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The Scopes Monkey Trial  (Dayton, Tennessee) 

(Reprint from News: July 8, 2001)

July 8, 2001


Dayton, Tennessee was only a few miles away, so I drove over there that afternoon and got a room at a place called the Kelly Motel.   Whoever Kelly is, I'm sure he's a nice guy but his motel was a bit of a dump and, worst of all, there weren't any non-smoking rooms.  That night, while breathing in the equivalent of two packs of Marlboros, I made a vow to never again stay in a smoking room... or in a dingy motel.  I should've slept in my truck out in the parking lot, but I'd already paid my $32 and, dammit, I was going to sleep in that room even if it killed me -- which it nearly did.


After gladly saying goodbye to the Kelly Motel on Sunday morning, I headed into downtown Dayton to visit the Rhea County Courthouse, site of the Scopes "Monkey" Trial, where the high-school teacher John Scopes was put on trial back in 1925 for... horrors!... teaching the theory of evolution.  I'd wanted to visit Dayton ever since I read about the Monkey Trial in my high school English class, about the only worthwhile thing I did in that class. 


I was surprised, though, that no one else was there poking around the courthouse grounds, but I suppose that rural Dayton is pretty far off the beaten tourist path.  Nevertheless, it was interesting to walk around the courthouse and imagine Clarence Darrow battling William Jennings Bryan -- and just about everyone else in the very religious state of Tennessee.  Not surprisingly, Darrow and Scopes lost, but the ruling was later overturned.  


Around noon, as the thermometer topped 100 degrees, I left Dayton and drove east towards the Smoky Mountains.  The eastern Tennessee countryside is really scenic with lots of green, rolling hills and small truck farms (where they grow small trucks, what else?).  Like I say, this being my first trip to eastern Tennessee, I was half-expecting to see hillbillies sitting on their front porches playing the banjo and sipping moonshine, but actually this area is fairly modern -- although it is pretty poor.  It was also pretty muggy and I couldn't figure out why anyone would willingly live here, at least during the summer. 


Southerners are probably the nicest folks in America, but they're apparently not too smart.  Of course, that's probably what Southerners say about people like me who live in rainy Oregon.



Above left:  Downtown Dayton, Tennessee was a busy place in July, 1925 during the Scopes "Monkey Trial."  It's a lot quieter these days.

Above center:  The Rhea County Courthouse in Dayton, scene of the "Monkey Trial."  A few days after the teacher John Scopes was convicted, the prosecutor, William Jennings Bryan, died here in Dayton... and on a Sunday, no less.  I parked under a shady elm tree here Sunday morning and ate lunch in my truck while listening to an entertaining preacher on the radio.  Listening to the preacher, it was easy to envision Bryan preaching to the jury.

Above right:  After traveling through the steamy South for a few weeks, it was a real treat to climb the Great Smoky Mountains and cool off.  Here's my truck at 4,400 feet.  My elation was short-lived, though, because I soon headed down into the steamy lowlands of North Carolina.


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