry, history or diplomacy,
to make the major contributions seemingly well within his capacity.
He lacked whatever it took— drive, discipline, desire— to capitalize
fully on brilliant beginnings. The result, so runs the prevailing
argument, was that although he contributed some to American
literary history, national political life, and international relations,
his contributions were always more modest, and therefore less
significant, than they could and should have been.
Not at all, insist Howard Kushner and Anne Hummel Sherrill,
the authors of JOHN MILTON HAY: THE UNION OF POETRY
AND POLITICS, their contribution to Twayne's World Leaders
Series. To support their provocative argument that Hay, intensely
ambitious, was fully aware of his talents and keenly attuned to the
main chance, the authors establish as the two formative influences
on the very young Hay the examples of his father and of his uncle.
Attracted to both models. Hay at first found himself torn between
conflicting ideals. While his father Dr. Charles Hay was content to
cultivate his own small Illinois garden, Milton Hay, a lawyer, was
attracted to the possibilities of outward success and great public
power. The conflict was resolved when Hay, through the offices of
his uncle, met Abraham Lincoln. In the rail-splitter-lawyer he found
his beau ideal, a model that combined neatly both his father's
and his uncle's roles. In choosing Lincoln, however. Hay was
repudiating, probably unconsciously, the modest, less ambitious
aspects of the model offered by his own father, a village physician
wholly unattracted to the possibilities of upward mobility character-
ized by material gain and public visibility. Indeed, in a revealing
document not quoted by Kushner and Sherrill, Dr. Hay once wrote,
92 WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
in his cautious way, of Benjamin Franklin's life: it "has been produc-
tive perhaps of almost as much harm as good," for, in an argument
that anticipated, in the year of his son's birth, the latter's stance in
his novel THE BREADWINNERS over four decades later, he pro-
posed that "every muddy brained, stupid boy, who might have made
a tolerable farmer, or mechanic, imagines after having read the life
of Franklin, that by reading and studying as he did, that he will one
day become a great philosopher, a great orator or a great man of
some kind. But after many years trying at the professions of law,
medicine, divinity ... he finds at last, that it is necessary to have
the talents as well as the industry of Dr. Franklin, in order to be-
come a great man."^ No wonder that while reluctantly putting be-
hind him the homely example of his somewhat colorless, docile
father. Hay should turn willingly and, finally, enthusiastically to
Ben's most dramatic nineteenth-century avatar. Never mind that his
enthusiasm for the successful presidential candidate was not
immediately abated, although from the beginning it should be
noted, he did recognize the potential for exercising great power
inherent in the presidential office itself. Consequently, Hay's
diary entries for the early years of his four-year stay in the White
House invariably refer to Lincoln as "the Tycoon," as the authors
note. What should be emphasized, however, is that when at a later
date Hay went over these diaries, he often crossed out the term,
replacing it usually with "the President." He did so either because
his attitude toward the memorialized Lincoln had changed or
because the sobriquet "Tycoon" had become contaminated in the
Gilded Age, as the authors suggest. The full explanation for the
change, I would venture, would incorporate both elements.
That Hay's early White House experiences colored everything
that he would attempt in the next four decades, the authors assert
time and time again. "Thus, John Hay increasingly viewed the
Civil War as a revolution which had redirected the course of Amer-
ican history. Hay would spend a good deal of his life protecting and
affirming both the results of that revolution and the image of its
greatest hero, Abraham Lincoln. He also would use his relation
to both to advance his own career" (p. 43).
REVIEWS OF BOOKS 93
Working from this base— Hay's whole-hearted adoption of
Lincoln's democratic views and his commitment to the ideal of the
American republic— the authors go on to describe the unity of Hay's
thought and life. That his thought and life— at least after the early
1860's— did possess such unity is a notably revisionist position in
Hay studies. Indeed, taking on Hay's most distinguished biographer
to date, Tyler Dennett, Kushner and Sherrill insist in no uncertain
terms that their central argument is that "John Hay's political
career was not at war with his literary career" (p. 44). He did not
break away from "poetry to [embrace] politics" (as Dennett would
have it), but in his life there is a successful "union of poetry and
politics" (as Kushner and Sherrill have it). It was misleading,
they insist, to say that Hay was a revolutionary when young (and
poetical) and a conservative when older (and political), unless one
notices that the revolution Hay advocated in his early poetry and in
CASTILIAN DAYS was not for the United States but for countries
in which republicanism had not yet asserted itself. Whenever he
did write about the United States he wrote conservatively, in
accordance always with Lincoln's republican ideals. One agrees with
the main thrust of this argument, although it should be noted that
the writers nowhere mention Hay's quiet decision to omit In the
later editions of CASTILIAN DAYS those chapters advocating
revolutionary change for Spain. That decision may well be ex-
plained within the terms of the authors' overall argument, but it
should not have been bypassed.
