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Bucktown

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Joshua, you remember, marched his troops around Jericho seven times, and that was that. The walls came a tumbling down. That may have been what Father George Giglinger had in mind in 1903 when he determined to put an end to Bucktown, Davenport's notorious enclave of sin.

Father Giglinger took up arms after Bishop Henry Cosgrove called Davenport "the wickedest city for her size in America." The good father admitted in the Catholic Messenger that he might have more trouble than Joshua. "The devil has so firm a hold in Bucktown," he wrote, "that even the grand jury bends its knees to him and shirks its duty." Mere moral persuasion would not do. But "the fort will finally be taken," he promised, "by battering and hammering it down."

It was going to require a big hammer. Bucktown was a conglomeration of wickedness running between First and Third streets and from the Government Bridge to Perry street. Here, 150 illegal saloons vied for customers with the infamous Brick Munro's Dance Hall, wine rooms, the Wiggles Theater, and hotels in which gambling and prostitution flourished openly. One could bet on cock and bullfights as well as on popular sporting events, play the slot machines or the numbers, or buy pornographic pictures. At night, the Davenport Democrat reported, the whole east end of Davenport was "one blaze of lights and the sound of revelry, mechanical pianos and broken-voiced sopranos."

A few of Bucktown's walls were actually hammered down in 1904, but they returned stronger than ever. It was an American rather than an Old Testament solution that finally did Bucktown in. Several Davenport leaders, including lawyers and clergy, formed the Davenport Civic Federation with a secret membership. Using old 19th-century Iowa laws which demanded certain licensing procedures, and which prohibited the sale of liquor within three hundred feet of churches, schools and cemeteries, and which required saloons to close at midnight, the Federation took even the minutest violations to court. Like termites in wood, the minor infractions did what hammers could not do, and Bucktown's days were numbered.

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