Friday, November 10, 2006

Lindsay letter garners front page coverage

On Thursday, November 9, 2006, The State Journal-Register published a front page story by Pete Sherman about a 1928 typewritten letter from Vachel Lindsay to his Springfield High School English teacher and mentor, Susan Wilcox. The letter, which also contains handwritten annotations by Lindsay, was almost discarded but was saved by an errant breeze. The letter was offered to The Vachel Lindsay Association last September, but with so many libraries and museums around where it could be cared for properly, we had to decline it.

At the suggestion of former VLA President Bill Furry, the letter instead was presented to the Springfield High School Library on November 9, 2006. Read the SJ-R story here. A copy of the letter itself can be seen here (requires pdf reader).

The letter contains a reference to another important SHS alum and student of Miss Wilcox, Robert S. Fitzgerald, who would later become a renowned translator of the classics.

"Elizabeth and I were especially interested in the brilliant work of young Fitzgerald," Lindsay wrote of The Venture, a literary journal put together by Wilcox and her students.

Happy Birthday

100 years ago today, 27-year-old Vachel Lindsay celebrated his birthday in New York City by commencing the making of his poem, I Heard Emmanuel Singing. The poem was his interpretation of the startling dream he had the previous September. It was finished on Christmas Day.

Although one of the earliest of his poems, it bears many of the unique hallmarks that would appear throughout his body of work. The rhyme and meter of the poem is based on a familiar song or hymn and it includes directions from Lindsay on how to perform it. It is a rather long poem. The beginning of it is presented here.


The poem shows the Master with his work done, singing to free his heart in Heaven.

This poem is intended to be half said, half sung, very softly, to the well-known tune:-

"Last night I lay a-sleeping,
There came a dream so fair,
I stood in Old Jerusalem
Beside the temple there,-" etc.

Yet this tune is not to be fitted on arbitrarily. It is here given to suggest the manner of handling rather than determine it.

I heard Immanuel singing
Within his own good lands,
I saw him bend above his harp.
I watched his wandering hands
Lost amid the harp-strings;
Sweet, sweet I heard him play.
His wounds were altogether healed.
Old things had passed away.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Join the VLA

Join The Vachel Lindsay Association today and support our mission to keep the spirit of this great American poet and dreamer alive for all generations.

Our annual membership dues are $25.00 for Individuals, $35.00 for Family membership, $50.00 for Patrons and $100.00 Sustaining. We publish a quarterly newsletter and hold an annual meeting and banquet each November near Lindsay's birthday. We support activities at the Vachel Lindsay Home State Historic Site and special functions in the community. Your membership this year will help us to restore the "Rose and Lotus" mural in Downtown Springfield.

Send your check made payable to The Vachel Lindsay Association to:

The Vachel Lindsay Association
P.O. Box 9356
Springfield, IL 62791-9356

Friday, October 27, 2006

VLA 2006 Annual Meeting

This year's annual meeting of the Vachel Lindsay Association will be held Sunday, November 12 at noon at the PAC Restaurant at the University of Illinois at Springfield. Brunch will be served and the featured speaker will be Lee Gurga, author of Haiku: A Poet's Guide.

Mr. Gurga was the winner of the Haiku Society of America's Best Book of Criticism, 2004. He is a former editor of Modern Haiku, the longest-running journal of Haiku and Haiku studies in English. He is current editor of Modern Haiku Press. He recently received the 2006 Cultural Award from the Japan-America Society of Chicago. He is a former member of the VLA Board of Directors.

Lindsay subject of conference session in Springfield

Springfield, Illinois - On October 13, 2006, a session of the IHPA's 8th annual Conference on Illinois History was devoted to Vachel Lindsay and it was my honor to present a paper at the session. My paper discussed the newly-discovered Lindsay annotations on Cram and Lindsay's utopian vision for Springfield as presented by the poet to my great-grandmother, Lyna Souther.