This study questions still other received views of Hay's life and
work and, I think, largely upsets them. For instance, they demon-
strate clearly that throughout his career— especially in the years
1865-70, 1875-81, and throughout the 1890's, and contrary to his
protests, particularly to his literary friends— Hay was a vigorous
and persistent office-seeker. Earlier students have too readily taken
Hay at his word on the matter, perhaps because Henry Adams
in the EDUCATION presented Hay in that same diffident way,
choosing to characterize his life as one fully controlled by the
"strong god circumstance." Again not so. Hay's clear purpose in
life, they insist, was marked by his single-minded adherence to his
perception of the keys to "upward mobility and political success,"
namely "association with Lincoln, party regularity, and industrial
94 WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
wealth" (p. 84). The important consequence of their seeing Hay in
this way is that they can detect the hitherto unexpected coherence
and efficacy of his life of public service, beginning with his appoint-
ment as Ambassador to the Court of St. James in 1897 and ending
only, after seven years as Secretary of State, with his death in 1905.
Indeed, the Hay who emerges from these pages is a fully responsi-
ble, highly astute, generally efficacious and, until the onset of
illness in the last years of his tenure as Secretary of State, quietly
energetic world leader. The case, as made, is both appealing and
cogent. From now on, I would venture, the burden of proof lies
squarely with those who would question it.
^Ms letter, Charles Hay to Milton Hay, 17 April, 1838, A. E. Beston Collec-
tion, University of Illinois.
JOHN HAY. By Robert L. Hale. Boston: Twayne, 1978. Pp. 164.
The critical treatment of John Hay's literary work is prob-
lematic from the start because it is the product of a famous diplo-
mat. In addition to reflected glory from the diplomatic sphere
there is the problem of perhaps undue contemporary fame, for John
Hay was the author of two very different and very popular literarv
successes, the quaint-but-earthy dialect poems, PIKE COUNTY
BALLADS, and the anonymous anti-labor novel, THE BREAD-
WINNERS. To further complicate matters, he is still
best known and most respected for the solid, serious, ten-vol
ume product of his collaboration with John G. Nicolay, ABRA-
HAM LINCOLN: A HISTORY. Finally, it might be said that John
Hay's literary importance was partly achieved by association, as
friend and correspondent of Henry Adams, Henry James, William
Dean Howells, and Mark Twain, among others.
By the very structure of his book, Robert Gale gives these
facts their due. Two chapters are devoted to biography (one of
which begins in 1890, the year Hay effectively ended his literary
career), one to "Literary Friends," and one each to Hay's poetry,
his fiction, his travel book CASTILIAN DAYS, his LINCOLN,
REVIEWS OF BOOKS 95
and his addresses. Gales's assessment of Hay's proper place
in American letters is perhaps the most useful insight his book
has to offer. His account of the particular kinds of influence Hay
exerted in his many and varied literary relationships is an excellent
case in point. "He merited Henry Adams's respect, exchanged
laughs with Mark Twain, and was friendly with William Dean
Howells, saw worth in Henry James well before the critics did,
and befriended the most robust poet of the century— Walt Whit-
man. These friends and others may have differed with Hay about
questions of substance and style, but all of them agreed that Hay
was a cherished comrade" (p. 53).
When it comes to specific criticisms of Hay's work, the book
is less useful. Following the Twayne format, Gale gives a generous
summary of each book, but he offers little original critical commen-
tary, except in the matter of style, which he submits to the finest of
scrutinies. After recording a few grammatical howlers in the
LINCOLN, for example, he goes on to complain that in the ten-
volume work, "the historians use three idioms that grate slightly"
(p. 117), and proceeds to enumerate them.
On the whole, JOHN HAY is useful as the most general in-
troduction to its subject. Gale's portrait of Hay as a man of letters
is accurate, though it is not new. His final assessment of Hay's
adumbrated literary career, "Hay had the means and talent to
become part of that intellectual ferment [of the nineties], but he
failed to do so" (p. 126), echoes that of Howells in 1905: "He
avouched his ability to have done what he wished in literature,
if only he had wished it enough." ^
■•"John Hay in Literature," NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW, 181 (September
St. Lawrence University
HOPEWELL IN THE LOWER ILLINOIS VALLEY: A REGIONAL
APPROACH TO THE STUDY OF HUMAN BIOLOGICAL VAR-
IABILITY AND PREHISTORIC BEHAVIOR. By Jane E. Buikstra.
