Petersburg Illinois is a beautiful town with some Abraham Lincoln roots. Not far from New Salem, where Lincoln spent years before moving to Springfield, it was there that he met the famous Ann Rutledge. Young Ann passed away before their romance (which historians have not confirmed) ever got off the ground. Although she lived in New Salem, Ann Rutledge is buried in Oakland Cemetery in Petersburg.
I have found in this lovely town that if you do a bit of digging you can find other historical facts about the area. On a recent visit I learned that the poet, Edgar Lee Masters once lived in Petersburg and his home is open to tour.
Edgar Lee Masters was born on August 23, 1868, in Garnett Kansas, and if I have the story right, his family moved to Petersburg before settling in Lewistown eventually. Masters lived in the Petersburg home that is now a Museum as a child from 1876 to 1881. His father was an attorney a career that Masters would later follow.
Masters attended Knox College in Galesburg for a year then had to withdraw because of finances. He was admitted to the bar in 1891, and moved to Chicago in 1892, where he found work with the Edison Company. Interestingly enough, for eight years Masters was the partner of Clarence Darrow.
Even though he was practicing law, he never stopped writing and the poet published his first collection of poems in 1898. He married and had a family and published several books under pseudonyms.
For years Masters had been sending poems to Reedy’s Mirror, a St. Louis-based magazine. Through an idea they shared he came up with his most famous piece, the Spoon River Anthology. He based his characters on real locals from his time in Petersburg and Lewistown. The Anthology combined free verse, epitaph, realism, creating a collection of monologues that while highly controversial in the area, was very well received.
Over the years, the Spoon River Anthology was Masters most popular title even though he would go on to write thirty-nine more books that include novels plays, collections of poetry and some biographies.
After divorcing his first wife and moving from Chicago to New York, Masters lived out the rest of his life out east. After he died his body was returned to the community where he spent so much time and found so much fodder for print. He was buried in Petersburg.
The day I was in Petersburg shopping and playing tourist with my family, we spied the Edgar Lee Masters home and museum. The home which is run by volunteers was not open, when I was there, however, I plan to go back and learn more about one of Illinois’s poet sons. I took a minute and walked around the home and lovely garden in back. Log onto https://www.facebook.com/Edgar-Lee-Masters-Memorial-Museum-124761286864/ for more information.