The session was titled, "Walled Towns to Pre-Urban Giants: Topographical Town Scenes in Vachel Lindsay's Universe." Samuel J. Rogal presented a paper titled, "Vachel Lindsay's Chicago," while mine was titled, "Vachel Lindsay and 'Walled Towns'". Dan Guillory moderated the session and commented on the papers.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

100 years ago

100 years ago on September 4, 1906, on the last night of the return crossing from the European tour he took with his parents, Vachel Lindsay had one his visions. Quoting Ruggles:

"Last night," he wrote, "I saw Immanuel singing in the New Heaven . . . in a bright grassy place . . . singing almost alone . . . singing wonderfully, as become a son of David. He was almost as simple a shepherd as David, and his robe was Angelico red. His lips scarcely sng at all, it was his harp that sang. And some one listening behind me said. 'It is Immanuel.'"

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Harriet Monroe

It would be difficult to overstate the importance of Harriet Monroe (left) in Vachel Lindsay's career. In 1912, as she was researching prospective contributors for her brainchild magazine, Poetry, she found Vachel in an issue of the American and contacted him through that magazine.

Lindsay, fresh from the road on his last great tramp, responded with a large envelope full of verses including General William Booth Enters into Heaven. The appearance of that poem in Monroe's magazine in January, 1913 was the break-through event that secured Lindsay's place in American letters. Monroe later called it "a great event in the art."

Monroe remained a loyal friend and ally of Lindsay's for the rest of his life.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Lindsay home featured in Heartland Magazine

Heartland Magazine, the weekly pullout in The State Journal-Register, featured the Vachel Lindsay Home in its September 8, 2006 edition. The story, titled "Where Time Stands Still", was written by DiAnne Crown with photographs by Shannon Kirschner.

Feature stories such as this appear in the local newspapers from time to time serving to remind Springfield of the unique imprint left on the town by Lindsay, but this particular story features some of the best and most artistically conceived images of the interior of the home and its treasures ever presented in print.

The Vachel Lindsay Association is always deeply appreciative of the attention paid to Lindsay by the media, and we are excited to see Lindsay and the VL Home presented in such an attractive light.

About the image

We don't know who photographed the image above, a stunning take on the Vachel Lindsay bust by Adrien Voisin, but we found it at We'll devote other posts to Poetry, Harriet Monroe and the Voisin bust.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Neighborhood walk photos

The 4th annual Vachel Lindsay Home Neighborhood walk was a great success by all accounts. These photos were sent to me by Jennie Battles, Site Administrator of the VL Home, and were taken by her husband. That's me addressing the throng in front of the First Christian Church.

Below, we are gathered on the front steps of the Elijah Iles House on the corner of Seventh and Cook Streets, just one block from its original location on Sixth and Cook where the First Christian Church now stands.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Walking tour of Lindsay's neighborhood

Just a quick note to say I'll be speaking at the Vachel Lindsay Home neighborhood walk tomorrow morning at 9:15 A.M. The first stop after gathering at the Lindsay home will be the First Christian Church (pictured here). This was the church where the Lindsay family worshipped and where Lindsay gave his last public recital. This Gothic Revival structure was built in 1912 on the southwest corner of Sixth and Cook Streets, the original site of the Elijah Iles House. I found the image of the church here, along with a reference to one of my great-great-great-grandfathers, Richard Latham.

The Iles House, Springfield's oldest surviving structure by 1910, was going to be demolished to make way for the new church. Recognizing the historical importance of the house, Latham and Lyna Souther purchased the structure and moved it to another location, making it their home for the rest of their lives and saving it for future generations.

Souther's family had been members of the church and were family friends of the Lindsay's for many years. Latham, who followed his father in the banking business, became the trust officer of the estate of Vachel's father and was intimately involved in the Lindsay family finances. His wife, Lyna Souther, was a good friend of Vachel's and collaborated with him in the creation of Springfield's municipal flag.

The next stop on the walking tour will be the Elijah Iles House, which has been moved back closer to its original location. I'll discuss Lindsay's visit to the house sometime around 1920, and discuss the book he gave to Lyna filled with critical annotations on his vision for Springfield.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Ford Garage

This is a "before" shot of the Ford Garage in Springfield taken in the Spring of 2005. The building now has been restored to the tune of $5 million according to a story by Lisa Kernek in the State-Journal Register on June 28, 2006.

Its owner, Illinois National Bank, could have simply renovated the structure for far less money. Instead, they restored the building to meet the standards of the National Register of Historic Places.