Chicago:Northwestern University Archaeological Program, Scien-
tific Papers, No. 2. 1977, $5.25
In HOPEWELL IN THE LOWER ILLINOIS VALLEY, Buik-
stra applies a research perspective to the study of Middle Woodland
96 WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
skeletal remains that is long overdue. Her approach diverges from
many previous, more traditional osteological studies in two impor-
tant ways. First this analysis is regional in scope and holistic in
design. Archaeological information from an intensively studied
portion of the lower Illinois Valley is evaluated along with a detailed
osteological analysis of human skeletal remains from the area, in
an effort to produce meaningful statements about human culture
Second, Buikstra applies a range of contemporary bioanthro-
pological methods and techniques to her data to create a model of
epigenetic variability for all available Middle Woodland skeletal
series within the study area. Two widely debated hypotheses relat-
ing to Hopewell biological relationships are evaluated. One hypo-
thesis (Willey 1966) characterizes Hopewell as a single genetically
distinct group. Another (Caldwell 1964) views the Hopewell phe-
nonomen as an ideology or "interaction sphere" participated in by
numerous regionally distinct populations. A lack of integration of
archaeological, environmental, and osteological data has reduced
the utility of many earlier studies attempting to address similar
problems (Neumann 1952, 1960, 1966; H. Neumann 1960).
An excavation strategy emphasizing total exposure of cemetery
and mound areas was employed at the Gibson Mound complex in
an attempt to gain an accurate idea of variability within a Middle
Woodland skeletal population. This produced information on in-
dividuals often not included in earlier studies, including the young,
the cremated, the female and the artificially deformed. This ap-
proach is in marked contrast to more traditional excavations which
concentrated on recovery of artifacts or high status burials.
Chapters two and three present a clear and concise description
of the methods employed in age and sex determinations of the
skeletal series, and a well supported discussion of estimates of
such paleodemographic factors as mortality rates and population
In chapter four status differention and social complexity is
examined. Five key variables, including mortuary unit, mound
group membership, position within a mound, post-mortem hand-
ling, and type of associated cultural materials, are isolated and
evaluated. The evidence supports a view of a markedly nonegal-
itarian Hopewell society, where key males and their dependents
REVIEWS OF BOOKS 97
had access to an inordinate amount of wealth and preferred burial
areas. Status appears to have been inherited rather than achieved.
Chapter five presents a well-documented analysis of biological
distance within Middle Woodland skeletal series, utilizing discrete,
nonmetrical traits. A picture of stable, long-term local occupations
emerges, providing some support for the Caldwell position. A ten-
dency towards a selection of tall individuals in high status burials,
long noted by many archaeologists, is viewed here as a function
of nutritional differences rather than as a genetic quirk reinforced
by class endogamy.
Buikstra's study has added new dimensions to our formerly
artifact-oriented view of the Hopewell phenomenon, and has offered
useful directions for further research. The employment of some
rather awkward terms, such as "burial program," or the difficulty
of duplicating her total excavation strategy in light of current
research funding difficulties, does not detract from her study. She
presents a convincing statement of what can be accomplished when
a bioanthropologist is not confined to the study of bones for their
own sake, and a well-designed holistic research strategy is em-
Michael R. Beckes
Section of Anthropology
Dickson Mounds State Museum
HISTORY OF MERCER COUNTY, ILLINOIS, 1882-1976. By
Daniel T. Johnson. Aledo, Illinois: Mercer County Bicentennial
Commission, 1976. Pp. 820. $25.00.
Daniel T. Johnson had less than 20 months to prepare this
volume, and this basic time constraint suggests many other
limitations under which he must have labored. What he was
obliged to produce was a book that is, in its basic format, quite
similar to the Mercer County History of 1882, a book likewise
commissioned on the occasion of a national anniversary, the national
centennial in that case.
Yet in spite of the obvious handicaps, Johnson's book rises
above some of the disabilities of the nineteenth-century genre of
county histories. The author is able to show temporal continuities
98 WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
and institutional change in a way that was beyond the capacity of
the nineteenth-century compilers; and his book shares the dominant
advantage of the earlier volumes: a wealth of names and biogra-
phical information. Genealogists will be pleased that it has a com-
plete index of names.
