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.

Giants in the Earth

Mar 31, 2021

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

The word for today is "epiphany"—that moment in the dark reaches of the mind when a light flicks on at two in the morning, and we understand the calculus problem we have been struggling with, or capture just the right image for the poem, or know that it is really love.


Mar 30, 2021

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

If you are at all inclined to superstition, avoid that whole bottom land below Black Hawk State Park where the Rock River meets the Mississippi. It may be haunted.

Muscatine and Whiskey

Mar 29, 2021

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

In 1839, the village of Bloomington just south of here was upgraded to the status of second-class town by the Iowa Legislature. Its city council met only once, and then only to permit grocery stores to sell whiskey. That same year, the Iowa Territorial Legislature officially defined "grocery store" as any establishment that sold whiskey in less than gallon lots.

West End Settlement

Mar 26, 2021

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Susanne Denkmann came from one of the wealthiest and most prominent families in Rock Island. She was educated in the most exclusive schools on the East Coast. With her father's money, she could easily have followed the seasons around the world from theater in London to art auctions in Germany to sun on the Mediterranean. By the time she was born in 1872, her father and his partner, Frederick Weyerhaeuser, had already begun to amass a fortune in the logging and lumbering business. Their great log rafts coming down the Mississippi from Wisconsin and Minnesota outnumbered the steamboats. Susanne Denkmann could have become the poor little rich girl, straight out of 19th century domestic novels.

Instead, Susanne Denkmann chose to take seriously the obligation of the rich to help the poor. Government welfare was not yet even a dream. Following a formal education, she enrolled in the Chicago Kindergarten College, and then moved to New York to teach in a settlement house. Her experiences here convinced her to return to Rock Island, where economic hard times had created an underclass similar to those in the slums of New York.

With her own money, Susanne built a large two-story brick building at Fifth Street and Seventh Avenue in Rock Island. Her West End Settlement opened in 1909. By then she had married a Rock Island attorney, John Hauberg, her equal in giving of his time and talents. Together, they ran the West End Settlement for thirteen years. The settlement provided extensive gardens for area residents, a Sunday school, a gymnasium, baths, a kindergarten, domestic science classes, basketball, a fife and drum corps, a milk station where poor mothers could receive formula milk, a women's sewing group, a crippled children's clinic, a trained nurse and two full-time social workers.

Steamboat Deaths

Mar 25, 2021

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

With steamboats as with humans, there only are one or two ways of coming into this world, but an infinite number of ways of leaving it.

The Toby Show

Mar 24, 2021

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

The publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1852 sent shock waves around the world. Southern women wrote rebuttal novels showing how wonderful slavery was, Germans set up Uncle Tom shops selling soul food, and Lincoln suggested to Harriet Beecher Stowe that she had brought on the Civil War.

Campbell's Rock

Mar 23, 2021

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Do you cringe when you see the words "new and improved," because experience has shown you that it often means "costs more and works half as well as the way your grandmother did it"? This story of the Corps of Engineers versus one of the largest obstructions in the Rock Island Rapids is for you.

Kate Perry

Mar 22, 2021

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

To your list of fearless and feisty women—if you keep such a list—please add Kate Perry of Covington, Kentucky. During the Civil War, Miss Kate was the owner, operator, and conductor of her own highly illegal railroad.

Hennepin Canal

Mar 19, 2021

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

One of the oddest projects ever to reach the Mississippi River was the seventy-five-mile Illinois and Mississippi Canal connecting Rock Island via thirty-three locks with the Illinois River at Hennepin, and from there to Lake Michigan. Completed in 1907, it was too little and too late to save the dwindling steamboat traffic on the Mississippi. It was seldom used, reaching a peak of one six-hundredth of its capacity in 1929 and closing for good in 1951.