September 24, 2012
by Laura Pochodylo '14
As a part of the American Masters biography series, a documentary on Carl Sandburg featuring interviews with two Knox College professors and contributions by Knox College alumni is airing nationally on PBS on Monday, September 24.
The Day Carl Sandburg Died, a film by Paul Bonesteel, contains interviews with Robin Metz, director of the creative writing program at Knox, and Rodney Davis, professor emeritus of history and co-director of the Lincoln Studies Center at Knox. The film also features shots of Knox and Galesburg found by Keegan Siebken '11, who worked with the film production company as a location scout, and a portrayal of a young Sandburg in reenactment scenes by Matt Allis '08.
"There were all these Knox and Galesburg ties that turned out to be a very important part of the film," said Metz, who also is Philip Sidney Post Professor of English.
Sandburg, who was born and raised in Galesburg, led a multi-faceted professional career that included work as a poet, a biographer of Abraham Lincoln, a musician, and even a children's writer. (Photo above: Carl Sandburg on the steps of Old Main.)
"I'm very happy that the film shows the variety of his careers," Metz said. "There are very few people who understand the whole picture. And any one of those careers would have been distinguished on its own, but he had, what, five of them?"
Davis, whose interview appears alongside those of musician Pete Seeger and writer Studs Terkel, thought the finished product was "very good," and he believes the Knox and Galesburg connections are an important part of the story.
"Knox has a claim on Sandburg, so we should make whatever we can of that connection," Davis said. "Anyone from Galesburg with an interest in Abraham Lincoln must come to terms with Carl Sandburg."
Metz, who is involved with the annual Sandburg Days celebration in Galesburg, has a mission of increasing knowledge of Sandburg's work and appreciation of his contributions. He is teaching a class later this year on the works of Sandburg and fellow Galesburg artist Dorothea Tanning ‘32.
"We're really trying to make Sandburg and Tanning, two great Galesburg artists, more a part of the life in our community. I will be showing the film in the class, and we'll just keep passing it down the generations this way," Metz said. "I'm really quite thrilled about it."
In addition to the showing on PBS, Metz plans to screen The Day Carl Sandburg Died as part of the activities for Knox's Homecoming, October 19-21.
The film features some familiar sights for those who know Knox and Galesburg: a poetry slam at Cherry Street restaurant, glimpses of the Studio Theatre in the Ford Center for Fine Arts, interviews in Seymour Library and Old Main, and shots of Sandburg's birthplace - now the Carl Sandburg State Historic Site.
Siebken, a theatre major at Knox during the time of filming, was in charge of scouting those locations. He used his connections with the Prairie Players Civic Theatre in Galesburg, as well as the Knox theatre program and costuming department, to find props and costumes, recruit talent, and identify locations for filming. Once the production arrived in town, Siebken was in charge of making sure all of the details fell into place, including transportation and catering.
"What Knox gave me was technique, study, and attention to detail. With the two years of Knox under my belt, I understood how accurate we had to be in picking props and costumes that fit the period," Siebken said. "I could also figure out fairly quickly if a prop or location would fit our production concept. Knox gave me that analytical ability."
Since graduating and working on the film, Siebken has moved from his native Galesburg to Chicago to pursue work as an actor.
"I'm still going to try to work with cameras, just not behind them," Siebken said.
Overall, the presence of Galesburg, be it in comments from interviews, shots of historic buildings, or even behind-the-scenes work, is strong in the film. Metz believes this is a fitting representation of Sandburg's ties to his hometown.
"I think some Galesburgers used to feel he turned his back on the place," Metz said, "but really it was his life growing up here that shaped all of his deepest values."