Friday, October 28, 2016


I really enjoy working on this blog.  I love doing the research - digging through old records looking for information or reading old newspaper and magazine articles trying to "flesh out" the subjects of my stories.  But most I all I love working on this blog because it brings me in contact with people who I never would have encountered otherwise.  This week's subject is a perfect example of that.  His name is Lew Sarett (1888-1954) and he was called "the poet of the wilderness."  It is highly doubtful that I would have ever encountered Lew Sarett in the normal course of my life but with this article of all that has changed.  So let's sit back and relax and see what we can "dig up" about the man who wrote these lines:

Lew Sarett

A lonely lake, a lonely shore,
A lone pine leaning on the moon;
All night the water-beating wings
Of a solitary loon.

With mournful wail from dusk to dawn
He gibbered at the taunting stars, —
A hermit-soul gone raving mad,
And beating at his bars.

Lew Sarett was born Lewis Zaratzsky on May 16, 1888 in Chicago. He was the only child of Rudolph Zaratzsky (1865-1925) and Jeanette, nee Bloch (1871-1948).  His parents had immigrated to the US about 1880 - Rudolph from Poland and Jeanette from Lithuania. Rudolph was a clothing cutter by trade.  

The family moved in 1895 to Marquette, Michigan, where young Lew Sarett first began to acquire his knowledge and love of the outdoors and of wild animals. Around 1900 Sarett and his mother returned to Chicago while his father continued to look for work. In 1902 the family was reunited and moved to Benton Harbor, Michigan, where Sarett graduated from Benton Harbor High School in 1907 as a champion orator, debater, athlete and scholar.

The 1910 US Census (April 28, 1910) finds "Lewis Seratsky" living in Chicago as a "Boarder" at 4347 West Congress Street.  (That address is now a vacant lot.)  He was living with Aron Jacobus and family. Lewis listed his occupation as "Cutter in the Tailoring Business," (same occupation as his father Rudolph).  Surprisingly, Lewis told the census taker that he had been born in Russia, and that he came to the US in 1898.

Sarett started his higher education at the University of Michigan  in Benton Harbor (1907-1908).  In 1909 he was a sophomore transfer to Beloit College in Beloit, Wisconsin.  During a colorful campus career there he was known as Lew R. Saretsky.  

At Beloit he was a member of Delta Sigma Rho, honorary speech fraternity, and of the Turtle Mound, senior men's group.  He was outstanding as a cheerleader in the days when sports were having a big revival of interest on the Beloit campus.  As a cheerleader, he participated in Beloit's first homecoming ceremonies of 1910. 

Lew Saretsky, Cheerleader

During these years, known as 'Swat,' Sarett participated in athletics and won honors in oratory.  He won the Rice Prize for extemporaneous speaking at the 1910 commencement, and he won the Wisconsin State Oratorical Championship in two successive years.  His prize-wining orations were “The Slavonic Offering to the American” in 1910 and “Poland's Offering to the American” in 1911.  Around 1911, he formally changed his surname to Sarett.

After graduating from Beloit (Class of 1911), he attended Harvard Law School (1911-1912) and the University of Illinois Law School (LL.B. 1916).  

In 1913 Lew Sarett accepted a position on the faculty of the University of Illinois in Champaign, Illinois.  He was an Assistant Professor of Public Speaking for the 1913-1914 academic year and an Assistant Professor of  English starting in 1914.  During this period, Sarett lived at 504 E. Chalmers Street in Champaign.  A parking lot occupies that space today.

For a time he lived among the Chippewa Indians of the Lake Superior region, was adopted by them and given the name "Lone Caribou." When Sarett was not teaching, he served as a part-time ranger in National Parks in Montana and Wyoming and as a wilderness guide in northern Minnesota and Canada. 

