Roald Tweet

Writer and Narrator of 'Rock Island Lines'

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.

It was from Rock Island’s rich heritage that Dr. Tweet spun his histories, biographies and "stretchers." Among his favorite topics were railroads and riverboats, which he combined on a CD in celebration of the Grand Excursion in 2004. "Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet" received awards from the Illinois Historical Society as well as the Towner Award from the Illinois Humanities Council.

Dr. Tweet was professor emeritus, retired from the Augustana College English department, where he was professor and Conrad Bergendoff Chair in the Humanities. A writer and radio personality, Dr. Tweet was also an accomplished woodcarver and whittler.

Dr. Tweet left us in November of 2020, but his legacy lives on. You can hear many of his Rock Island Lines in podcast form here and also in a forthcoming book from WVIK and East Hall Press.

Jessie Colton

Apr 13, 2021

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

In the Western Cemetery in Orion, Illinois, just south of here, there is a tombstone with the names of Jessie Colton and Bert Richardson.

On The Road

Apr 12, 2021

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

The Mississippi is one of those rivers that takes on all comers. Children are easy marks. Just standing them along the shore with a stick to wrinkle the water is all it takes. Fishermen are easy, too. All fishing poles have hooks at both ends, and who pulls in whom is an open question.


Apr 9, 2021

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

My wife, Margaret, made me promise never ever to use her in these Lines. Of course, I took that to mean she was hoping I would. She's hard to figure out.


Apr 8, 2021

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

It is hard in our cynical age to imagine the kind of patriotism which made George W. Kinkaid of rural Muscatine, Iowa, leave his wife and plow and march off to the Civil War in 1862.

Boepple Buttons

Apr 7, 2021

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island. 

Here's a short course on the history of work in America. In about 1884, John F. Boepple immigrated from Germany to Muscatine, Iowa. One day he stopped along the Mississippi to watch a dredge boat in operation. The clam shells in the dredged material excited him. He had been a button maker in Germany, and these Mississippi shells were perfect for pearl buttons.

Galvanized Yankees

Apr 6, 2021

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

In August of 1863, Union troops arrived on Rock Island to build a prison camp for Confederate prisoners. Beginning with 468 prisoners captured in the Battle of Lookout Mountain, who arrived in December of 1863, the Rock Island Barracks eventually housed more than twelve thousand Confederates. In Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell called it "the Andersonville of the North."

George Barnard

Apr 5, 2021

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Muscatine, Iowa, a few miles down the Mississippi from here, must have made an impact on George Grey Barnard. Barnard lived there briefly as a teenager from 1877 to 1885 before going on to become an internationally acclaimed sculptor. Late in life, with his work in many museums, Barnard claimed that his inspiration came from Muscatine.

The Calliope

Apr 2, 2021

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Before you pick up the phone and call in, trust me on this one. No steamboat on the Upper Mississippi River ever had a calliope. On the river, it was always pronounced cally-ope. Steamboat men had minds of their own, and seldom took direction from people on land.

Henry Lewis

Apr 1, 2021

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

The Mississippi River and history have this in common: neither one always goes where you want it to go. That is why a young man who set out in 1848 to paint the most American painting in the world ended up instead with a book of lithographs of the Mississippi River printed in German.