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Minnesota News

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Like most of the other 500 residents of St. Anthony Falls in the territory of Minnesota, Elmer Tyler had emigrated from New England in the late 1840s, full of energy, ambition and enthusiasm for making something of his new town. Tyler had opened a tailor shop on Main Street when he arrived, but by the spring of 1851, he was ready for bigger and better things. He determined to start a newspaper, convinced that if St. Anthony Falls could only make its importance known, it would soon be a metropolis of 10,000 people. By the time he approached another resident, Isaac Atwater, to become the editor, Tyler had thought of almost everything. He had calculated that there would be enough readers to be profitable at $2-a-year subscriptions; he determined that there would be little competition, with no telegraph and with no mail during the winters; he had gone to Chicago and obtained a press and enough ink and paper to put out a weekly seven-column four-page newspaper. He and editor Atwater moved operations into a small log house.

In May, editor Atwater set about printing the first edition of St. Anthony Express. Only then did he discover that Tyler had not thought of absolutely everything. There was no news. What little did happen in St. Anthony Falls, everyone already knew. The first issue was comprised of little more than a single steamboat schedule, the number of logs floated out of the Rum River, the price of flour, the notice of a cemetery association meeting, and a marriage announcement.

As for the rest of the four pages, editor Atwater admitted he drew largely on his imagination to stretch the news as far as he could. He knew that if all the news weren't "startling," subscribers would consider him a bore. He swallowed his newspaperman's pride and gave the public what it wanted.

I wonder if all this doesn't explain why Minnesotans to this day are so given to exaggeration. It's always colder, snowier, hotter, bluer in Minnesota than wherever you are.

Don't take this explanation as gospel just because I proposed it. There are currently 14 theories, some say 18, as to why Minnesotans exaggerate. This one was merely number seven.

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.

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.