On June 17, 1914 Lew R. Sarett married Margaret H. Minen (1893-1941) in St. Joseph, Michigan.  Margaret H. Minen was born Margaret Helen Husted on June 17, 1893 in Marengo, Illinois to Harry Brooks Husted (1865-1931) and Helen Bryan, nee Osgood (1869-1910).  Harry Husted was a bookkeeper by trade who went on to own a paint factory in Chicago.

Before she married Lew Sarett, Margaret had been married to George Edgar Mizen (1889-1942).  They were married July 24, 1911 in Kane County, Illinois.  The marriage ended in divorce.  

Lew and Margaret Sarett were blessed with two children:  Lewis Hastings Sarett (1917-1999), and Helen Osgood Sarett (1926-2007). Lewis H. Sarett became quite famous in his own right. He was the first chemist to synthesize cortisone. It was a feat of remarkable complexity involving nearly 40 chemical steps from desoxycholic acid and was achieved during World War II as a chemist in the Merck Research Laboratories.  This synthesis and subsequent improvements of it ultimately led to cortisone’s use in treating rheumatoid arthritis and was the first of Sarett’s many contributions to medicine during a 40-year career at Merck.  When he retired in 1982 he was senior vice-president for science and technology.  He had been a key contributor to Merck’s growth, and in later years Sarett was an influential industry spokesman for U.S. science policy. 

Sarett the elder has always dabbled with poetry, but he took it a step further in 1918 by starting to have some of his poems published. "Beat Against Me No Longer" was published in Others - a Magazine of the New Verse, "The Last Portage" in Argosy of May 24, 1919, and "The Granite Mountain" in Reedy's Mirror.  Here is "Beat Against Me No Longer":

 A Chippewa Love Song
Ai-yee! my Yellow-Bird-Woman,
My ne-ne -- moosh, ai-yee! my Loved-One,
Be not afraid of my eyes!
Beat against me no longer;
Come! Come with a yielding of limbs.
Ai-yee! woman, woman,
Trembling there in the teepee
Like the doe in the season of rutting,
Why foolishly fearest thou me?
Beat against me no longer!
Be not afraid of my eyes!
Cast the strange doubts from thy bosom!
Be not as the flat-breasted squaw-sich
Who feels the first womanly yearnings
And hides, by the law of our people,
Alone three sleeps in the forest;
Be not as that brooding young maiden
Who wanders forlorn in the cedars,
And slumbers with troubled dreams,
To awaken suddenly, fearing
The hot throbbing blood in her bosom,
The strange eager life in her limbs.
Ai-yee! foolish one, woman,
Cast the strange fears from thy heart!
Wash the red shame from thy face!
Be not afraid of my glances!

Be as the young silver birch
In the Moon-of-the-Green-Growing-Grasses --
Who sings with the thrill of the sap
As it leaps to the south wind's caresses;
Who yields her rain-swollen buds
To the kiss of the sun with glad dancing.
Be as the cool tranquil moon
Who flings off her silver-blue blanket
To bare her white breast to the pine;
Who walks through the many-eyed night
In her gleaming white nudeness
With proud eyes that will not look down.
Be as the sun in her glory,
Who dances across the blue day,
And flings her red soul, fierce-burning,
Into the arms of the twilight.
Ai-yee! foolish one, woman,
Be as the sun and the moon!
Cast the strange doubts from thy bosom!
Wash the red shame from thy face!
Thou art a woman, a woman!
Beat against me no longer!
Be not afraid of my eyes!

The 1920 US Census finds the Sarett family living at 111 E. Springfield in Champaign:

111 East Springfield, Champaign, IL

Lew Sarett listed his occupation as "Teacher at the University of Illinois."  Lew was 31, Margaret was 26, and Lew Jr. was 2.

In 1920 Sarett achieved another milestone: he published his first book of poetry.  It was called Many, Many Moons, a Book of Wilderness Poems, and was published by Henry Holt and Company:

The book contained "Poems of the Indians and of the Northwoods in which they live."  From the dust jacket: "For ten years Lew Sarett worked in the North Country among the Indians as a guide and woodsman. Out of the tall timber of the land of K'cheegamee he came with his book, Many Many Moons".  The book contained an introduction by another famous poet, Carl Sandburg, a friend of Sarett's.  

