© 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

Ivanhoe Keeler

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

If you can believe the stories you read, American males have always had trouble when it comes to women. Tom Sawyer's mind turned to mush, Huck Finn headed for a raft; Ishmael and Captain Ahab took off after whales, and the Lone Ranger rode off into the sunset.

Add to that list Iowa's own hero: Ivanhoe Keeler. Ivanhoe was the creation of Phil Strong, the one who wrote State Fair. Ivanhoe's namesake, Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe, Sir Walter Scott's creation, had trouble with women, too, but he eventually got Rebecca and Rowena figured out.

Iowa's Ivanhoe was not so lucky. Our Ivanhoe was a traveling violinist who had come to Keokuk to marry his sweetheart, Sue, and settle down on a nice Iowa farm back in 1839. But Sue had married a prosperous Mr. Crawford, and already had twins by the time Ivanhoe got there.

Crushed, our hero decides to give up on women and Iowa, and wander melancholy across the wide world. On the way down the Mississippi to New Orleans, he falls in with two traveling companions, Charley, a giant who can break heads with one hand, and Samaliel, a slave on the steamboat who gives such good shaves and haircuts that Ivanhoe buys him from the captain and takes him along.

The three American heroes wander from Cuba to England, France, Germany, and back again. Over and over, Ivanhoe falls in love, only to discover that the woman is a prostitute, a tease, a married woman, or engaged to someone else. The three get to the Mexican War late because designing their uniforms took too long, and finally come back to St. Louis, where they split.

Still under a cloud, Ivanhoe comes back to Pittsfield on the Des Moines River, to see how his one true love is getting along.

When the hotel he stays in proved to have inferior beds, he decides to get even with the owner, only to discover the owner's beautiful daughter—and he is soon madly in love again, true love this time, of course. This time, he gets the girl, and is so happy he smashes his precious violin just to show he cares. Ivanhoe is now about 35 and shows signs of maturing.

You have to realize that American heroes, especially if they're from Iowa, take maturity seriously. It's not something they suddenly jump into at the age of 21.

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.