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You, the Jury

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

You may want to take notes for the following two and one-half minutes. I'm going to ask you to judge the innocence or guilt of Henry Reticker of Rock Island—to be one of the jury of seven listeners.

Early on Wednesday morning, June 22nd, 1904, Reticker flagged down the Burlington Twin City Express near Canton, Missouri. The train was loaded with passengers headed for the World's Fair in St. Louis. Across the tracks, four hundred feet apart, were three heavy, unseasoned railroad ties which would surely have wrecked the train and taken lives.

The conductor and crew listened to Reticker's story. Reticker claimed he had decided to walk from Canton to La Grange when he discovered he lacked the eighteen cent fare, and had come across the ties on the track, and had determined to save the train and become a hero.

From the conductor's perspective, however, anyone who traveled along a train track penniless was a hobo, and therefore suspect. What if Reticker had put the ties there himself in order to get a hero's reward. The conductor thought it best to take Reticker into custody and turn him over to the Burlington officer in Canton, with instructions to hold him until the case could be investigated.

By now, newspaper reporters were on the story. "Please don't say I'm arrested," Mr. Reporter, the suspect said. He had relatives in Rock Island. "Don't use my name at all, the way it has turned out."

But he was willing to talk to reporters about his extensive travels around the world—often walking when he lacked train fare. He had been all over South Africa, had been an aeronaut, and a candy salesman at Manhattan Beach. He had just come from the fair in St. Louis, trying to arrange a concession stand to sell Japanese fans.

Henry Reticker was released after an investigation of several days, still with no decision on whether he was a hero or a villain. On his way out of town, walking, he picked up a large box of shoestrings, intending to peddle them in Quincy, Illinois.

"A hero," decided the Argus, who piloted the train "safely over the place where the villainous hands had essayed untold loss of life and destruction of property."

Do you believe it?

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.