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Wedding Photo

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Around Rock Island, the correct social etiquette for a young woman contemplating marriage is to first find just the right wedding photographer, and then go looking for a groom. In 1900, Roberta Bradford of Muscatine got the process a bit confused when the photographer also decided to become the groom.
James Shaw, a young photographer from Davenport, would have been a good catch for any young lady. He led a glamorous and flamboyant life traveling the countryside taking pictures of beautiful women. He had even gone to distant places such as Des Moines and Peoria.But James Shaw had a rival for Roberta's hand: Matt Vinning. Matt did not seem like much of a rival. He was a plodding, practical, small town boy from Muscatine with a dull job: oiling railroad engines. And he was bashful besides, while James the photographer was full of sweet talk.

Much to everyone's surprise, Roberta chose dull Matt, the oiler. The young couple married, had their wedding photograph taken, and framed, and began life on a farm near Muscatine.

James Shaw, meanwhile, could not believe he had been rejected. His attentions to Roberta grew even more insistent after she had married Matt, until she finally had to put an end to it. "You will never come between me and my husband," she told the photographer. A year later, James Shaw was killed in a fire.

The young couple worked hard on the farm and forgot the photographer. One day, after they had been married for eight years, Roberta Vinning happened to glance at the wedding picture. They had had it enlarged and hung in the parlor but had not looked at it for years.

Roberta called her husband and pointed at the photograph. He saw it, too. In the picture, Matt was seated, while Roberta was standing behind and to one side—the standard pose. But now, mysteriously, in between the bride and groom stood the clear, unmistakable image of James Shaw.

"I guess it's ruined," said dull Matt. He threw the photograph away, and the young couple lived happily ever after.

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.