Vachel Lindsay knew and loved this building. It was built right around the corner from his house, on the northwest corner of 4th and Jackson Streets.

In annotations he left in a copy of Walled Towns by R.A. Cram, Lindsay listed the Ford Garage in Springfield along with Bush Terminal Building, the Times Building, the Golden Door of the Transportation Building, by Louis Sullivan, and the Dana-Thomas House, by Frank Lloyd Wright, as examples of an architectural spirit in the tradition of John Ruskin, an architecture born of the soil like the Gothic in Europe.

"All these are modern forms, born in this soil, yet capable of development in the spirit of Cram's book, or Ruskin's wonderful description of the nature of Gothic," wrote Lindsay around 1920.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

The Elijah Iles House and Vachel

Newer research reveals historic connections between The Vachel Lindsay Home and The Elijah Iles House (shown here) in Springfield, Illinois. For instance, the purchaser of the Iles House who rescued it from destruction in 1910, Latham T. Souther, was the trust officer of the Lindsay family estate. Latham's wife, Lyna Souther, was a leading figure in the Springfield Art Association who worked with Lindsay on the design contest for Springfield's municipal flag. Lindsay was known to have visited Lyna at the Iles House, probably to present her with a book by another author which he had filled with critical annotations on the subject of Utopia.

Lyna and Latham Souther are remembered and honored today for their forward-looking investment in the Elijah Iles House without which Springfield would have lost this precious jewel in her crown.

The Elijah Iles House is now the home of The Farrell and Ann Gay Museum of Springfield History, the first-ever museum dedicated to Springfield history. The premier exhibit is "A Time to Remember," featuring Mr. Gay's own extensive collection of Illinois watches and Illinois Watch Company memorabilia. The curators of the exhibit are Ed Russo and the Vachel Lindsay Association's own Corrine Frisch and they have done a fantastic job indeed.

Vachel Lindsay made specific reference to the Illinois Watch Company in The Golden Book of Springfield. The watch company had its own observatory during Lindsay's time, which explains why Lindsay describes it in 2018 as a place where microscope and telescope lenses are made. "A Time to Remember" features a beautiful display of the observatory.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

VLA Board member pens new title

Dan Guillory, a longtime member of the Vachel Lindsay Association Board of Directors as well as an author and historian, has produced a new volume of Images of America entitled Wartime Decatur 1832-1945.

Dan examines the town's wartime experiences from the Black Hawk War to World War Two. These experiences include the founding of the Grand Army of the Republic and the tradition of the Decatur Canteen. Dan discovered a cache of photographs and documents from World War One locked away in a library while researching the book, providing an excellent resource for his work.

Dan was a professor of English for 37 years, earning his Ph.D. at Tulane University in 1972. He is presently Professor Emeritus of English at Millikin University in Decatur.

Dan's other titles include Decatur (Images of America: Illinois), Living With Lincoln: Life and Art in the Heartland, When the Waters Recede: Rescue and Recovery During the Great Flood, and The Alligator Inventions.

The VLA is lucky to have such a talent on the Board.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Navigating the Maze

The Vachel Lindsay Association has been a proud co-sponsor of the Poets and Writers Literary Forum's annual anthology of poetry by young people, Navigating the Maze, for the past couple of years. We're really impressed by the quality of the work by the contributors.

Local Lindsay interpreter Job Conger, who served as the first president of the P&WLF, blogs here on the recent reading from this year's edition at the Hoogland Center in Springfield.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Visit the Lindsay home online!

The Vachel Lindsay Home is an Illinois state historic site and a national treasure. If you live in or around Springfield and haven't visited the house, you're really missing out. "When glad vacation time" begins and you're planning to visit Springfield, perhaps to see the Abraham Lincoln home or presidential museum, you really should make it a point to drop by the Lindsay home and take a free tour. After all, don't you really know all there is to know about Lincoln already? Do what Lindsay would do and get the best hotel room in town and stay an extra day just to see this gem of a home.

If it is utterly impossible for you make it to the Lindsay home, or you simply want to avoid the hoards of philistine tourists (ha!), the next best thing is to treat yourself to a virtual tour on your computer, especially if you have a high-speed connection. Even if you still are struggling with a dial-up connection (like myself), the download time is well worth the wait. It takes longer for me to download the virtual tour than to get in my car and drive there, but that's not saying a lot.

