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Sandburg's Journalism

Sandburg's career as a journalist as background for his poetry. Four excerpts from Sandburg's writing for the International Socialist Review: "Looking 'Em Over," "Will Marshall Field III. Enlist?" "Haywood Longs for 'Other Boys' in Jail" (rpt. from the Chicago Daily News), and "Haywood of the I. W. W."

typing.jpg (40608 bytes)During the decade when Sandburg was making his name as one of the "new poets," his major source of income was in newspaper work. While in Wisconsin working for the Socialist Party, he contributed articles to the Milwaukee Social-Democratic Herald and the Milwaukee Leader. Later, in Chicago, he served as a reporter for the Day Book, the Chicago Daily News, and the International Socialist Review (ISR). From the spring of 1913 until July 1917, he worked for the Day Book, which fashioned itself a defender of the common people and, toward that end, took no advertisements. The Daily News hired him in late 1917, and he stayed for the next thirteen years, reporting on the Chicago race riots in 1919 and serving as film critic from 1920 to 1927. Meanwhile, Sandburg worked as a regular correspondent with the International Socialist Review from April 1915 until February 1918, when the U.S. government finally succeeded in suppressing the paper as seditious. A few of Sandburg's contributions to ISR were signed; most were unsigned or written under various pseudonyms, especially "Militant" and Jack Phillips. Two of Sandburg's commentaries on the Chicago Race Riots, first published in the Daily News, may be found under the heading SANDBURG AND RACE in this web page.

Three of the items featured below originally appeared in the International Socialist Review. One is an installment of Sandburg's regular "Looking 'Em Over" commentaries, which inveighs against the lax enforcement of safety standards that led to the 1915 Eastland disaster, when some 1,000 passengers of an overloaded ferry drowned when the boat capsized in the Chicago River. A second, written in 1917, satirizes Marshall Field III, heir to the Chicago merchandise empire bearing his name who was reported to be preparing to enlist in the Illinois National Guard. The third of the pieces original to IWR, the final item in this section and one of the last articles Sandburg wrote for the journal, imagines IWW leader William "Big Bill" Haywood, imprisoned along with the rest of the IWW leadership on wartime sedition charges, as a kind of twentieth-century John Brown. Also included below is Sandburg's report of an interview with Haywood filed initially with the Chicago Daily News and later reprinted in the International Socialist Review. On the page following this article there appeared another, unique Sandburg contribution: a free-hand drawing of a program held in the Cook County Jail, October 28, 1917, by members of the Industrial Workers of the World: "Hold the Fort: Grand Entertainment Given By Class War Prisoners." Click on the image below to view a full-size reproduction of this drawing.

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[ISR 16.3 (Sep. 1915): 132-35]

In the second largest city in America, a passenger steamship, tied to the dock, loaded with 2,500 working people dressed in their picnic clothes, topples slowly and sinks to the river bottom like a dead jungle monster shot through the heart. Over 1,000 men, women and children, trapped like rats in a cellar, are drowned.

The foregoing piece of news sent out to American cities one Satruday was at first not believed. It was the ghastliest commentary on Ameircan efficiency so far written into national history. No one fact among all those uncovered in the days following stood out more sinisterly than that the head of the United Stated Department of Commerce, under which steamboat inspection is carried on, is perhaps the foremost figure in the American efficiency movement.

William C. Redfield, Secretary of Commerce, since the death of Frederick C. Taylor, is the most widely quoted authority on efficiency. . . . In the Redfield efficiency gospel, organization, business and factory organization, the co-ordination of many human units into one rapid and perfect machine, is the ideal.

Why didn't this ideal work out in the bureau of steamboat inspection service directly responsible to Redfield? Why didn't Redfield co-ordinate the human units, the high salaried bureau heads under him, so as to stop a cranky, unstable ancient hoodoo tub like the Eastland from going loaded with 2,500 human lives? There's one answer. Business required it.

The Redfield ideal is business. The business interests who run the Great Lakes and the coast and the oversea steamship lines told Redfield everything was all right with the inspection service and there was no danger. So he, like a faithful bureaucrat, considering himself responsible only to business, liftted no finger to change the inspection service. Warning after warning came to his hands.

Secretary Ed Nockels of the Chicago Federation of Labor wrote a letter to Edwin Sweet, first assistant to Redfield, predicting that unless a genuine instead of a bunk inspection was started, a boat would go to the bottom some day in the Chicago river while "tied to the dock."

Fathead Redfield sat in his easy chair in Washington, chatted with business men on the beauties of efficiency, his ears deaf to Andy Furuseth of the Coast Seamen's Union, and his ears deaf to Victor Olaner of the Lake Seamen's Union, and his ears deaf to every plea for more human safety and more social efficiency on the lake steamships. The efficiency of Fathead Redfield is a business efficiency not a social efficiency. And that is one prime explanation of why the Eastland became a coffin boat from which truckloads of dead working people were hauled away one Saturday.

