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Cairo, Illinois

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Every so often in life, we come across an incident that would make a perfect story—except for one flaw. The Reverend Timothy Flint must have felt just that way.

Flint was a restless young Presbyterian minister from Massachusetts. Or rather, his congregations were restless. That is how Reverend Flint found himself boating down the Ohio River toward the Mississippi in 1816, appointed by the Connecticut Mission Society to serve in the Western states. He decided to travel a while before settling down, keeping a journal of people and places for future reference.

As his boat reached the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, it passed the new town of Cairo, Illinois. Cairo's few houses on stilts were all that had come from the dreams of speculators to build a great river port at the delta formed by the Ohio and Mississippi. Now this remnant was under water. The high flood waters that spring had inundated the entire town. Houses were up to their roofs in water.

For a young minister looking for sermon material, Cairo could hardly have been better. Here was the mighty Flood, and there was the proud and wicked little river port of Cairo under the waters—all right here in America.

And there—too good to be true—floating above the waves, was the ark, a huge flatboat a hundred feet long. On it were the families of Cairo, a modern Noah’s ark. The entire town had moved onto the flatboat to ride out the flood, with all their goods and supplies.

And now for the flaw. The Bible never did say how Noah was able to keep peace on that ark, what with crowded conditions and little to do. The Reverend Timothy Flint discovered that the good people of Cairo, riding their flatboat above the Flood, had solved that problem. Among the other supplies moved aboard the flatboat was the town liquor store. Reverend Flint was sad to report that by the time he arrived, the entire town of Cairo was disgustingly drunk.

Wisely assuming his missionary efforts might not be welcome, he kept on going up the Mississippi River.

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.