The virtual tour consists of several 360 degree panoramic images inside and outside the house, upstairs and downstairs. The first image will show the great difference between the appearance of the house today compared to the image shown on this post. See the gorgeous furniture and zoom in on the splendid reproductions of Lindsay's original artwork, such as the Shield of Lucifer or the Wedding of the Rose and the Lotus. Let the virtual tour entice you into making a pilgrimage to this shrine of American poetry.

Thanks to the good offices of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, the virtual tour of the Lindsay home is available 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. And you won't have to worry about tracking in mud on the carpet or your kid knocking over some priceless Lindsay heirloom. And it's always a sunny day at the virtual Lindsay home, only without the heat, glare and dangerous UV ray exposure of actual sunshine.

Visit NOW!

Monday, March 20, 2006

One hundred years ago today

It was Sunday morning in the middle of March. I was stranded in Jacksonville, Florida. After breakfast I had five cents left. Joyously I purchased a sack of peanuts, then started northwest on the railway ties straight toward that part of Georgia marked "Swamp" on the map.

Sunset found me in a pine forest. I decided to ask for a meal and lodging at the white house looming half a mile ahead just by the track. I prepared a speech to this effect: - "I am the peddler of dreams. I am the sole active member of the ancient brotherhood of the troubadours. It is against the rules of our order to receive money. We have a habit of asking a night's lodging in exchange for repeating verses and fairy tales."

Vachel Lindsay, A Handy Guide for Beggars

Friday, March 03, 2006

One hundred years ago today

On March 3, 1906, Vachel Lindsay left New York City on a boat to Florida. He planned to walk all the way from Jacksonville, Florida to his parent's home in Springfield with nothing more than a letter of recommendation from the YMCA and some printed copies of The Tree of Laughing Bells bound in red covers.

It was the start of his career as a tramp, which fueled his best writing over the years. He would walk across the countryside by day and toward evening would seek the hospitality of strangers, "trading rhymes for bread." To Lindsay, these encounters evoked the spirit of Christ.


My Goddess is the road.
Behold her wings outspread,
Her robe of sunny floss
And the stars about her head.

I am her spider-slave,
Too frail to aid her fame.
I spin an endless thread
In her embroidery frame.

The framework is the Town,
The web, a coil of friends -
Endless it seems, and yet
I know when Winter ends,

The road will be my bride
The road will set me free:
Strangers with magic bread
Will make a man of me.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Mentions of the week

A fan of the late Gen. William Booth has 'GENERAL WILLIAM BOOTH ENTERS INTO HEAVEN' posted here. This was Lindsay's 'breakthrough' poem. It appeared in Harriett Monroe's magazine, Poetry, in 1913. Monroe later called it "a geat event in art."

'THE DANDELION' is posted here.

A bit of "TO GLORIANA" is posted here.

For the full moon, Claudia in England posted "WHAT THE GRAY-WINGED FAIRY SAID" here.

The Lindsay-Teasdale courtship is recounted here.

Bob's Blog of Poetry lists Lindsay as an inspiration here.

Friday, February 10, 2006

"Poets in the Parlor" to feature Dr. Marcellus Leonard

Poet Professor Marcellus Leonard, author of Shake Down the Thunder, will give a performance of his work at a "Poets in the Parlor" appearance at the Vachel Lindsay Home State Historic Site on Saturday, February 11, at 2:30 in the afternoon.

Leonard is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Illinois at Springfield as well as the University Ombudsman. He holds a PhD in Teaching Writing from Illinois State University.

This will be Dr. Leonard's second appearance at the Vachel Lindsay Home. His singular rendition of Lindsay's "The Congo" at his first appearance gave a whole new dimension to the piece. First published in 1914, the poem bills itself as "A Study of the Negro Race" and its first subheading reads, "On Their Basic Savagery." It's still Lindsay's most famous work, but it has always been controversial. Lindsay grew to detest the poem and the incessant calls for him to perform it, sensing that much of his audiences' appreciation for it was basically racist.

Leonard's own work is the real draw, though. His poetry is lyrical and sensuous, subtle yet honest. Come experience the warmth and vitality of the man and his talent.

