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The Great Columbian Parade

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

It was going to be the grandest, longest, most impressive parade ever held in the world—or at least in Moline and Rock Island. The Twin Cities were not about to let Chicago take the 1893 world's fair away from them without some show of defiance.

The idea of a great industrial exposition, after all, was hatched up by Rock Island and Moline. What better place to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus's discovery of the New World than in the farm equipment capitol of the world?

The two cities began plans in 1888. They bought a huge tract of land along the Mississippi from 38th Street in Rock Island to the Moline border, named it Columbia Park, and built a fancy grandstand. Then, as usually happens even today, sibling rivalry ended the cooperation, and now, the fair was headed for Chicago.

Only the kickoff parade to Columbia Park remained behind. Never mind, parades don't actually have to go anywhere. And with no main event to worry about, all the energy could go into the parade.

Nearly every Moline and Rock Island business rose to the task with more than fifty historical floats. Deere and Company handled the Discovery of America by the Northmen, while Columbus was left to the London Clothing Company. Barnard and Leas Manufacturing did DeSoto's discovery of the Mississippi, J. Ramser and Son had the Pilgrims Landing. Moline Malleable Iron handled the Battle of Bunker Hill, while William H. Carpenter and Company took care of the Declaration of Independence, and the McIntyre Brothers showed a Black Hawk War scene.

There were other floats by the Women's Relief Corps, the Odd Fellows, Mosenfelders, and the Masons. The Grand Army of the Republic entered two floats: a battle scene, and one called "Leaving Home."

Heavy rain on July 4, parade day, kept a number of floats at home, and cut attendance in the grandstand, but it was still an impressive array that entered Columbian Park for the grand opening at eleven. There was a flag raising, patriotic speeches and choruses, several foot races, and immense fireworks.

The opening was such a grand affair, as reported in the Argus, that almost no one noticed that the one thing missing was the fair itself.

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.