Professionally most satisfying are the long chapters on agri-
culture and education in Mercer County. Though dependent on
submitted material, they nonetheless convey to the reader a clear
notion of changes over time. The education chapter delineates the
impact of changing social priorities, of community prosperity and
decline and rural depopulation, and of school consolidation; and the
chapter on agriculture reveals the force of technological change,
changes in crops and livestock and methods of cultivation, and
ultimately in the very quality of rural life.
Two chapters of the book are merely annalistic, and elsewhere
the selection of material seems necessarily to have been unsyste-
matic. Much of the content of the volume is episodic, but some of
the brief treatments of special subjects are quite valuable; Western
Illinois readers will be grateful to Johnson for making accessible
a reasonably complete sketch of Aledo's William and Vashti
College, for example.
Naturally one might wish for a more thorough treatment of
such matters as the development and decline of Mercer County's
once-flourishing Mississippi River trade and river towns, of conflicts
within the county (though Johnson makes more of this than a
nineteenth-century county historian would), of the interaction of
ethnic groups, or even a more conceptual treatment of the twen-
tieth-century "modernization" of the county such as Richard Jensen
has just rendered for the state as a whole.
But given the definition of his project, Johnson has given us
a valuable work, much better than most recent, similar Sesquicen-
tennial or Bicentennial efforts, and it will be a useful reference for
Rodney O. Davis
RE VIEWS OF BOOKS 99
BREATHING TOKENS. By Carl Sandburg. Edited by Margaret
Sandburg. New York: Harcourt, 1978. Pp. 177. $8.95. A GREAT
AND GLORIOUS ROMANCE: THE STORY OF CARL SANDBURG
AND LILIAN STEICHEN. By Helga Sandburg. New York: Harcourt,
1978. Pp.319. $12.95.
A generation ago, Carl Sandburg was accounted one of Amer-
ica's major poets. The 1942 edition of Louis Untermeyer's MODERN
AMERICAN POETRY gave twenty pages to Sandburg's poems, a
number surpassed only by Whitman, Robinson, Frost, and Eliot.
After a thin sheaf of idol-breaking lyrics appeared in Harriet
Monroe's new monthly, POETRY: A MAGAZINE OF VERSE,
early in 1914, the reputation of the young poet-socialist grew
steadily through many volumes, culminating with COMPLETE
POEMS in 1950. A critical response to that climax volume by
William Carlos Williams, ironically appearing in Miss Monroe's
by then venerated magazine, marked the beginning of a toboggan
slide of Sandburg's reputation that has continued to the present
day. Williams charged his colleague with the lack of a poetic theory
and with a resulting formlessness, a judgment that has prevailed
among readers ever since. Now we are invited to take another
look at this prairie poet in books produced by two of his daughters
and timed to appear in the centennial year of his birth.
BREATHING TOKENS, edited by the eldest daughter,
Margaret, has 118 previously unpublished poems, carefully gleaned
from hundreds remaining in manuscript, and written during all
phases of Sandburg's career. The familiar roles are there: the poet
of prairies, sea floors, and the Indian past; the poet of the people
and the fighter against cruelty and indifference; the Lincoln bard;
the old dreamer, idealist, and "moonshooter." Also there is the
Sandburg who was perpetually haunted by loss, death, and evan-
escent beauty, a man baffled by the mystery of existence, who
longed for oblivion and dwelt with fog, mist, ashes, and cool tombs.
"Others," subtitled "Fantasia for Muskmelon Days," shows the
poet's rush from ripeness:
Ivory domes . . white wings beating
In empty space..
Nothing doing . . nuts . . bugs . . a regular
absolute humpty-dumpty business . .
pos-i-tive-ly . . falling off walls
and no use to call doctor, lawyer,
100 WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES
priest . . no use, boy, no use.
O Pal of Mine, O Humpty Dumpty,
shake hands with me.
O Ivory Donnes, I am one of You:
Let me in.