VLA Prez interviews famous historian

Corrine Frisch, President of the Vachel Lindsay Association, interviews historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of the new bestseller, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, in this week's Illinois Times. This is not to be missed.

Goodwin will appear in Springfield for book signings and talks on Saturday, February 11, both at the Old State Capitol and at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. I'm hoping to get a book signed myself. How about you?

Mentions of the Week

Lindsay is mentioned in blog post of biographical information on the poet Robert Frost here:

1918 - Meets Vachel Lindsay, Sara Teasdale, and James Oppenheim. Pleased when Lesley leaves college after her freshman year to do war work in an aircraft factory. During national epidemic, Frost suffers severe case of influenza that lasts for months.

Lindsay is mentioned in an arty blog post about the Beat poet, Jack Micheline, here, that connects Lindsay to the Beats in an important way. I call the post "arty" because the font is black and the background also is black. To see the text you have to change the text color, and the easiest way is to do that is to select the text with your cursor (Ctrl+A is good keyboard command for PCs for this). Sigh. I'll do you the favor of quoting it here:

He began his travelling at the age of seventeen and didn't stop until he was twenty-six. Now he found a home in the streets of Greenwich Village, where he lived the next five years. Rapidly Micheline identified himself with the tradition of American street poets, such as Vachel Lindsay and Maxvell Bodenheim. He walked the streets of the Village and Harlem listening to jazz, digging the vitality and humanity amongst poor people. He found a friend in the black poet Langston Hughes who encouraged him in his writing.

Speaking of the Beats, a poem by Allen Ginsburg that mentions Lindsay is posted here.

A teenager posted "Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight" here.

The Langston Hughes discovery once again is recounted here.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Mention of the day

The story of Lindsay's discovery of the Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes at the Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D.C. is recounted here today.

Also, on Tuesday, a French language blog cited Lindsay's 1915 book, The Art of the Motion Picture (about a third of the way down the page).

Saturday, February 04, 2006

100 years ago

One of the self-appointed tasks of this blog will be to chronicle Lindsay's life "100 years ago today." Without ready access to his diaries and notebooks, the biographies will have to serve as the source of these proposed entries.

The West-Going Heart: A Life of Vachel Lindsay by Eleanor Ruggles remains the definitive Lindsay biography. Ruggles provides plenty of dates, but there are some long gaps such the one between December 23, 1905 and March 3, 1906.

One hundred years ago today, Lindsay was living in New York City, working by day for the Nicholls Gas Tubing Works and teaching art by night at the YMCA. He and some of his friends had formed a club for the purpose of sharing nightly suppers. The fact that they engaged a cook and a young boy to serve them dinner brought a stern rebuke from Lindsay's father, who didn't approve of the direction Lindsay's life was taking.

Mentions of the day

Adan Rodriguez quoted a line from "The Congo" as an epigraph to his book report on King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Hochschild.

Rodrquez, of Lookout Mountain, Georgia, is a senior at Covenant College. He confidently titled his post, "easy a".

"The Spider and the Ghost of the Fly" was just posted here by unkunvinst.

"To Lady Jane" was just posted here on The Clock's Loneliness.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Wedding of the Rose and the Lotus

For nearly a decade, this 8-by-16 foot mural depicting Lindsay's 1913 watercolor painting, "The Wedding of the Rose and the Lotus" has graced the exposed northern side of the two-story building at 107 North Fifth Street in the heart of downtown Springfield. It commands a position of prominence on the southbound one-way street, just off the left-hand turn from Jefferson Street, a block west of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

Both the painting and the poem of the same title celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal and the intermingling of the waters of the Pacific and the Atlantic. The Rose signifies the West and the Lotus the East. Lindsay recited the poem to Woodrow Wilson's cabinet in 1915.

Sadly, time is having its way with the vibrant colors of the mural. A proper restoration is being considered, but the building is up for sale and new ownership may mean other uses for the space.


(A poem distributed to both houses of Congress by Secretary Franklin K. Lane on the opening day of the Panama-Pacific Exposition.)

Flags of the Pacific
And the Atlantic Meet,
Captain calls to captain,
Fleet makes cheer with fleet.
Above the drowned ages
A wind of wooing blows:-
The red rose woos the Lotus,
The lotus woos the rose . . .

