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Margaret Fuller

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

To that list of names you are keeping of people who are disappointed with Chicago, please add Margaret Fuller. She visited that city during the summer of 1843 during a tour of the Great Lakes and discovered merely one more place on this earth where she did not belong.

Fuller arrived in Chicago via steamship across Lake Michigan on June 16th, full of expectations that this western city would show her “real life.” She was the child of an elite Boston family with access to the best private schooling. She had become an inner member of Ralph Waldo Emerson's Transcendental Club, and the editor of its transcendental magazine, the Dial.

But she had grown tired, she said to Emerson, of all the "petty intellectualities, cant, and bloodless theory." She hoped, among the thousands of immigrants then settling the west and its cities, to find real men and women with muscle and blood as well as mere mind. Men and women who would restore her faith in humans.

And there they were, the men at least, lined up along the pier with nothing better to do than wait for her steamboat to dock. They were sensual and burly, alright, just as Carl Sandburg would describe them sixty years later, but I am sorry to report that they were chewing tobacco. Fuller wasn't quite ready for that large a descent from Beacon Hill. She did manage to screw her courage up enough to strike a conversation with one man who "looked more clean and intellectual than the rest." He proudly told her he was a land shark, who made a living on shady land deals.

After a week in Chicago, Margaret Fuller confessed that she was as lonely here as among her bloodless Eastern crowd. "Chicagoans do not ape fashions, talk jargon, or burn out life as a tallow candle for a tawdry show," she wrote to Emerson, "but neither are they invested with a poetic dignity." In Chicago, the men are out to make money, and the women belong to the men, she concluded, and stopped even trying to make friends. "We have nothing to talk about," she said. "I am silenced by these people. They are all so life and no thought."

During her stay, Margaret Fuller found out that Chicago was an Indian word meaning "place of onions." "I can attest," she wrote, "that there is some quality here fitted to draw tears."

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.