© 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

An Iowa Booster

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

When the Chicago White Sox walked out of an Iowa cornfield and thought they were in heaven in the movie Field of Dreams, they were not the first to make that mistake. Listen to the words of Johan Smertenko back in 1922, trying to explain Iowa to a national magazine audience. "One cannot cross the state's boundaries at any point," he wrote in The Nation, "without realizing that here is a land of plenty as different from its neighbors as the plains of Canaan differed from the fields of Gomorrah."

Smertenko did not identify which of the five neighboring states was Gomorrah, but Illinois with its Chicago would have come to many minds.

Smertenko was just winding up when he called Iowa the Promised Land. It was in fact, the real Eldorado, a "land which waited but the turn of a plow to uncover its golden riches." To this rich land came just the right kind of people: hardworking farmers, tired of the poor New England and southern soil they had been working. Lawless types did not settle in Iowa; they kept going to California. In fact, Smertenko suggests, when Horace Greeley said, "Go West, young Man, Go West," he meant Iowa.

Everywhere in Iowa, Smertenko bragged, the traveler found fecundity, wealth and solidity. Stretching across the land was an unrelieved regularity of bumper crops, trim wire fences, purebred and well-fed livestock, huge barns and silos, smug and freshly painted homes. Even Iowa's cities were unlike those in other states: no slums, no ramshackle outbuildings and no decaying genteel quarters. "Not a sign of poverty," except among temporary imported laborers building new roads across the state.

Since it does not seem likely that anyone will ever outdo Johan Smertenko as a booster, I suggest we set up a Smertenko Scale as a way of measuring the amount of boosterism in any claim, with a one being no bragging at all, and a ten being Smertenko himself. On this scale, even Minnesotans would average only an eight or so.

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.