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School Tour

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island

In the 1950s, there were two ways of getting to know Chicago: one could live there for several years or, if one were lucky enough to be an elementary student in the Rock Island area, one could pay twelve dollars and fifty cents and board the Rock Island Rocket at 6:15 on a Saturday morning in May for the popular one day all-expense educational tour to Chicago.

Letters sent home to parents suggested that appropriate dress for this classroom on wheels would be a nice dress for girls and a sport shirt and slacks for boys. Parents were also advised to send along a small paper bag, since stomach upsets were frequent during first train rides.

At the station, the children and their teacher chaperones were met by an experienced passenger representative who accompanied them for the whole day. The Rocket arrived at the LaSalle Street Station at 9 in the morning, where students boarded busses for a lecture tour of the Windy City. From 9 until the train left on its return trip at 6 p.m., the students toured Chicago, with time out for lunch and dinner at the famous Forum Cafeteria, included in the ticket.

The lecture tour took them through Jackson and Grant Parks, out to walk through the Museum of Science and Industry, including a visit to the captured German submarine U-505. Then, it was time to drive through the University of Chicago on the way back to the Chicago Museum of Natural History and its dinosaur skeletons, and the Shedd Aquarium. The tour then headed up Lakeshore and Outer Drives to visit Lincoln Park Zoo before returning to view the downtown business district with special attention to Michigan Avenue, Wacker Drive, and State Street. Following this, there was still a little time for a visit to Jane Adams’s Hull House, Navy Pier, and Chinatown, before a concluding lecture on why the Chicago River flows backwards.

No doubt the trip back to Rock Island was quieter than the trip in, as students tried to digest their memories along with the chicken and dumplings from the Forum Cafeteria. Chaperons had memories too. Dr. Richard Jennings, a retired Rock Island teacher and principal, was a chaperone on the 1959 trip. He still has memories. “I remember,” he said, “being very, very, very tired.”

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.