Epigrams

Dec 11, 2020

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Until 1961, Rock Islanders could get a free education in one of two ways: they could spend their half hour a day reading the Harvard Classics, that five-foot shelf of books containing everything worth knowing, and be educated in seven years. The more restless could simply climb Brady Street Hill in Davenport to wander the campus of Palmer College of Chiropractic and read the graffiti.

Palmer's graffiti was no ordinary collection of spray paint and chalk. It was all the work of the school's eccentric founder, B. J. Palmer, a world traveler and collector who had developed chiropractic out of interests in American science and Oriental philosophies, with impromptu pieces to fill the gaps.

Palmer College held classes much the same as any other school, but it also had B. J.'s "Quotations," short epigrams of advice with which he personally covered all available building surfaces inside and out. There were epigrams painted on wooden logs hanging from the cafeteria ceiling, epigrams on the pillars of fraternity house porches. On the elevator shaft was written "Do all you can without creating a fuss." Operators had to stop the glass windowed elevator between floors for passengers to read the signs.

Often, the epigrams suited the location. Over a mirror in the women's rest room, B. J. wrote "Beauty is only skin deep and many people need peeling." By every one of the dozens of light switches, B. J. reminded users to "be a live wire and you won't be stepped on.

As the women's suffrage question heated up, B. J. wrote in six-foot letters on the tall campus chimney, "Equal Rights" and "Votes for Women."

By 1950, epigrams had taken all the space, and B. J. was forced to begin using sidewalks running through campus—until he was stopped by city fathers.

I am sorry to report that this great encyclopedia of free knowledge disappeared under white paint in 1961 after B. J. Palmer died and a more modern and respectable administration took over. Those interested in learning by epigrams will have to return to reading Emerson.

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