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Gateway to Heaven

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Had Rock Island been a little less jealous of other Illinois cities back in the 1890s, she might have taken in a tourist dollar or two by billing herself as "The Gateway to Heaven. But that would have meant admitting that Rockford just up the Rock River was heaven, and that Rock Island was unwilling to do.

Heaven was actually a 400-acre farm just south of Rockford, presided over by George Jacob Schweinfurth of Marion, Ohio, who had a sudden revelation in 1877 that he was the Messiah returned to Earth. A Rockford farmer had converted and donated his farm for use as Schweinfurth's main heaven. Here the Messiah ruled, along with Mrs. Laura Francis, a convert from a prominent Kentucky family who brought a fortune along with her and who was now the heaven's "Supreme Goddess."

Rock Islanders were upset. Up at Rockford, hundreds of converts toiled in the fields to provide the false Schweinfurth with the best of everything, including the best stable of horses in Illinois. Many of the women converts at Rockford began to have "angel children" fathered by the Holy Ghost.

I suspect Rock Islanders were especially upset that they did not even rate one of the many satellite heavens Schweinfurth established. There were thriving branch heavens at Minneapolis, Lexington and Richmond, Kentucky, Kansas City, Buena Vista in Denver, Colorado, Detroit and Alpena, Michigan and at several other sites around Illinois, but none at Rock Island.

Rock Island watched jealously as these branch heavens fattened the Supreme Heaven at Rockford with their love gifts. Schweinfurth was vilified in Rock Island newspapers.

Perhaps it's just as well Rock Island decided not to cash in as "The Gateway to Heaven." There were other jealous Illinois cities, one of them just east of Rock Island. Upstanding Moline had long suffered from sharing a border with fallen Rock Island. It would not have taken Moliners long to put a slight spin on the Gateway to Heaven idea and twist it into Purgatory.

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.