The Day Carl Sandburg Died

About the Film

Explore the controversial life and legacy of the three-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Car Sandburg through archival footage and interviews with Pete Seeger, the late Studs Terkel and Norman Corwin, family, poets, and scholars.

For much of the 20th century, Carl Sandburg (Jan. 6, 1878 – July 22, 1967) was synonymous with the American experience, a spokesman on behalf of “the people.” One of the most successful writers in the English language, Sandburg was a three-time Pulitzer Prize-winner for his poetry (Cornhuskers, 1918 and Complete Poems, 1950) and part of his six-volume Lincoln biography (Abraham Lincoln: The War Years, 1939). He was also a groundbreaking journalist, folk song collector, children’s storyteller, political organizer/activist, novelist, autobiographer, and captivating performer. Yet, after his death, Sandburg’s literary legacy faded and his poems, once taught in schools across America, were dismissed under the weight of massive critical attack. The new 90-minute documentary American Masters The Day Carl Sandburg Died commemorates the 45th anniversary of his death, provides a dynamic examination of Sandburg’s life, work and controversial legacy from a modern perspective. The film is available on DVD through PBS Distribution.

Filmmaker Paul Bonesteel exposes Sandburg’s radical politics and anarchist writing during World War I as well as the current burgeoning resurgence of interest in him and his contributions. Drawing on archival footage and photographs, American Masters: The Day Carl Sandburg Died features spoken word performances, songbook selections, readings, and original interviews. Sandburg’s daughter Helga Sandburg Crile, his grandson John Carl Steichen, Pete Seeger, the late Studs Terkel and Norman Corwin, poets including Ted Kooser, Marc Kelly Smith and Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Grammy-winning musician Dan Zanes, Sandburg biographer Penelope Niven, and notable scholars share stories about Sandburg and reflect on the modern relevance of his vast body of work, including Chicago Poems (1916), The American Songbag (1927), and The People, Yes (1936).

Self-proclaimed “The Eternal Hobo,” Sandburg used his unique life as the basis for his radical free-verse poetry: from impoverished beginnings on the Illinois prairie to the halls of Congress to The Ed Sullivan Show. Entertaining audiences on stage, radio and television with his performances, Sandburg enjoyed the kind of fame, fortune and recognition that is rarely, if ever, afforded a poet.

“Sandburg was both a deeply patriotic American and an anarchist. Labor unrest, global wars, socialism, immigration, and race issues were all subjects that fueled him. Much of his writing is as relevant and provocative today as it was when it was first published and shocked the world,” observes Bonesteel, whose films for public television include The Great American Quilt Revival (2005) and The Mystery of George Masa (2003).

“Carl Sandburg was one of the three American poets we knew and loved when I was in high school. I am so delighted he is being discovered by a new generation today – what a shame to miss out on this man’s elegant words!” says Susan Lacy, American Masters creator and executive producer.

Production Credits and Funding Print

American Masters The Day Carl Sandburg Died is a production of Bonesteel Films in association with THIRTEEN’s American Masters for WNET. Paul Bonesteel is writer, director and editor. Matthew Gellert is producer. Davis Bates is narrator. Music is by Zoe Keating. Susan Lacy is the series creator and executive producer of American Masters.

American Masters is made possible by the support of the National Endowment for the Arts and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Additional funding for American Masters is provided by Rosalind P. Walter, The Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation, Rolf and Elizabeth Rosenthal, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Jack Rudin, Vital Projects Fund, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, Michael & Helen Schaffer Foundation, and public television viewers. Additional funding for The Day Carl Sandburg Died is provided by the Illinois Humanities Council, Nebraska Humanities Council, and North Carolina Humanities Council.


Writer, Director and Editor
Paul Bonesteel

Matthew Gellert

Davis Bates

Zoe Keating 

Creative Consultants
Penelope Niven
Dayton Duncan
Peter Frumkin
Denise Kiernan

Associate Producer, research, permissions and additional editing
Neeley Dawson

Additional Permissions
Sara Huffman

On-line editing and graphics
Evan Schafer

Paul Bonesteel
Evan Schafer

Rootabaga Stories artwork
David Cowles

Rootabaga Stories animation
Jeremy Galante 

Field Sound Recording
Evan Schafer
Mike Teeters
Adam Larsen

Ian Leino

Post production audio mix
Bruce Sales

Administrative Assistance
Emily Davis
Amanda Albee

Additional Music
Sufjan Stevens
David Hartman
Marc Smith's Rootabaga Band
The Girls (Alison Cowles + Mikaela Davis)

With the permission of the author, this film occasionally quoted or paraphrased or otherwise drawn material from Dr. Penelope Niven’s Carl Sandburg: A Biography.

Carl Sandburg poems performed by
Carl Sandburg
Elliott Gould
Ernie Hudson
Roscoe Lee Browne
Marc Kelly Smith
Edward Hirsch
Ted Kooser
Studs Terkel
Mark Van Wienen
Tim Stafford
Gregory Picket
Geoffrey O'Brien
Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Re-creation Cast

Young Sandburg
Michael Buebe

College Sandburg
Matthew Allis

Frederick Dickinson
Josh Damewood

Jan Lundeen

Stage Performers
Katy Robinson, Kathleen Bashem, Will Parker, Jordan Shroyer

Re-creation Crew

Margo Shively

Location Scout/Casting/PA
Keegan Siebken

Special thanks to

Galesburg Public Library

The Friends of Carl Sandburg at Connemara
Janice Spicka
Linda Holt
Kathleen Hudson

Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site,
Flat Rock N.C.
Connie Backlund, Superintendant
Ashley Tate, Archivist
Sarah Perschall, Chief of Visitor Services
Jill Hamilton-Anderson, former Education Specialist
Lynn White Savage, former Museum Curator

The Carl Sandburg State Historic Site,
Galesburg, Ill.
Steve Holden
Martha Downey
Bert McElroy

Additional Thanks to

Jhon Akers
Peter and Georgia Bonesteel
Jay Bullis
Paul Brown
Elizabeth Carlin-Metz
Martha Downey
Cornelia Foss
Lukas Foss
Kate Francis
William Franckey
Jill Hamilton-Anderson
Matt Hundley
Craig Justus
Mike McCurdy
William Merkel
Mike Mynatt
Meghan O'Rourke
Dennis Sears
Harvey Shapiro
Margo Shively
Len Steckler
Joanna Steichen
George Stevens, Jr.
Nathan Weber
BNSF Railroad
The Captain’s Bookshelf
Carl Sandburg Family Trust 
Susan Taylor Rash
Knox College Theatre Department
Prairie Players Civic Theatre
Orpheum Theatre

Series Theme Music Composed by
Thomas Wagner
Series Title Designed by
B. T. Whitehill
Music Services
Rosie Fishel
Emily Lee

Series Project Manager
Arturo Sheimberg
Business Affairs 
Josh Gordon

Website Producer and Editor
Tom McNamara
Production Manager
Junko Tsunashima
Supervising Producer
Julie Sacks

Series Producer
Prudence Glass
Executive Producer
Susan Lacy

A Production of Bonesteel Films in association with American Masters for WNET