A Midsummer Day's Fest
This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.
When Rock Island set June 24th, 1916, as the grand finale of its celebration of the centennial of Fort Armstrong, the Swedish-Americans next door in Moline were horrified. That was the date set for Midsummer, their most sacred observance. Without the sun's permission, the date could not be changed. The maypole had to go up on June 24th.
And so it did, in Moline's Prospect Park. In Rock Island's Exposition Park, at the same time, a large patriotic audience watched a re-enactment of great battle scenes from the Mexican War, staged by a visiting troupe, complete with real cannons—a fitting tribute to Fort Armstrong.
The Moline Swedes drew several thousand people from surrounding towns to their celebration as well, and the maypole went up in Moline as Chapultepec fell to American troops in Rock Island. The Swedes were nervous. Were they being disloyal in maintaining their Swedish customs rather than attend the War with Mexico? Outsiders had questioned their loyalty. Was it time to drop the hyphen in Swedish-American?
Augustana College President Gustaf Andreen gave a stirring patriotic pro-American speech in Prospect Park, but he gave it in Swedish. The Swedish National Chorus and the Svea Choir roused the multitudes with "Vart Land," and other Swedish anthems, but they tacked on the "Star Spangled Banner" and "God Bless Our Land." There were Swedish folk dances around the maypole, followed by American style foot races. "Don't flaunt that hyphen in our face," President Andreen warned the outsiders, "the traditions of our native land can be preserved in sacred memory without impairing the ideals of citizenship." By way of proof, the Moline Swedes passed a resolution declaring Rock Island the perfect place to establish a large government munitions plant.
The real winners were the hundreds of visitors from the surrounding small towns, who now had a choice of events. They could head for Exposition Park in Rock Island and watch the United States at war with Mexico, or they could wander over to Prospect Park, and watch an even more amazing spectacle: Moline Swedes at war with themselves.
Rock Island Lines is underwritten by the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, and Augustana College, Rock Island.