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Quincy Hats

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Now that environmentalists have made us aware of the interconnectedness of all life, it's possible to understand why the extinction of several species of exotic birds might be tied to the manufacture of stoves in Quincy, Illinois.

At the turn of the century, Quincy was known as "the stove capitol of the world." A dozen foundries were busy manufacturing several lines of stoves, from everyday to fancy.

Work in the stove factory was heavy and relentlessly hot. Many of the jobs required bending over all day. After twelve grimy hours making stoves, the men needed their relaxation.

That explains the houses of prostitution for which Quincy was also known. One of these, run by a madam named Ethel, had an especially good reputation—top of the line. It was across from the depot right by the levee. Ethel chaperoned her girls strictly, seldom letting them leave the house, except for once each year.
And that brings us from stove foundries to Ethels, to the Crooks Brothers Millinery Shop in Quincy, known all over the world for their expensive and original hats.

At the beginning of each season, Ethel would bring her girls to the Crooks brothers shop in a horse-drawn, open rig, to buy a new hat. For almost an entire day, Charlie and Ed Crooks showed off their new line to an appreciative audience. Ethel's girls leaned toward the more elegant and exotic hats, those covered with the plumage of flamingos and egrets, and tropical birds. Often, they also bought long feather boas to trail behind them. Then, wearing their new hats, Ethel's girls returned to the carriage and paraded past the stove factories on the way back home, looking like a cage full of birds of paradise.

Other women in Quincy shopped at Crooks, too, but they tended to buy plainer hats without plumage. It was not that they were afraid of being mistaken for one of Ethel's girls or that they were early environmentalists. They could not afford to pay a hundred dollars for a hat.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.