The weather forecast called for one more sunny day before two days of rain so we thought we had better get one more motorcycle ride in. We headed west about 80 miles to the town of Dayton, TN for a bit of American history. As you read this most are saying “Oh, I’ve always wanted to visit Dayton, TN, the scene of the famous Scopes Trial!” We figured that many, many Americans would be thinking the same thing so we hurried off to try to beat the crowd. But October must be the off season for tourism in Dayton, as we were the only visitors to the museum dedicated to the famous trial.
Now, we realize most of you remember the story behind the Scopes trial from your high school American History class so we will not go into detail. But just to refresh your memory, in 1925 the Tennessee legislature passed a law prohibiting the teaching of creationism in public schools. The ACLU offered to provide legal counsel at no cost to anyone charged with violating this law so as to test its constitutionality. The good fathers of the town of Dayton saw an opportunity to bring fame and money to the town by having the trial at the local courthouse, so they convinced young teacher John Scopes to be arrested for violating the law. The trial became a huge media circus with hucksters selling stuffed monkeys as souvenirs, hence the name “Monkey Trial”.
Part of the reason for all the attention to the trial was the fame of the attorneys involved. The defense was lead by Clarence Darrow, the most famous attorney of the day. The prosecution was headed by William Jennings Bryan, three time Democratic presidential candidate (and three time loser), Secretary of State under Wilson, and renown fundamentalist Christian. A statue of a young (when he had hair) Bryan stands outside the court house.
The building is still used as a court house today but the basement has been turned into a small museum. As stated, the off-season crowd had not yet arrived so we had the place to ourselves. The story of the trial is told in displays with narratives and photos.
Imagine a crowded courtroom in southern Tennessee in mid-July during a heat wave! It became so uncomfortable in the room that the judge moved the trial outside to a deck with the audience sitting on benches on the lawn, adding to the circus atmosphere.
We suspect most readers have just read more than they wanted about this trial but if you wish to learn more and find out the verdict check out Wikipedia. Outside the courthouse some local farmers were selling fresh fruits and vegetables, so we helped the local economy a bit before we left town.
The last three days have been filled with long rides so tomorrow’s rain will provide some much needed rest. Man, this retirement is hard work!