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Washed into the White House

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Perhaps like many ambitious boys and girls in the United States, President Calvin Coolidge's commerce secretary may have once imagined himself becoming President when he grew up, but he could certainly never have imagined that he would be washed into the White House by a Mississippi River flood.

That flood, in 1927, turned out the be the Big One for the entire Lower Mississippi from Cairo south. The Mississippi and its tributaries, swollen from fall rains and runoff from deep snowpacks up north, and aided by months of widespread and intense spring thunderstorms, pushed the southern levees past their limits. The first levee break alone, at Mounds Landing, Mississippi, poured a wall of water three-fourths of a mile wide and a hundred feet high across the delta, destroying the ancient trees and everything else in its path. 468,000 cubic feet of water per second came through that break, more than the entire Colorado River at flood stage, double the water going over Niagara Falls.

In ten days, the Mounds Landing break covered a million acres ten feet deep with water.

Nearly the whole delta was flooded by this and other breaks for months. President Coolidge quickly placed his commerce secretary in charge of flood relief. It was a wise choice. The secretary was an engineer who knew rivers, and he had been in charge of American relief in Europe following World War I.

For the media, the 1927 Flood could not have come at a better time. Movie newsreels and radio reports were brand new, and they joined newspapers and magazines in constant coverage of the flood. Invariably, amid the pictures of flooding and the ruin it caused, was the commerce secretary, on the front page of every national newspaper and on the screen of every movie theater. In a matter of weeks, he moved from almost total obscurity to one of the most photographed, interviewed, and well- known names in the United States.

The following year, on this flood of publicity, the former commerce secretary, Herbert Hoover, was washed into the White House.

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.