It was about this time that Sarett also began a lifelong career of public speaking, spending many summers on the lyceum and chautauqua circuits, in the employ of such agencies as the Redpath Bureau and the J.B. Pond Lyceum Bureau.  Although his first important lecture, “Stranger at the Gates,” dealt with the urban immigrant experience, Sarett soon developed a reputation and repertoire as an interpreter of the American wilderness.  Sarett described many of his performances as “lecture-recitals,” reflecting their combination of prose and poetry. For such popular lectures as “The Children God Forgot” Sarett took the stage in full American Indian dress; on other occasions, he appeared in the hiking boots and heavy plaid jacket of a woodsman.  In 1921 Sarett, billed as “the poet of the wilderness,” shared the platform with his friend Carl Sandburg, “the poet of the city.” 

In 1922 Lew Sarett accepted a position as a professor in the School of Speech at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.  The Sarett family rented an apartment at 201 Ridge Avenue:

201 Ridge Avenue, Evanston, IL
In 1921 he served briefly as an advisory editor of Poetry magazine and won Poetry's Levinson Poetry Prize; he won the Poetry Society of America's annual prize in 1925. 

Also in 1921, Adventure Magazine published one of Sarett's poems entitled "Sweetwater Range" in their Mid-August issue.

In 1922 Henry Holt and Company published another volume of Sarett's poetry.  This one was called The Box of God:

These poems reflect life among the Chippewa.  Contents: Part I The Box Of God -- Broken Bird ,- Whistling Wings, and Talking Waters.  Part II - Green Altars -- Wind In The Pine, Teton Mountain, Mesa-mist, The Red Dragoon, Dust, Sweetwater Range, Leave Me To My Own, Marching Pines, Yellow Moon, Timber-line Ceda, Whooping Crane, Let Me Flower As I Will, October Snow, Indian Summer, Drouth, Fisher Of Stars, Alkali Pool, Old Oak, and Look For Me.  Part III Red Gods -- Thunderdrums, The Drummers Sing, Double-Bear Dances, Jumping-river Dances, Ghost-wolf Dances, Iron-wind Dances, The Drummers Sing, Indian Sleep-Song, To A Dead Pembina Warrior, Medals And Holes, Fire-bender Talks, and Maple-Sugar Chant. The book concludes with an Appendix and this Explanatory Note: "The following supplementary notes concerning the poems of Indian theme in Part 3, Red Gods, may prove helpful to the reader who is unfamiliar with the American Indian by providing for the poems a background of Indian legends, customs, and traditions."

Some reviewers mistakenly identified Sarett as an American Indian.

As more and more of Sarett's work was published, he gained a reputation as a noted orator, and professor of English and Public Speaking.  He also served as an adviser on Indian affairs to the Department of the Interior.

In 1924, Sarett had another of his poems, "Frail Beauty" published. It appeared in Everybody's Magazine, in their November, 1924 issue.

Henry Holt and Company published another collection of Sarett's poetry in 1925.  This one was called Slow Smoke:  

Reviewers said that Slow Smoke was a book that revealed Sarett's increase in technique and wider outlook upon life.  Here's the review from the South Dakota Library Bulletin:

Sarett, Lew - Slow Smoke. Holt, $1.50.

The new collection of poems by Lew Sarett contains some more of his delightful out-of-door verses.  In this you will find "Four little foxes" which the author gave on his program at the Sioux City meeting last fall.  The book also contains "Colloquy with a coyote" with its prolonged howl which sent shivers up and down our spines. Animals, bits of scenery, and Indians catch the attention of this nature lover, and he expresses his emotions in fanciful verses which will elude anyone not in sympathy with the same things.  

In the mid 1920s Seratt found himself becoming more and more disheartened with city life.  Finally, he worked out an arrangement with Northwestern whereby he would return to Evanston three months of each year; the other nine months he lived in wilderness surroundings.

