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New Orleans

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Like all good Swedes for whom self-denial is a way of life, Fredricka Bremer, the Swedish novelist who toured America in 1849, decided to eat her vegetables first and save dessert for last. That meant beginning her tour with Boston and Chicago and ending with New Orleans.

She anticipated New Orleans from the beginning of her trip. "Why I should go to New Orleans I do not know," she wrote in her journal, "but one thing I know—I must go there." It was an inward light, she suspected, "which guides me like a mysterious but absolute power—it speaks so decidedly and clearly that I feel glad to obey. To me, it is a Star of Bethlehem."

She made her way down the Mississippi by steamboat past Rock Island, past Keokuk, past St. Louis. Near the Ohio River, she boarded a larger boat for the rest of the trip. Noah's Ark, she called it, because her stateroom was surrounded on all sides by more than a thousand animals being taken to New Orleans. She wondered how Noah was able to stand the smell.

"We leave the wilderness and advance toward civilization," Fredricka wrote on her way from Minnesota to New Orleans. In the delta country, Miss Bremer watched plantations full of slaves picking cotton in the hot sun, and she listened to explanations from plantation owners on how to whip a slave nearly to death without drawing any blood. She talked to a slave woman whose husband was owned by a distant plantation and whose children had all been sold.

Miss Bremer reached New Orleans on Christmas Day. She was no longer so sure that she wanted dessert. It didn't help that she was lodged in a cold small room up three flights of stairs and served inedible food. Attending Christmas services in a grand cathedral that evening was the last straw. Dark windows and a dry, soulless sermon. No candles or bells, no sledding, no decorated small cottages. "In Sweden," she wrote, "we understand Christmas," all twelve days of it.

The homesick Swede found no Star of Bethlehem over New Orleans. It's a heathen country, she wrote—one of those failed desserts that make a diner long for another helping of bright fresh vegetables.

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.