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Tegner

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

If you listen to these lines for the next two and one-half minutes, you will never again need to drive past the Rock Island Public Library and ask "Who's Tegner?"  The library itself is of no help; there is not a single Tegner book in the collection.

Yet there he is among the twelve immortal writers memorialized on the decorative frieze surrounding the building. The library building was constructed in 1903, but the other names on the frieze are still household words. There is Homer—Helen of Troy and Odysseus sailing the wine-dark sea. There is Dante—the Divine Comedie. And Shakespeare—"To be or not to be" and Longfellow—By the shores of Gitchee Goumie, by the shining big sea waters." And Emerson and Hawthorne, and the great German writer Goethe. Robert Burns is there, too, who still can stir us with his Scottish dialect.

And there is Esaias Tegner. Not a single line of his poetry comes to mind at the moment.

In 1903 it might have. Tegner was a Swedish poet born in Varmland in 1782. He graduated from the University of Lund, and began to write long, epic poems in the Scandinavian tradition. “War Song for the Militia of Scania” appeared in 1808, “Degree Day at Lund” in 1820, and “Axel, a Romance of the Days of Charles XII” the following year. In 1825, Tegner produced his masterpiece, “Frithiof's Saga,” which made him the most famous Swedish poet in the United States. Longfellow went to Sweden just to visit with Tegner.

By the time the library was built that fame had died down. What Tegner had, it turned out, was connections. A mile away from the library stood Swedish-American Augustana College, with roots going back to Varmland and to the University of Lund. And at Augustana was Dr. C. W. Foss of the history department, a professor not given to taking no for an answer. Foss, it turned out, was a member of the library board when the names were chosen for the frieze, and also when items were selected for the box in the cornerstone.

It may be only coincidence that over half the items in the cornerstone were Augustana College publications and that a Swedish poet took his place of honor on the frieze, but I doubt it. The library board very likely felt it was a choice of Tegner—or Foss.

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.

Community
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.