Chippiannock

Apr 15, 2021

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

"Chippiannock" is a Sauk Indian word meaning "city of the dead," a fit name for the city of Rock Island's first cemetery, ninety-five acres lying on a plateau not far from Saukenuk, where the war chief Black Hawk grew up. The place was originally called Manitou Ridge because of the Indians' belief that here the Great Spirit spread his wings among the hills to keep floods away.

The site was selected as a cemetery in 1855; the name was chosen by Susan Lewis Davenport Goldsmith, the wife of George Davenport, one of Rock Island's founders.

The Village of the Dead may lack some of the amenities expected in a town of over twenty thousand, no city hall or hotel, but it has a magnificent library, filled with stories both fanciful and real, restless and tragic. Markers stand in rows as if on shelves, and on every marker, a story in stone. Dates confirm typhoid and flu epidemics, battles lost, children gone.

Here is an intricate Celtic cross carved by the sculptor Alexander Sterling Calder, in memory of Second Officer William Harte, killed on the U.S. Gunboat Mound City while attempting to destroy Confederate shore batteries in Arkansas. There is the grave of Captain David Tipton who spent his life on Mississippi steamboats, and whose crew dug an anchor out of the river at Keokuk and placed it on his grave. Four granite anvils and hammers in Chippiannock show that four Rock Island blacksmiths are buried there. Edward Burrall, Jr., lies under a thirty-ton boulder from Davenport which he had admired all his life, and requested as his monument. The boulder was barged across the Mississippi and eased up ninth street to the cemetery on planks and rollers.

The founder of Rock Island, Colonel George Davenport, lies here, too. He was buried near his home on the island of Rock Island, then moved to Chippiannock. Over his grave is a totem pole, a copy of one his Sauk and Meskwaki friends erected over his island grave as part of an Indian burial ceremony.

"Dead men tell no tales," they say in cheap movies. Not so, if one only takes the time to look, and listen carefully.

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