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Suburban Rock Island

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

"A suburban paradise" is how the Argus described the sixty acres at the edge of Rock Island. A public relations brochure could not have given a more glorious picture.

No expense had been spared to make the most naturally beautiful spot in Rock Island even more breathtaking. The gently rolling hills with a view of the Mississippi River Valley had been enhanced by the best landscape architects and sculptors.

Enclosed within the sixty acres were "green long vistas, and beautiful winding drives with pretty names redolent of the romance of life." In between little boxwood hedges were sprinkled fragrant flowers in entrancing shapes. Ten thousand dollars’ worth of improvements had brought in "every tree, shrub, flower, and plant that grows in the North Temperate Zone." In addition, thousands of young trees, many of them rare and beautiful, had been planted.  And stockholders promised to keep up the beautification, with new plants and even more impressive works of art.

There was more good news. Although many lots had already been snapped up, there were plenty of good ones left. And the expense was modest. At 12 and ½ cents per square foot, even a workingman's family could afford several.

There was a catch, however. The Argus was describing Chippiannock, Rock Island's first cemetery, the City of the Dead, as its name translated from the Sauk. Even those townspeople who longed to spend eternity there were reluctant to move out to the suburban paradise immediately.

And more than a few of Rock Island's poor, living on the flood plain jammed together in wooden shacks, must have wondered whether their city had not gotten its priorities backward. Would it not have made more sense to spend a life amid the green vistas and boxwood hedges of Chippiannock, and lie down and die in the mud flats, rather than the other way around?

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.