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The Swedish Traveler

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

This week will be Scandinavian week on Rock Island Lines, as we follow the popular Swedish novelist, Fredricka Bremer, on her 1849 tour of the Mississippi River. She had come to America to how happy and advanced the American family was in this brave new world. I want to warn you that there were some setbacks along the way.

Her dream suffered a mild disturbance in New Jersey, when she was forced to sit at the same dinner table and confront the disgusting American custom of eating sweet corn right off the cob. Opposite her at dinner were two men she nicknamed "the sharks" for the way their wide mouths and large teeth gnawed up the pearly corn until it disappeared down their ravenous throats. She understood why meals were always consecrated by prayer beforehand back in Sweden. Without prayer, eating becomes a low and animal transaction, unworthy of human beings.

Miss Bremer was not too upset. She had always expected the Promised Land to be in the Great American West, and she was determined to go there. Here, she expected, she would find the Kingdom of the Millennium, where the lion would like down with lamb, where every man shall sit in the shadow of his own vine and fig-tree, where all people shall meet together in peace, love, and prosperity. To return to Sweden without seeing the West she wrote, would be like sitting through an opera minus the hero.

Full of hope, she left the East Coast, sailed through the chain of Great Lakes, crossed Lake Michigan, and came at last to that great western city she knew as the Queen of the Lake. You and I know it as Chicago.

Chicago was a much greater disappointment than sweet corn. "It is one of the most miserable and ugly cities I have seen," she wrote. She found no country houses or gardens; in fact, almost no houses at all. Chicago consisted entirely of shops, and its people have all come there to trade and make money. If Chicago weren't stopped, she speculated, all Illinois would fill with stores.

Like all stubborn Swedes, however, Fredricka determined to continue on to the Mississippi River looking for her Utopia, but not before giving Chicago a new name. Not a queen, she said, but the "Great American Huckstress," trying to bleed money out of every person who came by, a sentiment we down-staters can understand.

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.