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Setting the Stage

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

The designer of the stage on which we Rock Islanders act out our lives—our seven parts—does good work, but he's awfully slow.

The stage itself goes back 300 million years, to the Devonian Period, when a shallow sea covered much of central North America. Skeletons of creatures living in this sea settled to the bottom, layer on layer, eventually becoming the Devonian limestone, 3,000 feet deep, which underlies the whole Rock Island area.

The inland sea gave way to swamp during the Pennsylvanian Period 285 million years ago. Decaying vegetation from this swamp, under time and pressure became seams of coal found everywhere here.

On this stage, a million years ago, during the Pleistocene Epoch, four great glaciers pushed south to create the sets we use in our play: the sand, gravel, silt, and clay we use to build and farm. Almost as an afterthought, the last of the glaciers twenty thousand years ago dammed up the Mississippi River in central Illinois and sent its channel our way, west past Rock Island, giving us our most important prop.

The retreating curtain of the last glacier was the signal for the play to begin. Some ten thousand years ago, the mammoth and mastodon arrived, followed by the Paleo-Indians, the Big Game Hunters, who settled into semi-permanent communities. The Sauk and Meskwaki Indians arrived from Eastern Canada in the 18th century, pushing the prehistoric Indians further west. Europeans came on stage shortly after, Spanish, French, and then English.

We Americans arrived early in the 19th century, and in typical fashion, seized control of the stage, rewrote the play, moved the props around everywhere, and are still doing our best to prolong the last act. As with all actors, there are stars and bit actors, there are those who scrupulously follow the lines written for them and others who improvise. Props like the Mississippi we cannot always control.

You're welcome to join us; I'm sure there's a part for you.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.

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.