Friday, April 10, 2009

Wish I'd met this man

This seems to be the day for my favorite journalists to write about my favorite subjects. John Pulliam of the Galesburg Register-Mail penned a tribute today to Cyrus Highlander, a Galesburg (Ill.) High School graduate who spent the later part of his life in the same part of North Carolina where Carl Sandburg settled - the area where he completed his six-volume biography of Abraham Lincoln.

Highlander, who suggested Flat Rock, N.C. and Galesburg be sister cities, died April 4, 2009 in North Carolina at 82.

Pulliam has written a beautiful piece about Highlander, so I won't spoil it by writing about the same things he's shared. You'll want to read it youself.

I will tell you, though, that if you're a Lincoln buff, you need to step into Sandburg's world, too. Only after you've heard the rhythms of the trains behind his Galesburg birthplace and experienced the tranquility at his later home, Connemara, in the mountains of North Carolina, can you understand the forces which created the rhythm and the lyrical quality in his work.

As you traverse the tree-lined streets he walked and pass the same plaque he passed, the one at Knox College's Old Main commemorating the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debate, you'll begin to feel Sandburg's sense of place.

As you stand in the book-filled rooms at Connemara, see Sandburg's green visor and old manual typewriter, and stand on the rocky ledge with its breathtaking view where he went to be alone and write, you'll begin to feel what it must have been like to weave those thousands of words together in tribute to the railsplitter president.

It seems Highlander felt these things, also, and believed these two Sandburg communities needed to build upon that connection. I encourage you to visit both, too. You'll know what I mean.

Here in Illinois, we're optimistic our redeemer governor, Pat Quinn, will save the historic sites from the fate - closure - which our previous chief executive bestowed upon them. Maybe before long, you can once again visit the Carl Sandburg Historic Site.

In North Carolina, plan to spend several hours at Connemara. Go through the home, which is still much as the Sandburgs left it, and be sure to wear comfortable shoes so you can hike the same trails Sandburg hiked.

Unfortunately, Pulliam's tribute was the first time I remember hearing of Highlander. I'm sorry about that. I think we would have had a lot to talk about.

Who knows? Maybe he and Sandburg are already sharing stories about their old Illinois and North Carolina stomping grounds - or better yet, maybe they're listening to Lincoln spin yet another of his yarns.

© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.

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