This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.
If you passed through fourth grade any time before 1947, you, too, memorized Eugene Field's poem, "Little Boy Blue." That was where you learned about "the little toy dog" covered with dust, "but sturdy and staunch he stands" in the old armchair alongside the toy soldier red with rust, whose musket molds in his hands—faithful even in death.
In the city of Rock Island today, you can visit just such a dog—only ours was real.
In 1878, a diphtheria epidemic swept the Mississippi River valley. It was especially fatal for children. In two short days, diphtheria killed five-year-old Eddie Dimick, and his sister, Josie, eight. They were the children of Mr. and Mrs. O. J. Dimick who lived in a large brick house on twenty-third street in Rock Island.
The children owned a large Newfoundland dog who went with them everywhere, even to school, where he played with them at recess and walked them home after school.
At the funeral, the Dimicks allowed the dog to follow the horse drawn hearse to Chippiannock Cemetery. After that, the dog went to the cemetery every day, summer and winter, and lay stretched on the graves until dark. Then, he would come home.
Less than a year later, the dog died, partly because he often refused to eat, and was buried in the family yard. Mr. Dimick, however, was so moved by the dog's devotion that he ordered a Chicago sculptor to make a life-size statue of the dog to place over his children's graves. His notes to the sculptor specify that the statue "be first class, with the animal's head resting on its paws in a natural position."
Visitors to Chippiannock Cemetery can see the stone dog lying alongside two small graves. Oh, the years are many, the years are long, but the children’s dog waits, little worn by rain or ice or wind, patient but watchful, head lowered across his front paws, as if waiting for recess, or for school to be out.
Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.