The first surprise when we get to the one-time home of Carl Sandburg is the crowded parking lot, the people wearing jogging attire or carrying walking sticks, and the number of people who have brought their dogs. Sandburg was a newspaperman, champion of the underclasses, laborer, wanderer, Pulitzer-winning biographer of Abraham Lincoln, Pulitzer-winning poet, and collector of American folk songs. His wife, Lilian, studied and bred goats. The sprawling grounds of their home and goat barn seems an odd place to visit with dogs and walking sticks.
But we soon learn that this National Park Service site in Flat Rock, N.C., almost an hour's drive south of Asheville near the South Carolina border, is a favorite walking and hiking spot for local residents. Except for the $5 tour inside the house, access to the grounds, including parking, is free. It's a quarter-mile uphill climb to the main house, further to the goat barn, trout pond and orchards. We watch a number of people walk right past the attractions that we've come to see and follow the hiking trails that branch off from there. And on such a pretty fall day in the foothills of the Smokies, why not?
But we are here for our own little literary celebration: a tour of the Carl Sandburg home, then across the street at the state theater of North Carolina, a performance of "Zelda: An American Love Story," a play about Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Connemara, the house where the Sandburgs lived for 22 years, until Carl's death in 1967, is notable for its collection of 12,000 books, and the rooms where he wrote and Lilian kept records on her goats. A volunteer tells the Sandburgs' story as he leads us on a tour.
The outdoors -- flower garden, tiny amphitheater, vegetable garden with scarecrow, dairy barn, and chicken coop -- are just as interesting. We spend a lot of time watching the goats, talking to a ranger about them, and watching little children approach the animals.
By the time we leave, we feel like we’ve gotten to know this great American writer.