He talked about his state of mind and the arrangement he worked out with Northwestern in this article from the Ironwood (Michigan) Daily Globe from July 7, 1926:  

Can’t Really Live in City; Poet Finds Haven in Forest

Chicago – “A civilization that makes a man unable to live with himself and his family, unable to find contentment in simple, wholesome home life close to the soil, that makes a man dependent on an artificial, hectic jazz life outside of his home – a civilization like that is tragically defective somewhere.”

That short statement sums up the creed of Law Sarett, poet, scholar and woodsman. It is the creed that made his life as professor at Northwestern University seem barren, cramped and unreal to him, so that last winter he abruptly gave up and went to look for a wilderness haven.

In Virgin Forests. 

He has found what he was looking for.  This summer he is going to build a home for himself, his wife and their son in the little town of Laona, up in the Virgin forests of Forest county, Wisconsin.  There they will and try to regain their vigor by getting close to the earth.

Behind them Sarett will leave the cultivated secure life of Evanston, university town on the edge of Chicago.  The only connecting link will be his professorship in the School of Speech. Three months each year he will return to Evanston to teach.  The rest of the time will find him in the north woods, where the wind rustles the pine branches and the suns glints off the copper surface of winding rivers.

Not for Everyone. 

When Sarett announced his intention of moving to the woods, a Chicago business man who knew him told him:  “It may be all right for you, Sarett, but the average man would die if he had to do that.  He needs many contacts – luncheon clubs, cabarets, lodges and social events. The average man hasn’t the ability to live by and within himself; he doesn’t want to.  He has grown dependent on artificial life outside his home.”

“And that,” replied Sarett, “proves my point.  It is a worse indictment of modern civilization than I have ever voiced.

“What are we here for? To make money, so were can buy things that will make us want still more money?  To spend our days working and our nights dancing?  To live in apartments, one home piled on top of another?  Perhaps.

Fishing Too. 

“But I think the enduring things are simpler things; wholesome home life, the enjoyment of our families, playing and wrestling with our youngsters, sitting by open fires with good books and a plate of apples nearby, rambling in October woods, casting trout flies over pools.

“I think it is more important that a man grow within himself than that he have many lodge pins to wear on his coat.  And to grow inside, you have to be alone much of the time.

“Of course, I don’t mean that every family should move into the country.  But I do think that this would be a more beautiful, healthy and more Christian world if every one of us went into the woods some part of every year.  I think every man ought to live in closer touch with nature, ought to commune somehow and sometime with the spirit that makes itself manifest there in bird and tree and waterfall.

What the Town Gives. 

“These things are so much more accessible if you live in a small town.  You can live on the edge of a village, in natural surroundings.  You can live in a house – and that is wonderful, after a period of apartment dwelling.  You can go hunting, and go fishing an hour or two in the evening after work; you can go camping, or have a cottage for week-ends at some lake.

“All you have to do is stay in tune with the song of the flicker, the voice of the wind, he call of the fields that lie close to the little towns,  And yet so many of us scamper to the city to run with the pack!”    

Lew Sarett circa 1930

In Laona, he lived on East Mill Street in what is now known as the N. MacRae house, which he rented for $25.00 per month.  That's where we find him in the 1930 US Census.  The household consisted of 41 year-old Lew, a "Professor of English at Northwestern University," 36 year-old Margaret, 12 year-old Lew Jr., 4 year-old Helen, and a live-in servant from Denmark, 48 year-old Alvia Schultz.  

Lew Sarett continued this arrangement until 1932 when he moved back to suburban Chicago - Highland Park, Illinois.  

Just before he moved back to Illinois, Sarett published his fourth volume of poetry, Wings Against the Moon:

In addition to the regular binding shown above, Wings Against the Moon was also sold in a publishers 'designer' binding by the Monastery Hill Bindery consisting of three quarter crushed morocco with inlays of light green and black depicting a goose in flight:

Sarett was quoted as saying that Wings Against the Moon was "largely a Wisconsin book."  The Wisconsin Library Bulletin said, "...not specifically perhaps, but many of the poems were inspired by the region in Northern Wisconsin where he now lives."

