Monday, September 24, 2012

Galesburg’s native son celebrated on PBS special tonight

About a year ago, while I was still living in Central Illinois, my husband and I drove one evening from our home south of Bloomington to Champaign for a long- anticipated viewing of filmmaker Paul Bonesteel’s documentary, “The Day Carl Sandburg Died.” 

A student and enthusiast of Sandburg’s work for several decades – one who has two Sandburg Days trivia contest trophies to prove it – I’d eagerly awaited the film since I first learned of Bonesteel’s work on the six-year project. My husband, not a Galesburg native, became a new Sandburg enthusiast that evening, thanks to Bonesteel’s magnificent rendering of the poet’s life and legacy.

Tonight, Monday, Sept. 24, at 9 p.m. Central Time, you, too, can see this film. 

At the Champaign screening last year, Bonesteel announced that he’d just learned the film would be featured on PBS’s American Masters, something the filmmaker had hoped for since he first began work on the project chronicling the touch of the Galesburg-born poet, author and Lincoln biographer, and troubadour. 

Sandburg, the son of Swedish immigrant parents, born near the railroad yards where his father worked dawn to dusk seven days a week , captured a great deal of Galesburg history and the story of his early years in his autobiographies, “Prairie Town Boy” and “Always the Young Strangers.” He also captured the living, breathing soul of early 20th Century Chicago and its people in his poetry. 

Early morning walks across Galesburg’s Knox College campus, home of an 1858 debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas, where he’d stop “in winter sunrise, in broad summer daylight, in falling snow or rain, in all the weathers of a year” to look at the plague commemorating the debate, aroused an interest in the 16th President so strong that it led Sandburg to write a six-volume Lincoln biography.

And I’ve only touched upon the man and his work…

Whether you’re a Sandburg enthusiast as I am or know as little as my husband did before our trek to Champaign last year, you won’t want to miss the film this evening. 

Paul Bonesteel is also a lifelong Sandburg enthusiast, one with roots not in the prairies of Central Illinois, but in the mountains of North Carolina, where Sandburg made his home for several decades at a home called Connemara. The large Civil War-era estate where Sandburg did much of his later writing is a National Park Service site with trails, mountain overlooks and goats descended from Sandburg’s wife Paula’s herd. It’s a delight to visit.  

What impressed me most about Bonesteel as he worked on this project for more than six years was his diligence, moving ahead with the project though he didn’t have a stamp of approval, commitment or funding from any major network, capturing interviews with creative legends such as Studs Terkel, Pete Seeger and Norman Corwin, connecting with Sandburg’s grandson John Carl Steichen, who shared never-before-seen family video footage. 

What impressed me once I saw it was Paul Bonesteel’s gift as a filmmaker, his ability to put a storyteller’s story on film with a depth of detail, passion and artistic talent that parallels that of the Galesburg-born poet we both admire. 

“The Day Carl Sandburg Died” airs tonight, Monday, Sept. 24 on PBS at 9 p.m. Central Time. Watch the trailer and learn more here:

The film is sure to create a new appreciation for Sandburg and his work. 

Don’t miss it.

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012  

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