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The Love Boat

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Late in the afternoon of July 4th, 1860, thirty young couples from Dubuque, Iowa, boarded the small steamboat, "Peosta," for a grand round-trip excursion to Cassville, Wisconsin, and back. Covering the gala event was a young newspaperman from Dubuque intent on finding material for an upbeat feature article for his paper. And he would have found it, too, had the round trip really been round, rather than lopsided.

He couldn't have asked for a better beginning. "After the heat of the day," he wrote, the evening ride was "heavenly," enriched as it was by the "superb music" of Torbet's String Band. For two hours, he continued, his images soaring, "fairy feet and lightsome forms moved in harmony to the most superb music ever produced from a conjunct of horsehair and cat gut."

The newspaperman described the party reaching Cassville at ten that evening and marching to the hotel where Cassvillians were dancing. After dancing a cotillion and giving three hearty cheers for the citizens of Cassville, the thirty couples, and a reporter furiously making notes, returned to the boat for the trip back to Dubuque. More notes.

Then the newspaperman chanced to look up from his notebook. No one save for Captain Tom Levens in the pilot house. The music and the moonlight had worked its magic on the passengers. On his way to the back of the boat to smoke a lonely cigar, he stumbled over a couple. Stumbled over another couple near the bow of the boat. And another near the smokestack, and another on the Texas deck. "In every shaded nook of the boat," he wrote, nestled a pair of turtle doves."

For the newspaperman, it was a long ride back to Dubuque. By the time the “Peosta” docked at three in the morning he had his entire column written, though it was not so upbeat as he had intended. He concluded his article by vowing to go on future excursions better prepared, "with a remedy against the frightful loneliness of the return."

Or to put it in terms of the lesson the young reporter had learned—a valuable one for all writers—if a person has nothing to kiss, he doesn't have much to tell.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by the Scott County Regional Authority, with additional funding from the Illinois Arts Council and Augustana College, Rock Island.