* * * *

Behind the thousand working class dead of the Eastland is the story of the why they started on a picnic the day of their deaths. They went because they were afraid of their jobs. Of course, they didn't know they were going to die on the Eastland. The Western Electric Company for which they worked didn't know they were off on a death harvest instead of a lake and woods outing. But what the Western Electric workers know and what the officers of the Western Electirc know is this terrible fact:

There was no choice for the wage slaves of that corporation. The foremen came to the employes [sic] with tickets. The employes bought tickets and went to the picnic because it was part of their jobs.

The Western Electric is an auxiliary of the American Telephone & Telegraph Company, the wire communication trust. Photographs of the Western Electric workers, thousands of them marching in white hats and white shoes make good advertising for the Bell 'phone monopoly. All arrangements had been made beforehand for those who sank with the Eastland to parade on the streets of Benton Harbor. Pictures were to be made.

Did the Western Electric offer the workers white hats and white shoes free for this parade? It did not. It told the workers they would be expected to have white shoes and so each paid from a dollar to two dollars out of their slim pay envelopes. And the white hats were outrightly forced on each one at a price of thirty cents apiece.

Grim industrial feudalism stands with dripping and red hands behind the whole Eastland affair.

Will Marshall Field III. Enlist?


[ISR 17.11 (May 1917): 660]

If the report proves true that Mr. Marshal Field III. is coming on to Chicago this week [to] enlist in the First Illinois cavalry his action is expected to stimulate recruiting among other young men who up to date in their pale lavender lives have existed only in the rose glow of a grandad's fame and glory.

At the present time Marhall Field III. is physically and mentally a sort of nobody who travels on his grandfather's name and money. The general theory is that if he hadn't picked the world's greatest merchant's loins to spring from he would on natural form and ability be selling sox at the well-known wages paid by Marshall Field & Co. and without bonus payment at New Year's in war time with record-breaking profits.

I am writing the truth about this kid because I hope he enlists and curries his own horse and handles a shovel like any honest-to-Pete cavalryman fighting as a private soldier in the American army.

If this Field boy goes in and the officers of the First cavalry play no favorites, it will be a good thing for Chicago. This is so because the Field boy is just about the most powerful single individual in this city--if he chooses to exercise the power he holds as titular and economic head of the biggest retail and wholesale stores in Chicago, with control in Commonwealth Edison, Surface Lines, Illinois Central, Illinois Steel.

Let this boy learn how to stand on his own legs, knock around among rough men, eating pork and beans and listening to smutty stories and rollicking hi-yi songs, thrown into the guardhouse if he gets drunk or shoots off his mouth, scrubbing his accoutrements, making his bed on the ground or on stone and wooden floors of barracks, washing his own shirt, battling against vermin that lay eggs under the armpits of all who get into active service--let this young Marshall Field III. go up against this game without special favors from commissioned officers and non-coms--and then he may come back to State street, take things in his own hands and run the vast Marshall Field shebang all by himself. I'm not afraid of the results. . . .

When Marhall Field III. sings "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" with the accent on "MY," he is singing true to form, because he is chief designated heir to an estate of $350,000,000 at 50 years of age, and a big share of the country will be his. The American flag is the flag of HIS country in a real sense. Furthermore, inasmuch as Marshall Field III. & Co., manufacturing wholesalers, have textile mills in France and England--and Marshall Field III. was educated from boyhood to young manhood in England--he is the one young man in all Chicago whom the forces of destiny ought to shove into the First Illinois cavalry. And right after him should come his younger brother, Henry Field.

If they should perish as cannon fodder they would have consolation, not known to the millions and millions. Their wives and children would be safe against material want.


Wants All I. W. W. Prisoners Brought Here--"It Will Be so Homelike"

By Carl Sandburg

[ISR 18.5-6 (Nov.-Dec. 1917): 277-78; rpt. from Chicago Daily News]

Thru a steel cage door of the Cook county jail, Big Bill Haywood today spoke the defiance of the Industrial Workers of the World to its enemies and captors.

Bill didn't pound on the door, shake the iron clamps nor ask for pity nor make any kind of a play as a hero. He peered thru the square holes of the steel slats and talked in the even voice of a poker player who may or may not hold a winning hand. It was the voice of a man who sleeps well, digests what he eats, and requires neither sedatives to soothe him nor simulants to stir him up.

The man accused of participation in 10,000 separate and distinct crimes lifted a face checkered by the steel lattice work and said with a slow smile:

"Hello, I'm glad to see you. Do you know when they're going to bring the rest of the boys here? We'd like to have them from all over the country together here. It would be homelike for us all to be together."