The lotus conquered Egypt.
The rose was loved in Rome.
Great India crowned the lotus:
(Britain the rose's home).
Old China crowned the lotus,
They crowned it in Japan.
But Christendom adored the rose
Ere Christendom began . . .

The lotus speaks of slumber:
The rose is as a dart.
The lotus is Nirvana:
The rose is Mary's heart.
The rose is deathless, restless,
The splendor of our pain:
The flush and fire of labor
That builds, not all in vain. . . .

The genius of the lotus
Shall heal earth's too-much fret.
The rose, in blinding glory,
Shall waken Asia yet.
Hail to their loves, ye peoples!
Behold, the world-wind blows,
That aids the ivory lotus
To wed the red, red rose!

Mention of the day

"Euclid" was posted on The Millstone today by blogger Claudia from Buckinghamshire, U.K.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Mentions of the day

"Queen Mab in the Village" is the poem of the day today at Jimmy Hui's blog

Another blogger mentioned Lindsay at the bottom of this page.

And another blogger just quoted Lindsay here.

The Vachel Lindsay Home State Historic Site

603 South Fifth Street, Springfield, Illinois

Take a virtual tour of the home courtesy of the IHPA!

This is the house where Vachel Lindsay was born on Nov. 10, 1879 and where he died on Dec. 5, 1931. It is maintained as a state historic site by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and is open to the public Wednesday through Saturday.

The Vachel Lindsay Home hosts regular programming including the "Poets in the Parlor" series featuring area poets sharing their works and the "Saturday Mornings at 603" series featuring historic and literary presentations.

The house is one of the gems on Springfield's crown, along with the Governor's Mansion, The Abraham Lincoln Home, Frank Lloyd Wright's Dana-Thomas House, the Elijah Iles House, The Edwards Place, and so many others. The Vachel Lindsay Home has been meticulously restored to represent a period approximate to the 1910s with original furnishings throughout.

The house reportedly was built in 1846 by the same people who built the Abraham Lincoln Home a short distance away. An early owner of the house was Clark M. Smith, the husband of Mary Todd Lincoln's sister, Ann. Abraham Lincoln is known to have visited the house and attended a reception in his honor there shortly before departing to Washington in 1861.

Dr. Vachel Thomas Lindsay, the poet's stern father, bought the house in 1878 and, with his wife, Katherine Frazee, raised three children there, Olive, Nicholas Vachel and Joy. After the parents had passed away and the house was rented out, Lindsay returned to the old homestead in 1927 with his young wife, Elizabeth, and their two children, Nick, Jr. and Susan Doniphan.

After Vachel's death, Elizabeth and the children left Springfield, while the house remained the property of Dr. Lindsay's surviving heirs. In 1958, it was aquired by the Vachel Lindsay House Fund and in 1990 it was donated to the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006


It is portentous, and a thing of state
That here at midnight, in our little town
A mourning figure walks, and will not rest,
Near the court-house pacing up and down.

Or by his homestead, or in shadowed yards,
He lingers where his children used to play,
Or through the market, on the well-worn stones
He stalks until the dawn-stars burn away.

A bronzed, lank man! His suit of ancient black,
A famous high top-hat and plain worn shawl
Make him the quaint great fugure that men love,
The prairie-lawyer, master of us all.

He cannot sleep upon his hillside now.
He is among us: - as in times before!
And we who toss and lie awake for long
Breathe deep, and start, to see him pass the door.

His head is bowed. He thinks on men and kings.
Yea, when the sick world cries, how can he sleep?
Too many peasants fight, they know not why,
Too many homesteads in black terror weep.

The sins of all the war-lords burn his heart.
He sees the dreadnaughts scouring every main.
He carries on his shawl-wrapped shoulders now
The bitterness, the folly and the pain.

He cannot rest until a spirit-dawn
Shall come; --the shining hope of Europe free:
The league of sober folk, the Workers' Earth,
Bringing long peace to Cornland, Alp and Sea.

It breaks his heart that kings must murder still,
That all his hours of travail here for men
Seem yet in vain. And who shall bring white peace
That he may sleep upon his hill again?

