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The Wisconsin Bible

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

I might still be under the illusion that Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicked over a lantern and started the great Chicago fire of 1871 had I not come across the Wisconsin Bible by Marcus Thrane, a Norwegian-American political activist. I found out what really happened.

Chapter 10 is particularly instructive on this matter. There it tells of Vesterheim, which we know as the Mississippi Valley, flowing with milk and honey, and inhabited by immigrants from Norway. But just to the east (I'm reading from verse four), "there is a great city by the name of Chicago, which is interpreted 'evil smell.' And this city is a mighty city, twenty miles in circumference and seven miles across." Unfortunately, Chicago was like unto Babylon or Sodom.

"Then," (verse seven) “the Lord regretted that he had created Chicago, and He sent the Angel of Death, with his flaming sword to set fire to the city, and the city burned for three days and three nights so that hardly a stone was left standing upon a stone of Chicago's walls."

According to the Wisconsin Bible, however, the heart of the evil, the West Side, where Satan dwelled, survived, and began to rebuild. As you might expect, the wrath of the Lord was kindled, and he determined to try again and obliterate all of Chicago. Then, the Lord went up in the tower of Chicago's waterworks with a trumpet in his hand and cried with a loud voice.

“Wait,” cried the High Priests of Vesterheim, that is, Norwegian pastors with names like Peterson and Oftedahl and Preus, who now approached God, begging him to spare Chicago for their sake.

As they pointed out, God hadn't thought far enough ahead. If He destroyed Chicago, why, then, all those thousands of evil people would move west into Vesterheim, home of the Chosen, and infect holy places like La Crosse and Eau Claire, and Albert Lea, Minnesota, and perhaps even Minneapolis.

In the end, God listened to their pleas, and spared Chicago in spite of its great evil.

A wise decision, if you ask me. The pure, chosen people of La Crosse and Minnesota need a place to visit when they feel the need to sow a few wild oats.

Rock Island Lines is supported by grants from the Illinois Humanities Council, the Illinois Arts Council—a state agency—and by 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.