Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Monkey Trial

Dayton, Tennessee. I have always enjoyed a good spin, and when I find something incredibly famous that turns out to be about spin, well, so much the better. The Scopes Trial. Spin, spin, spin and more spin.

There were a couple of historic places that caught hold of me when I moved to Tennessee. I fell in total love with the Secret City, but I also harbored a quiet crush on the Scopes Trial. It amazed me that I had moved so close to a place where evolution and the bible collided. However, I was misguided. Here I thought the whole Scopes Trial was all about two impassioned sides - one holding fast to religious doctrine, the other side, science barging in with good old evolution. Quite a fight to sink one's teeth into.

But no. It was not so simple, or rather it was even more diluted than my beliefs. Rather, the trial was a publicity stunt. Can you imagine? Who knew? The Scopes Trial was the brainchild of George Rappalyea, the manager of a local coal company in Dayton, TN. To encourage the economy of the town, he instigated the whole deal. The American Civil Liberties Union had publicized they would help defend anyone who rose up against the Butler Act of Tennessee (a law that mandated that teachers would give the biblical interpretation of the the rise of man as opposed to Darwinian evolution). Rarralyea saw an opportunity and realized that if he could find a teacher willing to include evolution and the ascent from primates to man in the science curriculum, well, the trial that would happen would be huge. It would bring attention to the declining town. (1)

And so John Scopes, a football coach, took his seat in history and while substitute teaching for a science teacher at Rhea County High School, had his students read about evolution in Civic Biology. Cue the circus.

The court case was huge, incredibly famous and yes, it did all that Rappalyea had hoped. Spin, spin, spin.

    • Latitude: 35.493167
    • Longitude: -85.012444
    • 1475 Market Street - Dayton, TN 37321
    • The Scopes Trail happened in July 1925.
    • William Jennings Bryan prosecuted the case.
    • Clarence Darrow defended the case.
    • Scopes was found guilty.
    • The court room was restored in 1979.
    • Rhea County Courthouse
    • Basement is a museum.
    • The original court room is on the second floor.
    • Court House
    • Museum


Mo said...

Had no idea it was all a big publicity stunt.
Someone took a page from PT Barnum's book!

BillyWarhol said...

my kinda Story*

i gotta research this a little more*

thank god fer Darwin is all i can say*

;)) Peace*

Julie said...

Interesting...I had no idea the Scopes Trial evolved (pun intended) from a publicity stunt. I live just a hop, skip, and a jump from Dayton and have passed the historic court house a few times.