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Peep Stones

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

In 1840, the Reverend George Moore moved from Massachusetts to Quincy, Illinois to become a missionary for the Society for Propagating the Gospel among Indians and Others in North America. At Quincy he quickly developed a new hobby: investigating the new Mormon settlement just up the river at Nauvoo, Illinois. Had it not been for the Reverend Moore, we might never have known about the Nauvoo peep stone.

The Mormons were one of those hobby horses difficult to stop. Between 1840 and 1845, Reverend Moore made several extended trips to Nauvoo, fascinated by the Mormon religion, by their architecture and construction methods, and by their founder and prophet, Joseph Smith. He kept detailed diaries and note of his visits, measuring the foundations of new buildings and asking numerous questions about Mormon customs.

One of these customs was the peep stone operated by two Mormon boys. The two boys were believed to have the power of looking into this stone," wrote Reverend Moore, "and seeing what people are doing at a distance." They were also able to discover the location of stolen and lost property. Many citizens in Nauvoo went to see the peep stone boys as soon as they lost anything to find out where it was.

Joseph Smith himself was a bit puzzled by the power of the peep stone. Such stones were common back in New York where he had come from, and in fact, he had used such a stone himself in 1826 to help look for buried treasure. They operated much like a fortuneteller's crystal ball. With a peep stone, Smith had been able to see what was going on at a distance, a quality usually reserved for God. Smith, in fact, believed that the power in a peep stone came from God, and so he was perplexed that such a powerful gift should be used for finding gold and money.

Not everyone could use a peep stone the way Smith and the Nauvoo boys did. Every man alive is entitled to his own peep stone, Smith once said, "but they are kept from them in consequence of their wickedness," which explains why the stones out back in my rock garden just sit there.

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.