August, 1914

Monday, January 30, 2006

The Municipal Flag of Springfield

In 1916, Vachel Lindsay met with members of the Springfield Art Association and together they organized a contest for the design of the official municipal flag for Springfield. The SAA flag committee included former Illinois governor Richard Yates, reknowned Springfield architect George Helmle as well as my great-grandmother, Lyna Chase Souther.

Lindsay put up $100.00 as prize money for the winning design, shown here.

The flag's design became an integral component of New Springfield's geography in Lindsay's The Golden Book of Springfield, as this exerpt attests:

"...the path of white around the red star of Springfield is the map of our five-pointed system of double walls and within them a star-plan system of avenues."

Lindsay describes the vast scale of the outer walls with gates at each of the five star-points located at Mason City, Warrenburg, Pana, Palmyra and Virginia, Illinois. The walls, according to Lindsay's narrative, were

"...built so long ago by Ralph Adams Cram!"
The flag still flies proudly over Springfield. Lindsay said of the flag,

"Those that can unite under the flag of Springfield with joy can someday unite the world over, under the flag of mankind."

2018: The Millennial Year

March 1, 2018, Oak Ridge Cemetary...
There is a deep darkness, and time passing by without end, and shade. There is the fear of the moles that will not leave me alone, who make nests of alien dust, beneath my ribs. And my bones crumble through the century, like last years autumn leaves. Then there is, alternating with drouth, bitter frost. And roots wrap my heart and brain. And there is sleep.

Then a galloping and gay shrieking, away on the road, to the east of Oak Ridge! And though I am six feet beneath the ground the eyes of the soul are given me. I see the wonderful young horsewoman out on that Great Northwest Road and the ancient clay between me and that cavalcade turns to air and to light. And I am asking myself as the Girl Leader goes by like a meteor: "Am I coming up again through the earth as weed or flame or man? If I rise from this grave, I am coming but to praise her, if I may."
Vachel Lindsay describes his return to Springfield one hundred years in the future in his utopian novel, The Golden Book of Springfield.

It's not too early to prepare for the Millennial Year, when Lindsay and the winged book are due to appear! It would be most appropriate to organize readings of the Golden Book on the dates and times and at many of the places mentioned therein.

Vachel Lindsay and Walled Towns

On December 1, 2005, I presented a paper at the annual historical symposium of the Illinois State Historical Society about a book (right) I found full of critical annotations penned by Vachel Lindsay ca 1920.

This one subject combines my family history with the life and work of Vachel Lindsay and the history of Springfield. It ties together The Vachel Lindsay Home State Historic Site and the Elijah Iles House in ways historians hadn't previously considered.

Below is my introduction to the transcription I made of Lindsay's annotations. I'll post the transcription itself elsewhere.

Sometime between February, 1920 and October, 1921, the poet Vachel Lindsay annotated a copy of Walled Towns by Ralph Adams Cram and inscribed it to Lyna Chase Souther, a socialite of Lindsay's hometown, Springfield, Illinois.

Cram was an important Gothic revival architect and a disciple of John Ruskin, the pre-eminent Victorian art critic who was also an important influence on Lindsay. Walled Towns, first published in 1919, proposes intentional communities surrounded by metaphorical walls keeping in local talent and keeping out the modernism and commercialism of the industrial age. Cram’s protest to the contrary notwithstanding, Walled Towns falls into the utopian genre.

Lindsay found much to agree with in Walled Towns, which appeared just at the time he was hammering out his own utopian novel, The Golden Book of Springfield. Areas of disagreement with Cram, however, provoked lively responses by the poet penned in the margins of the book in his lovely Spencerian hand. Lindsay's commentary provides insights into his thinking during this time and sheds light on some of the more obscure aspects of his Golden Book. Although Lindsay never mentioned The Golden Book in his Walled Towns annotations, the connection is obvious.

Lindsay intended his Golden Book to transform Springfield.

"You haven’t the least notion of the heart’s blood I am putting into The Golden Book," he wrote to Harriet Monroe, "I would certainly die for the book, if it would do the work I want it to do."

"This book seems to me to be the one thing that justifies my life," he wrote later.

