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Pay-Back Time

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

The Germans who came to Davenport from Schleswig-Holstein following the revolution in 1848 proved themselves loyal to their adopted country almost immediately. They were among the first to answer Lincoln's call for volunteers in the summer of 1861.

And what did they get in return? During World War I, the Davenport Germans were hounded, vilified, and shunned. Their neighborhood became known as Sauerkraut Hill.

Now it was August of 1929—ten years later—and it was time for the Germans to respond. On the 22nd, the Rock Island and Davenport newspapers began covering the amazing round-the-world flight of the new German airship, the Graf Zeppelin, as it left Japan headed for Los Angeles.

Crossing the Pacific at 62 miles per hour, the zeppelin reached Los Angeles two days later. Its flight plan took it from Los Angeles to El Paso, Texas. From here it would to St. Louis, cross the Mississippi at Fort Madison, and pass over Springfield before landing overnight in Chicago.

Of course, it all depended in the direction and strength of the winds. Rock Islanders held out some hope that it might come further north.

And come north it did. The zeppelin crossed the Mississippi on schedule, but then veered sharply north. The news sent Quad Citians heading for rooftops, just in case.  There was even a false rumor that the ship would dock on the Rock Island Court House for repairs.

And there, at two in the afternoon of August 29th, there it was, a long silver cigar hanging silently at 1,500 feet—the Graf Zeppelin, the greatest sight ever to appear in our skies. Businesses came to a standstill. Fifteen airplanes took off from the Moline airport as escorts. After twenty minutes, the shining ship turned and headed for Chicago.

Rock Islanders were glad the wind had changed. But it hadn't. It was the Davenport Germans who were responsible. Just after the ship had reached Los Angeles, the pilot, Dr. Hugo Eckener, received a request from the Scott County German-American Society to fly over Rock Island and Davenport in honor of all those German descendants—German-Americans proud of their heritage but also proud of Davenport in America.

And that is exactly what Dr. Eckener had done.

Rock Island Lines is underwritten by the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, 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.