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Charles Francis Adams

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

One of the grouchier tourists ever to visit Minnesota would have to be Charles Francis Adams. Adams and his son, the famous historian, were part of a group of Republicans on the campaign trail for Lincoln in September of 1860. They left Prairie du Chien on September 13th, eager to experience the scenery of the river valley.

From the beginning, nothing went right. The group visited a brewery at LaCrosee whose German owner would not permit Adams to leave until he had drunk three glasses of beer. Already in a bad mood, Adams found the Upper Mississippi channel so sinuous and shallow as to make travel difficult. Then a violent storm hit just as the boat reached Lake Pepin.

On Sunday at six in the morning St. Paul came into view. "Uninviting" said Adams. Closer inspection did not help. Here and there a house is neat, he wrote, but that is more than I can say for the streets. Who do these Minnesotans think they are, Adams asked. Why, the hotel where the party was staying was built as if St. Paul was expecting to become a grand city of a hundred thousand.

The following day, Adams and party took in the famous sights that had become part of the fashionable tour on the Upper Mississippi. Minnehaha Falls was beautifully situated, wrote Adams, but resembled the "smallest single fall at Niagara." Then they drove off to Minneapolis and the famous Falls of St. Anthony. Another disappointment. "There is little worth seeing," said Adams. The falls had crumbled to less than twenty feet high, and the sawmills were drawing off so much water that there was merely a dribble over the falls.

Whenever you hear someone complain as much as Charles Francis Adams, you know there's a reason hidden away. See if you don't think this explains Adams’ discontent with Minnesota.

Adams had come on the trip to speak at the Republican rally. His speech was to follow that of William H. Seward, Lincoln's rival now turned supporter. Seward, however, got going, and could not stop for two and one-half hours. The sun was setting as he finished. Realizing how tired the audience was, however, Adams stood up and proposed that he postpone his speech to another time. There was thunderous applause.

My theory is that Adams, upset by being applauded for not speaking, took it out on Minnesota.

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.