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The Windisch Kiddies

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, as Karl Marx claimed, so is the road to success. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell the roads apart until it's too late. Just ask Ida Windisch who grew up in Davenport, Iowa.

Ida and her sister, Lucille, were sitting in front of their flat at Tenth and Perry Streets one June morning in 1930, wondering how to make a little money before returning to school that fall. The most money Ida ever had was a nickel, which she had to put in the collection plate at church. "Have you girls figured out anything to do, yet?" Mother asked.

As a matter of fact, they had. The Elite Theater in Davenport was advertising for chorus girls in a musical comedy show. "Wholesome and decent," claimed the ads.

"It won't hurt just to try out," Ida said, so they dolled up, tried out, and were hired for eight whole dollars a week.

Eventually, Mother caught them rehearsing in the basement and the truth was out. Not to worry. On opening night the following Sunday, the whole family was in the front row, beaming proudly at their daughters.

Bitten by the stage, Ida never returned to finish school. She became a hit at local vaudeville theaters, and eventually hit bigtime in Chicago.

The road goes on. In Canton, Ohio, playing with Wallace Ferry's Jungle Girls, she met a trapeze artist named Charles Windisch and was soon married and doing high wire acts with her husband.

Now comes two children, and Ida might have settled down, but you know how slippery roads can be. The children were natural trapeze artists by the age of eighteen months and went on to vaudeville fame as "The Famous Windisch Kiddies, World's Youngest Aerial Artists." Ida and Charley became merely the warm-up act.

Only after World War II closed many of the vaudeville houses and the kiddies had grown up, did Ida Windisch stop her wanderings around the United States and settle down at the end of the road: Moline, Illinois.

Is Moline at the end of the road to Hell or the road to success? The answer will depend on who you ask.

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.