Skip to main content

Oliver Barrett-Carl Sandburg papers

Identifier: Midwest-MS-Barrett-Sandburg

Scope and Content of the Collection

The collection consists of correspondence, writings, photographs and miscellaneous material that Oliver Barrett kept which pertained to his relationship with Carl Sandburg, plus items added by his son Roger. The letters between Barrett and Sandburg deal mainly with their interest in Abraham Lincoln and the books and projects Sandburg was working on, but as they range from 1925 to 1949, there is other subject matter as well: personal, legal, literary and historical. There are a number of very short, often enigmatic, notes signed by Sandburg that apparently accompanied manuscripts he had sent to Barrett, such as several articles, a section of his one novel Remembrance Rock, drafts of parts of his Lincoln biography and many poems (almost all of the latter are typewritten copies). Printed material includes a few magazines containing Sandburg poems, newspaper clippings, publicity broadsheets and personal memorabilia. The photographic collection consists of over 600 stereograph cards - many of Civil War scenes and views of Chicago before and after the fire of 1871 - apparently collected by both Sandburg and Barrett; also, over a hundred cabinet photos, cartes de visite and miscellaneous images.


  • Creation: approximately 1860-1966



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The Oliver Barrett-Carl Sandburg papers are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 5 folders at a time maximum (Priority II).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The Oliver Barrett-Carl Sandburg papers are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections at

Biographies of Oliver R. Barrett and Carl Sandburg

Born in 1873, Oliver R. Barrett began collecting autographs and historical documents in his boyhood in Pittsfield, Illinois, by simply writing to celebrities and politicians, asking for their signatures. He taught himself how to set type and then distributed circulars reading "Wanted, Letters of Famous Men." By age seventeen Barrett was advertising in weekly county newspapers for autographs and documents, particularly for items relating to Abraham Lincoln such as letters, tokens, handbills, newspapers and any other miscellany. Having grown up among people who talked about the Civil War and President Lincoln from firsthand experience, Barrett developed a passion for acquiring Lincolniana that eventually resulted in one of the largest and finest private Lincoln collections of the twentieth century.

Eschewing his family's hopes for becoming a farmer or a preacher, Barrett instead chose to go to the law school of the University of Michigan, from which he graduated in 1896. After at first practicing law in Peoria, he enlisted in the 5th Illinois Infantry for a short time during the Spanish-American War, and then settled down to live in Kenilworth, Illinois, to continue what would be his life-long legal career in Chicago.

Barrett's interest in Lincoln became an obsession and as he became widely known as a collector, his collection was used extensively by Lincoln scholars, including Carl Sandburg. He also was Sandburg's lawyer, and they became friends through their mutual enthusiasms. Barrett wrote one book: Lincoln's Last Speech in Springfield in the Campaign of 1858 (1924), and later his son Roger, also a lawyer, wrote a brochure entitled "A Strange Affair," which dealt with a mysterious crime Lincoln described in a letter to his friend Joshua Speed.

Oliver Barrett and Carl Sandburg met in 1924. The year before Barrett's death in 1950, Sandburg published the volume, Lincoln Collector: The Story of the Oliver R. Barrett Lincoln Collection, a lengthy project he claimed he wouldn't have undertaken were it not that Barrett has been his counsel and friend for so many years. Barrett's short obituary states: "Mr. Sandburg, a life-long friend of Mr. Barrett, had obtained documentation of many of his works from him."

Carl Sandburg was born in Galesburg, Illinois in 1878. The son of poor parents, Sandburg left school at thirteen and until he managed to go to Lombard College, he worked as an unskilled laborer, rode the rails and even served for eight months with the 6th Illinois Infantry in Puerto Rico. He began writing poetry in college, but with his formal education over he began selling Underwood and Underwood stereoscopic pictures, then turned to newspaper work, first in Milwaukee and then in Chicago. He was hired as an editorial writer on the Chicago Daily News and became part of the "Chicago Group" which included Ben Hecht, Charles McArthur, Floyd Dell and others.

From his youth, Sandburg idolized Abraham Lincoln, and his six-volume definitive biography of Lincoln is still considered one of his greatest achievements. He continually published poetry, as well as stories for children. and was always in great demand as a performer, touring the country with a banjo or guitar, singing folk songs and reciting his poems. Sandburg's one novel, Remembrance Rock, written in 1948, was not particularly successful but when he died in 1967, his important place in American letters was nevertheless assured.


8.4 Linear Feet (9 boxes and 2 oversize boxes)


Correspondence between Oliver R. Barrett, lawyer and collector of Abraham Lincoln material and poet Carl Sandburg, primarily pertaining to the interest of both men in Lincoln, plus a few other letters of Oliver Barrett and his son Roger; numerous brief undated notes from Sandburg to Barrett and work notes on Lincoln's biography by both men; copies of several articles and numerous poems by Sandburg; miscellaneous printed items relating to Sandburg, his work and his public appearances; and photographs of Sandburg and Barrett. Also, a large collection of stereographs (scenes of the American Civil War, world views and many slides of Chicago before and after the fire of 1871) and cabinet and carte de visite portraits.


Papers are organized in the following series:

Series 1: Correspondence, 1925-1966
Box 1
Series 2: Works, undated-1949
Box 2
Series 3: Miscellaneous Material, 1898-1953
Boxes 3-4
Series 4: Photograph Collection, approximately 1860-1950
Boxes 5-11

Collection Stack Location

1 4 5, 1 16 2


Gift of Roger Barrett, 1981.

Processed by

Virginia H. Smith, 2002.


This inventory was created with the generous support of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this inventory do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Inventory of the Oliver Barrett-Carl Sandburg papers, approximately 1860-1966
Virginia H. Smith
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2011-08-02: Revisions, additions, and updates were made.

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States