In addition to his poetry, Sarett also had the reputation of  being one of the nation’s authorities in the field of speech.  In 1932 he published his first non-poetry volume Personal Power Through Speech.

Through the 1930s Sarett kept busy with teaching at Northwestern, writing and appearing on the lecture circuit.  He also developed a great interest in horticulture.  During his lifetime he produced six new varieties of dahlia, each of which won many awards. 

As his first speech textbook became widely used in the academic world, he decided to write another volume.  Modern Speeches on Basic Issues was published in 1939.

The 1940 US Census found the Sarett family still living in Highland Park, in a house they owned at 1732 South Green Bay Road.  A shopping mall occupies that space today.  Sarett valued the home at $25,000.00.  He listed his occupation as "Professor - University."  The family consisted of  51 year-old Lew, 46 year-old Margaret, 22 year-old Lew Jr., and 13 year-old Helen Osgood Sarett.

In 1941 Lew Sarett published his fourth and final book of poetry.  It was called Collected Poems of Lew Sarett which contained a foreword by his friend Carl Sandburg:

Here's one of the poems it contained.  This one is called "To a Grove of Silver Birches:"


Good morning, lovely ladies! I've never seen
You half so fair - I swear;
How beautiful your gowns of apple-green!
and the ribbons in your hair!

What rapture do you await? What coming Swain?
Such rustling of petticoats!
Such wagging of heads and prinking in the rain!
such fluttering at your throats!

Dear winsome vessels, your flurry is no whim.
I know you sly design;
And why the sap goes pulsing up each limb
Sparkling as apple wine.

O ladies, trick you in your gala-best;
For out of the ardent South,
Young April comes with a passion in his breast,

And a kiss upon his mouth.

Margaret Husted Sarett died on February 27, 1941.   

Margaret Sarett was buried in Memorial Park cemetery in Skokie, Illinois.

Two years later, on March 13, 1943, Sarett married Juliet Barker, a voice teacher with a graduate degree from the Northwestern University School of Speech (1924); she died from ovarian cancer on November 7, 1945.  Here is her Death Certificate:

Her Death Notice and Obituary appeared in the Chicago Daily Tribune on November 8, 1945:

Like Margaret Sarett before her, Juliet Sarett was buried in Memorial Park Cemetery in Skokie.

In 1946 Lew Sarett he married Alma E. Johnson, who had received her M.A. (1938) and Ph.D. (1942) degrees from Northwestern. Alma Johnson Sarett (Anderson), a professor of speech at the University of Florida, died in 1982.

Here's an advertisement that Sarett's agent put together to help the public become more familiar with Sarett and his work:

In his later years, in addition to his lectures, Lew Seratt continued to write for the lucrative textbook industry.  He published Speech: A High School Course in 1943 and Basic Principals of Speech in 1946.

In 1950 Seratt was granted a three-year leave of absence because of poor health, and at the end of this leave he retired.  Upon his retirement, Northwestern University established the Lew Sarett Chair of Speech.  From 1951-1954 Sarett was Visiting Professor of Speech at the University of Florida.  He died on August 17, 1954 in Gainesville, Florida, after a series of heart attacks.  He was 66 years-old.  Here's his obituary from the Chicago Daily Tribune from August 18, 1954:

Lew Sarett was buried in the Evergreen Cemetery in Gainesville, Florida:

Buried alongside him is his third wife Alma, who died in 1982.

Lew Sarett was described by Carl Sandburg as one of the nation’s most perceptive poets.  In addition, Sarett was considered one of the nation’s authorities in the field of speech.  

Here's a photo of Sarett taken by noted Evanston photographer J.D. Toloff:

Lew Sarett - Poet of the Wilderness - may he rest in peace.