- 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
Time and again as Malone urged that teachers have the right to teach and children the right to learn, he was interrupted by an audience whose basic sympathies were with Bryan. But at the end there was a roar of applause that spread to people listening over loudspeakers on the courthouse lawn. Even the Chattanooga policeman assigned to keep order joined in the applause, rapping his nightstick against the judge’s bench.
I was young and had not heard the thousands of speeches to which I would be exposed in the years ahead, but as I think back, the Malone speech is one of the few I would like to hear again. H. L. Mencken, however, who stood across the courtroom, eyes atwinkle, lips twisted into a wry smile, pretended to be impressed only by the noise. When Malone came back to the defense table, Mencken told him: “Dudley, that was the loudest speech I ever heard.” But later in the afternoon, after the crowd had gone, Bryan said to Malone:
“Dudley, that was the greatest speech I ever heard.”
“Thank you, Mr. Bryan,” replied Malone. “I am sorry it was I who had to make it.”
Through the rest of the day the lawyers wrangled over precedents and abstractions, but the high spot had been passed and the trial was moving rapidly toward its tragic climax.
On Friday Judge Raulston ruled that it was not up to the court to decide which was true, the story of creation as related in Genesis or that depicted in the theory of evolution. He declined to admit the scientific testimony, provoking an angry dispute among attorneys during which Darrow criticized the court so caustically that the judge said:
“I hope you do not mean to reflect on the integrity of this court.”
Darrow thrust thumbs into his suspenders, glared belligerently at the judge, and replied, slowly and distinctly:
“Well, Your Honor has the right to hope.”
Raulston flushed and observed:
“I have a right to do something else, perhaps.”
“All right, all right,” said Darrow, turning his back defiantly upon the judge and walking back to the defense table.
Every reporter with courtroom experience waited in hushed expectancy, certain that Judge Raulston would send Darrow to jail for contempt. Instead, having ruled that the defense might introduce affidavits of what the experts would have testified if permitted, the judge adjourned court over the weekend so that these affidavits might be prepared.
During the weekend many newsmen, including Mencken, left Dayton believing that the trial was finished except for a wrap-up of details on Monday. They knew the gist of the scientific affidavits would be handled by the press associations.
I remember the three days of July 18–20 as the most arduous and uncomfortable of the trial. Our staff received a pile of lengthy papers in affidavit form from anthropologists, divinity teachers, education experts, geologists, preachers, linguists, psychologists, and zoologists. Their language was technical and abstruse. Each statement had to be reduced in length to a thousand words or so, with language simplified for the average reader.
All through Dayton typewriters clattered as reporters tried to wrench meaning from the complex grammar in which the scientists had clothed their beliefs about evolution and religion. The A.P. team hacked away in the heat for hours on end, moving the finished product over our special wire from the courthouse. Sometime during the weekend there was a night thunderstorm. I remember taking a batch of copy to the courthouse for transmission when the thunder, echoing through the valley, was so loud that the telegraph operator and I could hardly hear each other. Lightning in great, vivid flashes glared in the courtroom and lighted the lawn.
When the abstracts of scientific testimony appeared in newspapers, they filled more than four pages of newsprint.
After the work we sank into double beds on sheets that might have been warmed by a stove and lay as far apart as we could, each man sleeping in a puddle of perspiration. All through that stay in Dayton nothing ever seemed to dry. Fresh shirts were stuck to the body before noon. Pajamas were as moist at night as when removed in the morning. Antiperspirants were not on the market, and talcum quickly became a gooey mess. On long campaign trips a few years later train porters would start burning incense in press cars after the second day; we had no such luxury in Dayton.
When the trial opened again on Monday, the reporters went to the courthouse expecting a dreary day of routine proceedings. None dreamed that the day would produce high drama.
Over the weekend Judge Raulston had thought about Darrow’s behavior of Friday, and His Honor walked into the courtroom with a firm step and a stern face. As the first order of business he cited Darrow for contempt and fixed bail at five thousand dollars. Then he agreed that the affidavits of experts might be read into the record for the use of a higher court, and the defense spent the morning reading them.
During the noon recess defense attorneys talked Darrow into apologizing to the court, and he did this—grudgingly. The judge accepted the gesture, and the two shook hands.
At this point word came to the judge that the weight of the crowd in the courtroom was causing the plaster to fall from the ceiling below. It was feared that the building might collapse. Raulston ordered a recess and said the court would reassemble below on a platform that had been used by an evangelist.