Considering the many important changes that were occurring in Springfield and America while Lindsay was writing The Golden Book, anything must have seemed possible to him at the time. Springfield’s elite had recently commissioned a survey by the Russell Sage Foundation that prompted many social reforms and structural improvements for the city. With the "war to end all wars" just concluded, America embraced Prohibition and women’s suffrage. The country was poised to enter the Jazz Age with its Lost Generation while Lindsay desperately worked to steer things in the opposite direction. It is one of those tragic ironies that the Prohibition amendment which Lindsay himself had helped bring about - and hoped would redirect American culture - ultimately fostered the lawlessness and dissolution that characterized the Roaring Twenties.

Lindsay drew upon many sources for The Golden Book, not the least of which was his already prodigious body of poetry and the rich metaphorical language he developed in that work. John Ruskin, Edward Bellamy and Ralph Adams Cram were already important influences in his thinking and writing. Lindsay's great ambition in The Golden Book was to orchestrate these disparate elements into a cohesive whole. However, without the benefit of a thorough understanding of his literary parentage and his own particular metaphorical language, The Golden Book of Springfield can come across as hopeless nonsense. Lindsay’s writing often demands a fair degree of effort and indulgence from its readers, but The Golden Book of Springfield can strain even the patience of his most ardent devotees.

Lindsay's gift of his hand-annotated copy of Walled Towns to Lyna Souther - with the request that she share the book among her friends in the Springfield Art Association - apparently was intended to enlighten and influence the prominent people and community leaders of Springfield. The "debate," as Lindsay dubbed it, between Cram and himself might help him lay the groundwork for acceptance of his Golden Book in the Springfield community and attest to his earnestness in transforming the town.

Lyna Chase Souther, a talented landscape painter herself, and the sister of Woodstock founder, Frank Swift Chase, was an obvious ally to enlist in this cause. Lindsay had recently collaborated with Souther and the Art Association in the creation of Springfield’s municipal flag. The flag became a prominent component of The Golden Book and fit well with Lindsay's and Cram's shared penchant for civic heraldry and pageantry.

If Lindsay saw Lyna Souther as part of the solution in Springfield, he must have seen her husband, Latham Souther, as part of the problem. It is apparent from his letters that he saw Latham, a banker who happened to be the trust officer of his father’s estate, as the very embodiment of the main street businessman he had waged war against and felt oppressed by throughout his career. Souther was described in one of the congratulatory volumes of local biography and history as one of Springfield's "representative men." As such, he appears to have represented the side of Springfield that resisted Lindsay's ideas the most. It is not very likely that Latham would have reacted any differently to The Golden Book than would have George Babbitt himself.

Although utopias such as Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward 2000 - 1887 had been a very popular literary form in the past – the science fiction of their day - and had inspired much discussion, the critics and the public at large failed even to acknowledge The Golden Book of Springfield when it appeared in 1920. As a vehicle for rallying Springfield and America to his vision, it was a tragic failure for Lindsay.

The copy of Walled Towns inscribed to Lyna Souther, the annotations of which are transcribed here, now resides in the Sangamon Valley Collection in Springfield, a gift of her daughter, Betty McMinn.

Included with the book in the collection are two loose letters, one from Lyna's friend, Charles Ridgely, returning the book to her in 1923 along with a 1921 letter from Ralph Adams Cram to Ridgely saying he would like to see Lindsay's annotations.

Cram never saw this annotated copy, but mentioned in his letter that he had heard from his friend Stephen Graham that Lindsay had distributed twenty or thirty copies of the book. Cram referred to Lyna's copy of Walled Towns as "the annotated copy" in his letter, but Lindsay apparently handed out many such annotated copies to friends and neighbors over the years. Lindsay later referred to these as "illuminated" copies.

Read the transcripition here.


We'll dispense with a biography of Vachel Lindsay, since this blog will essentially develop one. If a brief sketch is sought, there are many resources available on the Internet. A few of those are listed below.


Yahoo Reference

Modern American Poetry

Lanphier High School project

Inaugural message

This space is dedicated to discussion of the life and work of a foremost American poet, Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931), the Prairie Troubador.

As a Lindsay researcher and enthusiast, it's my pleasure to be your host and to welcome you to share your comments on the many posts that will appear here in the future.

Lindsay's contibution to American letters is too important for him to be forgotten. Let's harness the energy of the blogosphere to bring new listeners to Vachel's songs and spirit. Let this be our new Village Magazine!