By various accounts, Vachel Lindsay is considered the founder of modern singing poetry, a mystic, and a prophet. Lindsay referred to himself simply as a “rhymer-designer.” From 1906 to 1912 he walked the country, preaching his “Gospel of Beauty” and developing a unique performance-style of poetry which he referred to as “the Higher Vaudeville.”
He was born Nicholas Vachel Lindsay on November 10, 1879, in his family’s home at 603 South 5th Street in Springfield, Illinois. Lindsay was expected to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a doctor, but after several years of study he convinced his parents that the medical profession wasn’t right for him. He moved to Chicago, then New York, to study art.
The graceful swooping lines of his handwriting often inspired his illustrations, which touch on topics such as worker rights, racial equality, and mysticism. In 1915, he wrote the first book of film criticism, titled The Art Of The Moving Picture, which was inspired in part by ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. Lindsay pushed to bring poetry out of the classroom and into the streets, and many artists say cite Lindsay among their inspirations, including Allen Ginsberg, Jeff Goldblum, Patti Smith, Langston Hughes, and Jack Kerouac.
Vachel said, “everything begins and ends for me at 603,” which became true when he died in the house in 1931, directly above the room in which he was born. It has been said that the house is now haunted. All we can say about that is what Vachel himself said in his poem, “The Dream Of All Springfield Writers”: “I’ll haunt this town, though gone the maids and men, / The darling few, my friends and loves today. / My ghost returns bearing a great sword-pen.”