© 2024 WVIK
Listen at 90.3 FM and 98.3 FM in the Quad Cities, 95.9 FM in Dubuque, or on the WVIK app!
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The Great Stone Haystack

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Just south and east of Albany, Illinois, back a bit from the Mississippi River, sits a huge pinkish granite boulder, a somewhat rounded rectangle approximately 12 by 16 by 18 feet. It’s the kind of stone that invites stories. With the Albany stone, you have your choice of three. See if you can figure out which is the best.

An amateur rock hound back in the 19th century told the first one: noting that granite is not native to Northern Illinois, he made up the story of a meteorite crashing down through the atmosphere—a meteorite so large it failed to burn entirely. And it's true, the sides of the stone do seem worn away as if they had burned. An omen from the heavens sent to Albany.

Albany residents prefer a different story. They will tell inquirers over coffee in a local cafe that the resemblance between the stone and other large haystacks dotting local farms is more than accidental. And it does look like a haystack, covered as it is by a gray-green lichen and with sides eaten away by cattle. The locals insist that as you approach the haystack, especially on foggy days, it slowly turns into a rock, and then back to a haystack again as you leave. It's not a haystack when photographed because a camera destroys the magic.

A pretty good story, I think. The stone is mysterious, but listen to the third version—one that Mother Nature tells. Her version has it that some million years ago, during the Pleistocene Epoch, the haystack rock was part of a granite cliff way up in Canada. The first of the great glaciers which covered much of North America off and on for several hundred thousand years, broke a chunk off the cliff, and carried it south inch by inch embedded in the ice, slowly grinding the edges into a haystack shape. Subsequent glaciers passed the boulder back and forth. The last of these glaciers, the one which formed the channel of the Mississippi past Rock Island, brought the stone to Albany, where the ice melted, leaving the stone sitting for the last 20,000 years.

These are all good stories, but I think you'll agree that in a storytelling contest with Mother Nature, the best a human can do is come in third.

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.