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Socialists

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

The city elections of 1920 brought Davenport, Iowa, its first and only socialist government. Mayor Dr. C. L. Barewald and five Socialist city councilmen were swept into office on a tide of post-war idealism. The Germans who had come to Davenport following the 1848 revolution in Europe had always been free thinking intellectuals suspicious of attempts of both church and state to dictate their thoughts.

Now that the world had been made "safe for democracy," great things lay ahead for the citizens of Davenport. For a few weeks, as it turned out. Mayor Barewald left the Socialist Party in disgust over the aldermen's refusal to even consider conservative views. One day in 1921, he noticed fingermarks on the chandelier in his office. He brought in Chief of Police Charles Boettcher, who stood on a chair and discovered a Dictaphone-type transmitter, with wires running up through the chandelier tubing into the ceiling.

The mayor's office was bugged. Detectives traced the wires to a garret, where they found the city electrician, who claimed to be fixing the city hall clock. The detectives eventually traced the wires all the way to a pile of rubbish, under which they discovered a crude receiver powered by two dry cells.

The electrician confessed that he had installed the bug on orders of a Socialist alderman. Disclosure of the plot caused a furor in Davenport, where the Socialist aldermen became known as the Frantic Five. The electrician, meanwhile, claimed that the police office was bugged, too, and that opponents had the goods on both the mayor and the chief of police, both of whom protested their innocence.

Mayor Barewald insisted on pressing charges, but the city attorney was already representing the aldermen. Besides, County Attorney John Weir refused to prosecute because "intent" could not be established. Charges flew back and forth for months before things quieted down, leaving little time for progressive social action.

The next election swept the mayor and the Frantic Five from office. Like so many other groups with visions of reforming human society, they had somehow forgotten to include themselves.

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