For God's sake— let me in. (P- 14)^
Not everything in this volume maizes such exhuberant fresh use of
the venacularand has the controlled images that we find in the best
Sandburg lyrics. Louis Rubin may have exaggerated a bit by sug-
gesting that at least a dozen of these poems stand up to the best
Sandburg ever wrote, though many are clearly superior to whole
masses of poems— long and short— published in his lifetime. Those
that so qualify, I believe, include several brief nature lyrics in which
emotions are implied through sharp color images and sounds, as
in "Bronzed Grackles" and "Bird Cries and Burnt Flowers"; a few
poems of wit and philosophy, the best being, perhaps, "Two
Commentaries on Humpty Dumpty"; and the haunting "Heaven Is
a Valley of Cool Timber," with its lullaby-like refrains. BREATHING
TOKENS adds to the poet's total canon, which can be impressive,
but it will not greatly enhance his reputation in the long run. What
might is a volume of selected poems that fans away the chaff and
retains the essential Sandburg, likely to be found among the hun-
dreds of shorter lyrics that make brief powerful statements on life
and are controlled by simple vivid imagery.
In A GREAT AND GLORIOUS ROMANCE, Helga Sandburg,
the youngest of the three daughters, lias told of the early years of
a long successful marriage between her father and the remarkable
Lilian Steichen. The author's method is interesting. She combines
impressionistic memories and dreams of childhood with the old
Victorian practice of inserting into the text large numbers of family
letters and papers, many of which we are seeing in print for the first
time. What emerges are vividly sketched pictures of the muck-
raking journalist and incipient poet, his Phi Beta Kappa socialist
wife and homemaker, and a third person, Lilian's brother, the future
photographer, Edward Steichen. Also emerging is a strong flavor
of the intellectual life led by Midwesterners in the first two decades
of this century. It is unfortunate that Helga Sandburg has omitted
an index, for the list of names moving in and out of her book is an
encyclopedia of the era's literati, political liberals, and artistic
folk, a few being Elbert Hubbard, Ole Rolvaag, Amy Lowell,
REVIEWS OF BOOKS 101
Isadora Duncan, Eugene Debs, Floyd Dell, Sinclair Lewis, Frost,
and Sandburg's western Illinois friends. Masters and Lindsay.
As to the love affair of Carl and his "Paula" (which is regret-
tably defined by the book's title), can any of us ever hope to locate
the mainspring of our parents' life together? The impression is
given that the Sandburgs' union flourished best when they were
apart, through letters; for the child Helga loses contact with her
father and mother when they cease writing intimate things that
can be studied and cited by the grown-up daughter. This helps
perpetuate the feeling that Sandburg the man was not unlike
what he is in his poems— a restless, dreaming questioner, uncertain
of life's purposes and unable to find a center. When he was home,
everything spun about him "like a great wheel" (p. 314); but,
though he is presented as a great family man, he was on the road
much of the time, always coming from a lecture tour or starting out
on a correspondent's travels abroad. We see him before he became
a part of the Lincoln legend and a public entertainer (never held
against Dickens and Twain), and still we come away with the sense
of something deeply sensitive but curiously impersonal in the man,
a quality that everywhere marks his poetry. From afar, he writes
tender love letters, always to Paula, and with a note left behind
he escapes direct confrontation with his little girl, after a scene:
"Dearest Helga— Please forget it— then I won't need to be forgiven"
(p. 10). The elusiveness is what the daughter catches. Helga Sand-
burg is a pro— a novelist, and, like her father, an author of child-
ren's stories. A GREAT AND GLORIOUS ROMANCE is much more
than the flowery tribute we learn to expect from a child of famous
^From BREATHING TOKENS by Carl Sandburg, copyright 1978 by Maurice
C. Greenbaum and Frank M. Parker, Trustees of the Sandburg Family Trust,
copyright 1978 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.. Reprinted by permission of
Charles W. Mayer
Western Illinois University
DAVID J. BAXTER is an Assistant Professor of English at Walsh
College in Canton, Ohio.
EDWIN R. BOOHER is an Instructor of English at Lincoln Land
Community College in Springfield, Illinois.
RICHARD H. CROWDER, Professor of English, Emeritus, at
Purdue University, is the author of books on James Whitcomb
Riley (1957), Michael Wigglesworth (1962), and Carl Sandburg
(1964), as well as over fifty articles on American poets. He was a
Fulbright Lecturer in American Poetry at the University of Bor-
deaux, France, from 1963 to 1965.
JOHN E. HALLWAS, an Associate Professor of English at Western
Illinois University, has published articles on several Illinois authors,
and in 1976 he co-edited THE VISION OF THIS LAND (on Masters,
Sandburg, and Lindsay). He is editor of ESSAYS IN LITERATURE
and co-editor of WESTERN ILLINOIS REGIONAL STUDIES.
MARK E. NACKMAN is an Assistant Professor of History at the
University of Washington, Seattle, and DARRYL K. PATON is a
senior history major at that institution.