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Mark Twain's Tour

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

In the summer of 1882 Mark Twain returned to the Mississippi River to refresh his memory in order to write an account of his days there as a young boy and river pilot. The book, Life on the Mississippi, would cash in on the fame of his recent Tom Sawyer and anticipate a new novel he was trying to write, Huckleberry Finn.

Most exciting for us Rock Islanders was that Mark Twain would be visiting the Upper Mississippi for the first time. He had worked on the Middle and Lower Mississippi and had already made that famous. Twain had a way with words, and his experience as a pilot had made him a close and accurate observer. It was he who made the Mississippi famous as "that mile-wide tide, shining in the sun."

Granted, the trip by steamboat on the Upper Mississippi was only going to be a small part two of the book, kind of filler to add enough pages to make a full book. But, still, it was Mark Twain.

And so, Mark Twain came up the river from St. Louis to St. Paul that summer of 1882, taking notes as he went: statistics, scenery, events. Burlington, Muscatine, Davenport and Moline and Rock Island, Clinton, Dubuque and LaCrosse were going to be in a book.

At least a few Rock Islanders must have rushed to buy Life on the Mississippi when it came off the presses the following year. And I'm sure they skipped all that stuff at the beginning about steamboating and river history, and how Twain became a pilot, and went directly to part two to read about important places.

And there they were. All in a sentence or two. Muscatine? Well, "we had not time to go ashore at Muscatine," Twain wrote, "but had a daylight view of it from the boat." He heard that it was supposed to have good sunsets.

Davenport is next. "We had a glimpse of Davenport which is another beautiful city crowning a hill," Twain wrote. He did mention that there was a Rock Island across the river, connected to Davenport by a railroad bridge, and Moline, “center of a vast manufacturing industry."

And so on, up the whole Upper Mississippi in a dozen pages. I think you can see why Davenport accepted Money magazine's ranking us last among good places to live so stoically. They’re used to shabby treatment.

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.