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Save the Clock!

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Whether the pen is mightier than the sword depends on who is holding which instrument. In January of 1902, with the United States Secretary of War wielding the sword versus Mrs. Mrs. C. A. McCarn of Princeton, Iowa, with the pen, it was no contest.

That January, the secretary had proposed, in one of those continuing reorganizations of the Rock Island Arsenal, that the old Rock Island Clock Tower building be razed.

Nearly every person in America knew the dramatic story of how Oliver Wendell Holmes had saved the U.S.S. Constitution from being dismantled in 1830 with his stirring poem, "Old Ironsides." Most 4th graders could recite it: "Aye, tear her tattered ensign down..."

Mrs. McCarn got busy with her pen. "Oh, the old, old clock of the Arsenal stock, Is the brightest thing and the neatest. / And the tower, tho' old, ought not to be sold / For its chimes still ring out the sweetest."

But the reasons were far more than sentimental for keeping the clock and its tower. "Tick, tick, it says, and mend your ways, / For now I've given warning, / Our nation has wealth, 'twill never have health, / Unless you're up in the morning."

And so on, for several stanzas, winding up to a climax: “Send a petition as long as can be, / Away down to Washington, D. C. / Repair my tower, rebuild my wall / And let me tick tho' the stars may fall. / We possess nothing old in our countree,/ Let me tick undisturbed through the centuree."

Mrs. McCarn's poem may not be something 4th graders will commit to memory, but it worked. Her poem awakened feelings around Rock Island. Petitions were soon circulating, and protests were planned. The Secretary of War backed down, and the Clock Tower building was saved.

It's something our local politicians might consider as they marshal their forces to save the Arsenal once again: a staff poet. The Pentagon seems to have little defense against poetry.

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.