Three Weeks In Dayton


Almost immediately Bryan announced he would represent the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association in helping to prosecute Scopes. From the other side Clarence Darrow and Dudley Field Malone offered their services without fee to aid in defending Scopes. Darrow was still clothed in publicity from the Loeb-Leopold trial of the year before. Malone, Undersecretary of State under Bryan, was a prominent international divorce lawyer working, mostly, the Paris beat. Within days the ACLU added to the team Arthur Garfield Hays, Malone’s New York partner.

As publicity widened, Chattanooga tried to steal the spotlight with a test case of its own. This effort ended when Daytonites threatened to boycott Chattanooga stores and Judge John T. Raulston called a special session of the grand jury on May 25 to indict Scopes. He set the trial for July 10.

July 4, 1925, was the hottest day on record in Atlanta up to that time. The mercury hit 101.2 degrees. That was the weekend I went to Dayton, which, rimmed by hills, was no whit cooler.

The train paused just long enough for me to get off and hustle over to the Hotel Aqua on Main Street for its seventy-five-cent lunch, a meal consisting of an entrée, nine vegetables —each in a separate dish—pie, cheese, and coffee. As I ate, an overhead fan pawed in futility at the overheated air.

The Aqua was a two-story structure with thirty-five rooms, perhaps two of which had private baths. For those like myself the bath was a long hike down the hall. At 6:30 A.M. a boy rambled through the corridors ringing a cowbell to awaken guests. Those not in the dining room by 7:15 missed breakfast. Lights were supposed to be out by 9:30 P.M., an impossible hour for working newsmen.

People on the street were eager to impart news. The city fathers, expecting thousands of visitors, had ruled that there be no price gouging, an edict that few took literally, however fundamental might be their views about the Bible. Private homes would be opened for five thousand persons.

Aside from the expectant air Dayton could have been any one of a hundred towns in the South of the mid-twenties. Men dressed in shirt-sleeves and lightweight trousers; those from the country often wore blue shirts and overalls with an occasional wide-brimmed, flopping straw hat. There were a few flappers with knee-length dresses and bobbed hair, but most women dressed more sedately. Those from farms often wore sunbonnets.

Unlike cities outside the South, where speakeasies flourished, Dayton was not a town in which alcoholic beverages were an accepted part of social life. Nine churches were well attended, and the favorite drinking spots were two drugstores where the principal demand was for lemon Coke and ice-cream sodas. There was plenty of liquor in the hills, but strangers ventured there at the risk of being mistaken for revenue agents.

Only Main and Market streets were paved. Along the others, as on the highways leading into town, each automobile left a swirling cloud of dust. Most machines were Ford touring cars, selling for $295 f.o.b. Detroit, but Buicks, Dodges, Studebakers, and a few Packards were visible.


Instead of standing on a square in the center of the marketplace as in most southern towns, the county courthouse was about two blocks from Main Street, on a tree-shaded, grassy plot of several acres. It was a three-story red brick structure with a tower and a clock that banged the hours. A hand pump stood beside the door, and out beyond the oak trees privies were being built for visitors. Inside, the courthouse had been freshly painted. The courtroom, sixty-five feet square with a high ceiling, held on one side a low platform on which were the judge’s bench, tables for opposing counsel, and a witness chair. A rail separated this enclosure from spectator seats.

Around the rail a pine board had been nailed into place for the use of reporters with noiseless typewriters who had to write and send their copy as the story of the trial developed. Much of this space had been allotted to the Associated Press, United Press, International News Service, and other important agencies. Their reporters would work beside Morse operators whose silent transmitters would send the words as they were typed.

The town bore many signs of the coming attraction. J. R. Darwin’s drygoods store had a banner proclaiming “Darwin’s Right—Inside.” Others along the street emphasized the monkey theme: “Don’t monkey around when you come to Dayton—come to us” and “We handle every kind of meat except monkey.” There were other signs, too: “Come to Jesus,” “Prepare to meet thy Maker,” “Read your Bible daily,” and “Be sure your sins will find you out.”