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Biographical Information...Jay Sigmund

Writer and poet Jay G. Sigmund was born December 11, 1885 on a farm one mile south of Waubeek, Iowa.

1906 Map - click for larger viewJay Sigmund was born on a farm about one mile south of Waubeek. The 120-acre farm is in the NE corner of Section 29. Around 1900, Sigmund's father bought a farm three miles and a half southeast of Central City on the Wapsipinicon River. That 75-acre farm is located in Section 12.

He attended one room country schools and then two years of high school in Central City. After high school, Jay moved to Cedar Rapids and took a job unloading sugar for the Winfield-Pratt-Howell Company.

Jay Sigmund as a young manThroughout his life, Jay Sigmund cultivated his many interests and abilities. He was a businessman, writer, poet, student of natural history, amateur archeologist and an encourager of the arts. He even learned the art of carving and taxidermy! He is remembered as a quiet man who had tremendous influence on the people around him. Undoubtedly, these attributes helped him succeed in his professional work.

Jay Sigmund the businessman

He joined the Cedar Rapids Life Insurance Company in 1908 and eventually became vice president. On November 14, 1933, Sigmund wrote a letter from his insurance company to Dr. C.G. Stookey of Mechanicsville, Iowa. In the letter Sigmund not only describes in very accurate detail where he lived as a boy in Linn County but also some of his accomplishments as an author.

Jay Sigmund as an adultJay Sigmund the outdoorsman

He developed this interest while growing up along the banks of the Wapsipinicon River. Throughout his life, Sigmund and his friends enjoyed spending time "excavating" artifacts along the banks of the Wapsipinicon River. This interest earned Sigmund and his friends the nickname "weekend archeologists." Some of the arrowheads and other artifacts he found are part of The History Center's collection. His poem Fossils reflects his awe of Linn County prehistory. Read more about the interesting archeological history of Iowa.

Jay Sigmund the writer

His poetry and prose reflect his love of Linn County, Cedar Rapids, Central City, Waubeek and the Wapsipinicon Valley. In this excerpt from the 1927 essay Stretches of Song, Sigmund wrote:

…what is more beautiful than a stretch of Iowa prairie, even the portions of it that are still left along the railroad tracks, with its nodding spotted tiger lilies, its bluestem, and its natural prairie grasses.

The prairie of Iowa unfolds a panorama from one year's end to another. With its snow-capped knolls in winter, its magnificent winter sunsets, its oak trees hanging with glass pendants after a sleet storm, its new turned loam in the spring time, its marching rows of corn in June, its golden oat fields in late summer, which change to mellow mounds of straw in threshing time, the ripened fields of corn on the hill-sides in November, with copper pumpkins thrown at random among the dead stalks-certainly there is no chance for the eye to weary as it looks day after day on the changing scenes of an Iowa landscape…"

Another of his poems titled The Arrow-Head, reflects his love of the natural world and his curiosity about the past.

Jay Sigmund and the arts

Grant Wood and His Wife SaraAmong Jay Sigmund's friend was American Regionalist artist Grant Wood. Sigmund encouraged his friend Grant Wood to paint what he knew best - Iowa. With Sigmund's advice, Grant Wood went on to paint some his most famous Eastern Iowa landscapes and scenes, including Woman with Plants, American Gothic, Stone City, and Fall Plowing.

Jay Sigmund's daughter-in-law, Virginia Sigmund Myers, recalled when Grant Wood and his wife Sarah spent summers in Waubeek, including the summer of 1935 when a group of friends gathered at the Sigmund home to celebrate Grant Wood's Dinner for Threshers.

With his interest in the arts, Sigmund was a member of the Chicago Renaissance Group, a group of writers and artists whose membership included Carl Sandburg, Sinclair Lewis, Gertrude Stein, Christopher Morley and others.

Jay Sigmund Remembered

A 1937 rabbit hunting accident along the river cost Sigmund his life. He fell, accidentally discharging his shotgun and shooting himself in the leg. Sigmund was unable to walk, and by the time people found him, he had lost too much blood. He died the next day in a Cedar Rapids hospital. He left behind a wife and three children.

Jay Sigmund with son James

By the time of his death, Jay Sigmund had published over 1,200 poems, 125 short stories and 25 one-act plays, all written during his spare time from his insurance work.

The Linn County Conservation Commission dedicated a seven-acre park on the Wapsipinicon River near Waubeek in honor of Sigmund.

Friend and writer Paul Engle paid homage to Jay Sigmund in his memorial poem written after Sigmund's death.

It is titled simply Jay G. Sigmund.


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