Smile at Charge of 10,000 Crimes

He was asked about the 10,000 criminal offenses of which the I. W. W. is accused.

"I don't see where they can scrape up 10,000 offenses unless they claim that we circulated 10,000 copies of Pouget's book on sabotage." This with a half smile, and then more intensely:

"Ten thousand crimes! If they can make the American public or any fair minded jury believe that, I don't see how they'll do it. Why, they can't put their fingers on one single place where we have hampered the government in carrying on the war.

"The I. W. W. has done nothing on the war one way or another. It is true we have called strikes, but they were not aimed at stopping the war. Look! In one industry where a strike was called they could have paid workmen $10 a day and then made fat profits. The I. W. W. has been fighting and will keep on fighting for higher wages to pay for a higher cost of living.

"Eggs awhile ago were two for a nickel. Now they're a nickel apiece. A porkchop costs double what it used to. It takes a week's pay of a lumberjack to buy a wool shirt."

Conditions, Not Philosophy

"Thousands of married men with families belong to the I. W. W. Milk has gone up for them. At 13 cents a quart they can't buy milk for their babies unless they get more money as wages. Read the testimony federal investigators took up in the Mesaba range. It's conditions and not philosophy that makes the I. W. W."

The checkered face in the steel slats and electric light kept a perfect calm. Where LaFollette is explosive and Mayor Thompson overplausible and grievous, Haywood takes it easy. He discusses the alleged 10,000 crimes with the massive leisure of Hippo Vaughn pitching a shut-out.

"You are charged with burning wheat fields," he was reminded.

"I deny it absolutely. Why should workmen burn up their own employment? They would be fools."

"You are accused of driving spikes into spruce trees needed for war airplanes."

"Deny it absolutely. And get this, boy: Not a dirty German dollar has ever come into our hands that we know of. Go back thru our speeches and literature and you will find that a year ago, two years ago and before the war ever started we were in favor of slashing the kaiser's throat. Every dollar we've got now and every dollar the organization will get comes from workingmen."

[Note: This final paragraph, Yannella points out, is original to the ISR reprint, replacing the original closing paragraphs found in the Chicago Daily News.]



[ISR 18.7 (Jan. 1918): 343]

Old John Brown of Ossawattamie was arrested by officers of the United States government, legally indicted, legally tried, and legally shot, as a traitor to the nation.

A few short years afterward millions of marching men, soldiers of the United States Army, with Abraham Lincoln for commander-in-chief, marched singing a song with every verse and every chorus glorifying John Brown. And "John Brown's Body Lies A Mouldering in the Grave" is today the most popular folk song of the American nation. Let the fact be recorded at this time that John Brown was tried on the charge of treason and shot to death because of presumed guilt of treason.

What was it John Brown did that caused him to be remembered and glorified in a national marching song? He was a man with a dream. His mind conceived the vision that if the southern black slaves could be armed wtih rifles they would fight their way to freedom from their white masters. Therefore, reasoned John Brown, the thing to do is to raid a government arsenal and seize the guns wanted by the black slaves. So he and his sons and followers raided the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, were hunted, captured, and as hereinbefore noted, legally indicted, tried, shot.

So Big Bill Haywood, nearly sixty years later, appears in history, another man dominated by a dream. Haywood has a vision of industrial democracy established, a hope of security and justice for all the workers of the world, the shackles of capitalist wage slavery struck off. How is this vision to be attained? Thru a world wide general strike of the working class, thru mass action of the working people of the world, without violence necessarily, without death penalties, revenges and punitive indemnities. Merely thru a folding of arms, a refusal to make or transport the goods of the world, till all autocracies yielded to a newer order. Such was to be the working of the plan when its details could be arranged.

As wild a dream, perhaps, as the dream of John Brown that arming the southern blacks would lead to the abolition of chattel slavery. As vague and chimerical a vision as that of the "traitor" after whom the nation's most famous marching song was written.

What it leads to is the question: Will there be marching songs written to Bill Haywood some day as the same kind of a "traitor" as the John Brown who was legally indicted, legally tried, legally shot?

Let Claude Porter, special assistant attorney general in charge of the prosecution of the I. W. W. think about these things.

We wonder today when we look back and read the savage and ruthless charges brought against John Brown by the prosecutors. They called for his blood with tongues that today are dust.

One day Claude Porter's accusing tongue will be dust. And Big Bill Haywood will be dust. Which of the two will be remembered?

Nobody remembers today who it was that tongue-lashed John Brown in the prosecution of him for treason. But everybody knows the story of John Brown.

So be it. Such is the history and the drama of destiny.

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