This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.
In December of 1858, Jesse Clement, the editor of a fledgling newspaper, the Dubuque Times, set out by steamboat, railroad and stagecoach to report on the thriving new communities springing up around Dubuque in a series of feature articles. It was his way of competing with the six other daily Dubuque newspapers all fighting for readership. His perceptive accounts of Cedar Rapids, Waterloo and Marion, written with good humor, brought both his newspaper and the towns good publicity. Unfortunately for the citizens of Anamosa, Iowa, editor Clement reached there on a Sunday and insisted on going to church.
Clement had moved to Dubuque from Buffalo, New York the previous year. Churchgoing was not a sudden whim on the Iowa prairie. He had always gone to church back in Buffalo.
That Sunday in Anamosa, he attended the Congregational Church, where he was deeply impressed by the choice imagery and passion of Reverend Samuel A. Benton's sermon, and also by the reverend's interest in education and literary societies. He was stirred by the hymns rendered by voices superior to those he had found in most young Western towns.
That evening in his room at the Fisher House, Clement sat down to write up Anamosa for his newspaper. Alas, his mind and heart were no longer in Anamosa. The congregational hymns still rang in his ears. "What power there is in music," he wrote, "to recall memories from their graves." The songs of Zion took him back to his youth. He was crossing the Merrimack River in New York on his way to his new home on the shores of Lake Erie. He was again shaking hands with old friends, many now dead. He listened to the bobolink and blackbird call from the meadow where he had hunted for birds’ nests.
Now he remembered what John Locke had said about memory, and Leibnitz, too, who could repeat verbatim all the poetry of Virgil. Then Dante, Petrarch, Michelangelo and Sir Walter Scott crowded into the room at the Fisher House and into the newspaper column.
In the end, there was little room left for Anamosa. "I began this sweet Sabbath among strangers in Anamosa," Jesse Clement wrote, "but I have ended it among unforgotten friends."
Rock Island Lines is underwritten by the Illinois Humanities Council and Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, with additional funding from Humanities Iowa, the Iowa Arts Council, and Augustana College, Rock Island.