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Muscatine is Heaven

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Those baseball players who momentarily confused Iowa with Heaven in the movie, A Field of Dreams, were not the first to do so. A hundred years earlier, the same thought helped George W. Van Horn of Muscatine rest easy on his death bed.

Van Horn came to Muscatine from Massachusetts in 1855 to practice law, but he soon left a successful practice to help the dying Whig Party emerge as Republicans. An excellent orator, he was in demand during Lincoln-Fremont campaign in 1860. As a reward, Lincoln appointed him United States Counsel at Marseille, France. He returned after the Civil War to serve the Republican Party in the South, where the evils of Reconstruction so appalled him that he repudiated the party he had helped found.

Van Horn returned to Muscatine in 1870, to edit the Muscatine Tribune. His forthright editorials and his unwavering principles made him admired by most but also hated, especially by the anti-whiskey crowd whose attempts to legislate morality he opposed. When three of the teetotalers’ houses were blown up in 1893, a Van Horn editorial suggested they had been asking for it.

But underneath the crust of a hard-boiled, shirtsleeves-rolled-up man was a love for Muscatine and its people. When he became ill in 1892, and had to have a leg amputated, he assumed he was dying. He published an editorial titled "Perhaps a Valedictory," reflecting on his life in Muscatine and on approaching death. His crusty style mellowed. "Death," he wrote, was like an approaching train, stopping at various houses along the way, and now arriving at his home. One by one he remembered the obituaries he had written through the years for all those in the previous houses: Williams, Warfield, Stone, Stein—all his friends.

"There can be no alarm in joining such a Muscatine colony," he wrote. It was even possible that Heaven was just "another Muscatine, with even fairer surroundings."

George Van Horne recovered and lived three more years before the editorial appeared a second time. By then, it had been printed and reprinted in newspapers around the country. Perhaps that is where the ghostly Chicago baseball team first got the idea.

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.