This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.
The State of Illinois had no sooner gotten itself settled in the 1830s and '40s than historians began to explain why Illinoisans out on the prairie were so culturally inferior to the sophisticated east coast—especially those pinnacles such as Boston and Philadelphia. Alas, wrote one such historian, the wrong class of people had chosen Illinois. While there was a sprinkling of lawyers, doctors, judges, and editors who brought a taste for the good things of life, the majority were of the laboring class—farmers, wagon-makers, blacksmiths, weavers, tanners, coopers, and woodsmen.For these often-illiterate folk, the historian explained, their primary diversion was a crude activity called "visiting." Several families might descend on a neighboring family for a meal or two. The men would walk around the farm discussing pigs and corn, the women would gather in the parlor to check out the newest piece of homespun on the loom or trade recipes for pie. The children were left to fend for themselves with homemade toys and games.
Funerals, the historian explained, revealed even more how far these Illinoisans had fallen from the culture of the east. There were no undertakers. Neighbors laid the body out and helped make a simple wooden coffin from boards reserved for that purpose in most households. Neighbors also dug the grave and bore the body of the deceased from the farmhouse to the cemetery. And it was neighbors who gathered around afterward to fill the grave, and pat the dirt into a mound, and remained long afterwards for some visiting. All this without florists’ flowers, piped-in music, or a grand eulogy.
It's a wonder Illinois has come as far as it has along to road to culture. The historian did see some hope in the increasing availability of calico and even silk to replace homespun cloth dyed with wild berries. Better dress might lead to a desire for better culture.
That historian could not have seen how much better a job television would do even than fine dresses. Since the advent of television on the Illinois prairies, we have hardly had to stoop to any visiting at all.
Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.