This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.
Early in August of 1927, newspapers in the Rock Island area began tracking the flight of The Spirit of St. Louis as it crossed the country toward the Moline airport on a goodwill tour. By then Charles Lindberg had already discovered how much easier it was to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean than to be turned into an instant hero by an adoring American public. Heroes were meant to be viewed at a distance, and the clean-cut young man with the boyish smile was uncomfortable close-up.
By the time Lindberg and his airplane reached Cincinnati, he was especially tired of do-good groups such as the No-Tobacco League of America and the Woman's Christian Temperance Union who tried to use his clean-cut image for their own causes. "I will not be played for a tin saint," he said at a banquet in Cincinnati, admitting to a reporter that he had not always drunk water at all those toasts in Europe after his solo flight. There were also rumors that he actually smoked a cigarette at that banquet.
If so, the 20,000 people who showed up at the Moline Airport on the afternoon of August 19th, seemed not to care. As The Spirit of St. Louis came in for a landing at 2:02, all the area industrial whistles sounded, a sign for factories, stores and shops to close so everyone could watch the parade through Moline, Rock Island, Davenport, and Bettendorf.
That evening, there was a banquet for eight hundred invited guests at the Rock Island Arsenal. The Rock Island Argus reported that all sixteen hundred eyes were riveted on the young hero at the head table. And all sixteen hundred eyes saw him lean over and whisper something to the Arsenal Commandant seated next to him. Then they saw the famous Lindberg smile—boyish and even impish—as the Lone Eagle took out a cigarette, lit it and puffed away. Then, reported the Argus, he even blew the smoke out his nose.
What was left of youthful idealism? There was this. Lindberg's arrival coincided with the Mississippi Valley Fair in Davenport, and it was planned to have Lindberg put in an appearance there. But Lucky Lindy had refused. The fair charged admission, and it was his policy never to appear where people had to pay to see him, a stumbling block our modern heroes seem to have gotten over.
Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.