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Lethe Crowley

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Are you one of those kids whose parents went off to Disney World and all you got was this lousy T-shirt that announced that very thing? Try not to be too jealous of Billy in the following story.

Billy was a horse owned by Mrs. Lethe I. Crowley, the widow of J. G. Crowley. Mrs. Crowley lived in Muscatine, Iowa, at the turn of the century. According to the City Directory, Billy lived several blocks away at Ottie Snyder's Livery and Carriage Repository.

Mrs. Crowley was grateful for the kind and patient way Billy took her around town on her many small errands. On vacation in many parts of the world, she wrote Billy chatty notes about her adventures, and sent picture postcards of the more exotic sites. Ottie read the notes and help up the postcards for Billy.

Billy became famous around Muscatine, especially after Mrs. Crowley grieved over Billy's lack of social life and decided to include the horse in her round of parties. Billy’s party was a grand affair. Mrs. Crowley asked Ottie Skinner to draw up the guest list from other horses at the stable. Clover and oats were served, with lump sugar for dessert.

As Billy approached old age, Mrs. Crowley bought several lots in a new subdivision called Fair Oaks as a pasture for her friend. When Billy died, Mrs. Crowley could not bring herself to send Billy to the soap factory. She found a quiet farm, held a private funeral for close family only, and planted bachelor buttons on his grave.

Her final tribute was her best. Mrs. Crowley could not bear the thought of replacing Billy with another horse any more than she had thought of marrying again. Instead, Mrs. Crowley chose to enter the 20th century. She bought a new Franklin automobile, and laboriously learned to drive well enough to avoid most accidents.

But there were no chatty notes to the Franklin, and no picture postcards either. One would have to be crazy to write letters to an automobile.

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.