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The Evils of Pool

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

When Meredith Wilson's famous Music Man mentioned "trouble right here in River City," he wasn't thinking of Rock Island, although he might well have been. In 1910 there was trouble in Rock Island, and it started with P and it rhymed with T.

Yes, friends, it was pool.

The previous year, over the protests of administrators at Augustana College, the Rock Island council had approved a license allowing J. P. Kelly to open a pool hall at 631 38th Street, right up against the college campus, just as Augustana prepared to celebrate its 50th year jubilee.

Distinguished Lutherans attending the jubilee were horrified to discover such a den in iniquity within reach of college students. They told President Andreen in no uncertain terms that good Lutheran students would find other, safer colleges to attend. Letters from heads of Lutheran churches echoed the same sentiment.

The Augustana Lutheran Synod marshalled all its big guns. In the fall of 1910, President Andreen presented Rock Island mayor, Ike McKaskrin, with a petition signed by the head of the Synod and presidents of eight conferences, representing 250 Lutheran churches, demanding removal of the pool hall. Andreen addressed the student body, reminding them of the time-honored tradition that no Augustana student shall patronize pool.

Pool, however, is an insidious disease. Move ahead fifty years to 1962, and the installation of a new college president, Clarence Woodrow Sorensen. When the college buildings and grounds crew moved the new president into the official residence on campus, everything went smoothly except for one piece of furniture.

You guessed it: a pool table. A large and ornate pool table especially made for Sorensen, an avid pool player. The pool table was so large that the grounds crew had to cut holes in windows and through the floor in order to lower the table into the recreation room in the basement—remodeled as a pool hall.

Obviously, President Andreen and the Augustana Synod had forgotten to take one item along to the mayor's office: 76 trombones.

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.

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.