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This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Enthusiastic crowds made MacGregor, Iowa, a favorite stop for the many circuses who traveled by steamboat up and down the Mississippi River in the 19th century. One of these, the Pavilion Circus, arrived in MacGregor during the summer of 1870. While roustabouts set the tent up, the circus juggler visited the town harness maker to have his belt repaired. The circus tickets he left as payment turned out to be even better than magic beans for the harness maker’s sons.<--break->The sons, Al, Gus, Charley, and Otto, and several other young boys were already inclined to the theatrical. They had formed a club called the Young Fantastics and had won MacGregor's 4th of July parade contest with the most fantastic float anyone had ever seen.

The circus performance sent the boys in a whole new direction. The acrobats, clowns, and beautiful graceful ladies dazzled their eyes and made the 4th of July float seem drab. The day after the Pavilion Circus left, they commandeered every dog, cat, and goat in town. They collected horse blankets to sit on, put up a primitive tent, and put on their own home-grown circus. Admission was ten pins. Children and adults flocked to see Al give a lecture on painted nursery rhymes, as Otto flipped over the pictures. All the boys did somersaults and other acrobatics.

The circus and the taste of applause whetted the boys' appetites, and they left MacGregor to tour the United States with a series of variety acts. By 1882 they had become the Classic and Comic Concert Company. A year later, they toured as the "Carnival of Fun."

But somewhere in the back of their imaginations, the Pavilion Circus still performed. Perhaps they remembered their own big top that summer back in MacGregor. In 1884, the harness maker's sons finally organized their own circus, and gave it the family name: The Ringling Brothers Circus. The juggler's free tickets had taken them into a whole new world.

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.