The Carl Sandburg Historic Site Association (Galesburg, IL) is pleased to introduce to our viewers a new series featuring the life & works of Carl Sandburg, entitled
"Letters from a Sandburg Docent" by Dr. John W. Quinley.  ENJOY!

Carl Sandburg Portrait Letters from a Sandburg Docent

22 February 2024

by Dr. John W. Quinley
John W. Quinley

Dr. John W. Quinley, a retired college administrator and faculty member, was raised in Maywood, Illinois, just a few blocks away from where Sandburg lived 30 years earlier. He served as a docent for Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site for several years, and is the author of Discovering Carl Sandburg: The Eclectic Life of an American Icon  (2022). He and his wife, Melissa, live in Hendersonville, North Carolina, just a few miles from Sandburg's former home.



22 February 2024

Carl Sandburg reading to his grandchildren (1945)

Carl Sandburg reading to his grandchildren,
Karlen Paula Steichen and John Carl Steichen (1945)
[From the Rare Book & Manuscript Library,
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign C450-008-002]


Remembering Karlen Paula


By John W. Quinley

Dear Readers,


The Sandburgs moved to Connemara, their mountain farm in Flat Rock, North Carolina, in the fall of 1945: Carl and his wife Paula, their three adult children (Margaret, Janet, and Helga), and Helga’s young children John Carl and Karlen Paula. Helga and her children lived at the farm for seven years.


I first learned about Carl Sandburg’s life and his wide range of publications by reading “The Life and Works of Carl Sandburg,” a section of the Official National Park Handbook for Connemara. The section was written by Karlen Paula, who was known simply as Paula. It traces Sandburg’s foundational years, the history of births and residences, and highlights Sandburg as poet, newspaperman, children’s author, biography of Lincoln, folk singer and musicologist, and novelist. This was the same general format I used for my book, Discovering Carl Sandburg.


Paula also wrote a memoir, My Connemara. In it she portrays her life on the farm replete with goats, chickens, horses, barns, extensive gardens, and more. She shares stories about her ramblings over the estate’s pastures, woods, and mountains, writing “this was the new world where I would grow up, exploring foot by foot and day by day for a decade every stream, branch and cavern.” The memoir also includes chapters about her mother, brother (now a retired engineer), her grandfather and grandmother, her uncle Edward Steichen who often visited, and the famous people who came to see the poet and historian. I recommended My Connemara to visitors who had taken the tour of the house.


Paula returned to Western North Carolina in 1972 and lived a short way from her childhood home. She married and became Paula Steichen Polega. She was instrumental in helping the Park determine how best to prepare the house for the public. She continued to help preserve the Sandburg legacy in such activities as her interview for UNC TV where she shared what it was like growing up with her famous grandparents.


I met Paula at a community read of Sandburg’s, The People, Yes. I asked if she had recently seen the Dragon’s Limb on Little Glassy Mountain that she described in her book as “a limb with a great snout and open mouth and eye,” and shared that the “children looked on it with some awe and trod the dragon’s domain with respect.” She hadn’t been back to it, so I told it was still there, seventy years later, just extended further across the mountain path.  


Paula Steichen Polega passed away peacefully at her Hendersonville, NC home on January 13, 2024. She was 80. You can read her obituary at


Her grandfather wrote a poem for her when she was only two that encapsulated what so many would feel about Paula:


Karlen Paula

I love thy face with a love given

To fresh flower blooms.

I love they spoken words as the shimmer

of sun slants and the drift of rain.

If I should believe in angels and meet one

she would be somewhat like you.

Until I come to know one angel

worth cherishing I shall go on

in my cherishing of thy face and

Spoken words



Paula Steichen Polega in her 80s.
           Paula Steichen Polega at 80


Thanks for reading,


John Quinley is the author of Discovering Carl Sandburg: The Eclectic Life of an American Icon and is a former docent at the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site in Flat Rock, North Carolina. You may contact John at

Membership in the Carl Sandburg Historic Site Association

If you enjoy reading Letters from a Docent, Sandburg's Hometown, Inklings & Idlings and our CSHSA Website & Facebook pages, we'd love to have your support as a contributing member of the Carl Sandburg Historic Site Association.


 No.  Date Title
1 8 Jan 2024 Poet of the People
2 22 Jan 2024 Before the Chicago Daily News
3 12 Feb 2024 Why Did Sandburg study Lincoln?
4 22 Feb 2024 Remembering Karlen Paula
Untitled 1