Sandburg's Hometown

February 23, 2015

Tuberculosis Poster, ca. 1900.


by Barbara Schock

In his autobiography, Always the Young Strangers, Carl Sandburg wrote of a family who lived in the house at 641 East South Street. The Sandburgs had rented the house after selling the cottage where Mary and Carl Sandburg were born. The third child, Martin, was born in the house on South Street. The family moved to a larger house on East Berrien Street three years later.

Carl delivered milk to the three-room South Street house. The family included six children. The husband and father worked in the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad shops as a laborer. He paid his bills on time and had a good reputation. They were Swedish immigrants like Sandburg's own family.

The man became ill with tuberculosis and was unable to work. Tuberculosis was the scourge of the nineteenth century. It was commonly called consumption because of the effect it had on the bodies of those afflicted. One in seven deaths were caused by the bacillus. The disease was rampant where people lived too close together in unsanitary conditions. It was spread by coughing. The cause of the contagion was discovered in the 1870s, but the medical profession failed to recognize it. Another twenty years passed before the science of contagion began to develop.

The sick man's wife took in washing to make a little money to support the family. Sandburg saw her at the tub rubbing cloth on a washboard to get out the dirt. Then the articles had to be hung to dry and ironed. The children delivered the cleaned clothes in a wagon to the homes of the customers.

The mother worked until she was thin and pale, but she never wavered from her goal of keeping her children with her. She took care of her husband until his death.

As the children grew older, they were able to help their mother with the laundry work. They also sought jobs which would help support the family. They became upright and stalwart citizens, just like their parents.

People having the disease and who could afford it traveled to warmer and drier climates. The railroads and city governments in the West and South advertised places which were thought to relieve the symptoms of tuberculosis. Obviously, this family was unable to take advantage of milder weather in other places.

By the turn of the twentieth century, public health departments were conducting campaigns to inform the public about tuberculosis. City, county and state governments were establishing sanatoriums for the care of victims of the disease. The discovery and use of antibiotics during World War II finally began to conquer the disease.

Sandburg didn't mention the name of the family, but he wrote that he heard the mother say, “I did my best with what I had. Sometimes I nearly give out, but I went on. My husband was a good man. The children were such handy little helpers. All we can say is we did the best was in us.”


Sandburg's Hometown
Date Title
February 23, 2015 Devotion
February 16, 2015  Gumbiner's Pawn Shop 
February 9, 2015 White Bread
February 2, 2015 The Monarch Club
January 26, 2015 The Silver Dollar
January 19, 2015 The Fulton County Narrow Gauge Railway
January 12, 2015 The Four Corners
December 22, 2014 Swedish Christmas
December 8, 2014 Christmas 1878
December 1, 2014 Bunker Boots & Shoes
November 24, 2014 Galesburg, Illinois
November 17, 2014 It was Buffalo Bill's Day
November 10, 2014 The Election of 1896 (A follow-up story)
November 3, 2014 The Election of 1896 (continued)
October 27, 2014 The Election of 1896
October  24, 2014 The Rissywarn
October 20, 2014 The Parlor Stove
October 13, 2014 Ashes to Ashes
October 6, 2014 Jesse James
Sept. 29, 2014 Lester T. Stone, Public Servant
Sept. 22, 2014 It's Who You Know
Sept 15, 2014 Mother of the Illinois Flag
Sept 8, 2014 The Scissors Grinder
Sept 1, 2014 Baseball
August 25, 2014 Howard K. Knowles, Capitalist
August 18, 2014  Alcoholic Beverages
August 11, 2014 Soda Water
August 4, 2014 Sweet Corn
July 28, 2014 Marching Through Georgia
July 21, 2014 The Knox County Fair
July 14, 2014 The Panic of 1893
July 7, 2014 The Rev. T. N. Hasselquist
June 30, 2014 The Knox County Courthouse
June 23, 2014 The Family Photograph Album
June 16, 2014 Parades
June 9, 2014 Lingonberries
June 2, 2014 Where We Live
May 26, 2014 Old Main
May 19, 2014 Rhythms of the Railroad
May 12, 2014 Spring Tonic
May 5, 2014 The Milkmen
April 28, 2014 Gray's "Elegy..."
April 21, 2014 Off to War
April 14, 2014 Swedish Easter
April 7, 2014 A Father's Face
March 31, 2014 Secret Societies
March 24, 2014 George A. Murdock, Merchant
March 10, 2014 Trade Cards
March 3, 2014 The Demorest Medal
February 24, 2014 Rip Van Winkle
February 17, 2014 Cabbage Soup
February 10, 2014 Lincoln's Birthday
February 3, 2014 4  The Colonel
January 27, 2014 The Lincoln Penny - A Little History
January 20, 2014 Walking to Work
January 13, 2014  A Small Abode
January 6, 2014 Birth of a Poet
December 30, 2013 Christmas 1880
December 23, 2013 Swedish Christmas
December 16, 2013 The Reporter Sees Santa
December 9, 2013 The Coming of Christmas
December 2, 2013 The Fire Boys Talk
November 25, 2013 Galesburg Will Feast on Turkeys and Cranberries - Thanksgiving 1893
November 18, 2013 Mary Sandburg Johnson
November 11, 2013 Carl Sandburg's Bicycle
November 4, 2013 Lace Curtains
October 28, 2013 The Front Room
October 21, 2013 A Warm Breakfast
October 14, 2013 Marion D. Shutter
October 7, 2013 Cigars and Consumption
September 30, 2013 Forrest F. Cooke & August Sandburg
September 16, 2013 Forrest F. Cooke, Mayor
September 9, 2013 Dusty Streets
September 2, 2013 Typhoid Fever
August 26, 2013 Coffee and Water
August 19, 2013 A Horse! A Horse!
August 12, 2013 Gaddial Scott
August 5, 2013 The Racetrack
July 29, 2013 John Peter Algeld - Part II
July 22, 2013 John Peter Altgeld - Part I
July 15, 2013 Tramps, Tramps, Tramps
July 8, 2013 Lady Liberty
July 1, 2013 Galesburg's Fourth
June 24, 2013 John H. Finley
June 17, 2013 The World's Columbian Exhibition
June 10, 2013 Fruit Short-Cake
June 3, 2013 Horatio Alger, Author
May 27, 2013 Memorial Day, 1887
May 20, 2013 Professor Jon W. Grubb
May 13, 2013 Beginnings of Lombard University
May 6, 2013 Young Sandburg’s View of Lombard College
April 29, 2013 Thinking
April 22, 2013 Robert Colville, Master Mechanic
April 15, 2013 The Galesburg Opera House
April 8, 2013 Grocery Stores and Sample Rooms
April 1, 2013  A Hearty  Breakfast 
March 25, 2013  The Lost Wallpaper Legend 
March 18, 2013 Martin G. Sandburg
March 4, 2013 The Edison Talking Machine
February 25, 2013 Joe Elser, Civil War Veteran
February 18, 2013 Remember the Maine...
February 11, 2013 Lincoln's Birthday
February 4, 2013 Curiosity