- Historic Sites
Three Weeks In Dayton
The “Monkey Trial” brought two ideologies into a great conflict, and it was very, very hot
June 1975 | Volume 26, Issue 4
Several days before the trial peddlers moved in with novelties manufactured for the occasion: stuffed cotton monkeys, watch fobs, pennants, and a wide assortment of books and pamphlets. In my collection is a watch fob on which is graven the figure of a monkey wearing a straw hat. Strange people, some with live monkeys, roamed the streets. T. T. Martin, white-haired secretary of the Anti-Evolution League, peddled his book, Hell in the High Schools . On the courthouse lawn a tent was set up to serve as a barbecue stand.
There were only driblets of news in these days before the trial began. The telephone company set up a pressroom with typewriters, tables, ice water, and fans. The Chicago Tribune installed equipment in the courtroom for remote-control broadcasts through its radio station, WGN. And reporters collected such bits of information as might justify expense accounts.
Bryan was met by a friendly crowd at the railroad station and escorted to the pleasant home of Richard Rogers. That night he sat beside Scopes at a banquet given by the Dayton Progressive Club and learned that the two had attended the same school in Illinois a generation apart, and that he had been the speaker when Scopes graduated.
During the next few days Bryan, with a pith helmet to protect him from the sun, became a familiar figure on Dayton streets. He sampled a strawberry soda at Robinson’s Drugstore. He visited the county school board and told its members he had studied Greek and Latin and had nine college degrees, not mentioning that most of them were honorary.
Despite the decree of city fathers prices began to edge up as visitors arrived. The Associated Press staff of six men moved into the Hotel Aqua. Then the hotel raised its rates to eight dollars a day for bed and board. This meant that we were paying $336 a week for meals plus two rooms equipped with two washstands with pitchers and bowls, two double beds, two cots, and a long wait for the bathroom down the hall.
William F. Caldwell, the southern division news editor, who had come for a brief stay, went scouting and found a family that was willing to move into its garage and rent us a three-bedroom house for seventy-five dollars a week. Here, after Caldwell had left, Brian Bell, Plautus I. “Pete” Lipsey, and I could work at all hours.
Because of my meeting with Bryan in Atlanta he fell to my lot in Dayton, and he had not lost his feel for public relations. When word came that he was preparing a preliminary statement, there was a general rush for his office. He answered questions, then looked about the room, his gaze passing over famous correspondents, until he saw the unknown A.P. reporter from Atlanta. “Associated Press,” he said, and passed the top copy to me, unerringly giving it to the agency that could provide the widest distribution.
The statement, long since forgotten, said it would be better for Tennessee to give up its schools than its Bible.
Dudley Field Malone and his wife, Doris Stevens, caused a stir at the Aqua when they registered under separate names but asked for the same accommodations. Malone, like Bryan, had quit the State Department in protest, Bryan against war policies, Malone opposing the Wilson attitude toward suffragettes. After a divorce in France, Malone had married one of them.
For the prosecution the local star was Ben McKenzie. Noted for his rural humor, he bore the honorary title “General.” But the real ball carrier for the prosecution was A. T. “Tom” Stewart, the district attorney, who later would serve in the United States Senate. Studious, conscientious, well schooled in state legal procedures, he worked hard to keep the trial moving and in the end sought to save Bryan from his fatal mistake.
Judge Raulston, who served by election, came a day or so before the trial, bringing his wife and daughters from his home at Winchester. He was paunchy, and a little pompous in his efforts to be homey, addressing all visiting attorneys as “Colonel.”
Darrow arrived the night before the trial. Despite stories of Tennessee’s hatred for evolution and agnostics, he found townsfolk friendly. A banker opened his home to Mr. and Mrs. Darrow, and a neighbor filled the icebox with milk, cream, butter, and a juicy cantaloupe. He shed the airs of the city and was accepted easily by Dayton people.
Court opened on Friday in a room jammed with spectators. Reporters had to protect their seats from invaders, many of them from Rhea County’s farms and hills. Some of these people found their greatest hope for happiness in biblical promises of a hereafter, and Bryan was their hero, defender of the faith. When their champion entered the courtroom, coatless and collarless in the heat, they cheered as if it were the start of a cockfight, an event not altogether unknown in their hills.