The 1925 Scopes Trial in Dayton, Tennessee, was the first trial broadcast around the world on clear channel radio. The trial had the compelling topic of evolution vs. creationism and the presence of Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan as attorneys, respectively, for the defense and the prosecution.
Journalists from around the country flocked to tiny Dayton, Tennessee.
Each year the community of Dayton marks the July anniversary of the trial by hosting a "Scopes Trial Play and Festival." The highlight has been the presentation of a play in the original Rhea County courtroom where the trial was held. That play featured dialogue from the transcript of the trial itself.
This year, however, the play took a different path. Dayton area residents Tom Morgan and Curtis Lipps produced a different work that looked at how the trial came to be. Mr. Lipps authored "One Hot Summer," a new take on the infamous trial.
We recently visited Dayton, Tennessee, and toured the basement courthouse museum of the Scopes Trial. We then ventured to the second floor of the 19th century structure to look at the large courtroom that was the scene of the trial. Once there, we encountered a gentleman sitting in the front row of the courtroom where he was going over notes. He asked whether we there because of interest in the trial.
The well-mannered gentleman introduced himself to us and told of us of the play, the context of the times, and the history of the town in the Scopes era. One vignette that Mr. Lipps related is captured in the video above.
There are several visitors to FWOb who regularly read H.L. Mencken's commentary on politics and culture of his day. That's one of the reasons this video is included here.
We also appreciated Mr. Lipp's courtesy and his own wry and informed observations.
More on the Scopes play from Ryan Harris of the Dayton Herald - News:
[Mr. Lipp's noted,]"It's the most important trial of the 20th century and is still debated today,"
The Scopes trial challenged the Butler Act — a law in Tennessee that banned the teaching of evolution in public schools. The court proceeding is often referred to as the monkey trial because of the debate that man evolved from primates.
The trial spurred a spirited debate between Christians steeped in belief that God created man and others who believe man evolved.
The play [ ... ] focus[es] less on the famous legal battle that pitted Clarence Darrow, the nation's leading defense lawyer of the 1920s, against William Jennings Bryan, three-time Democratic presidential candidate and former Secretary of State.
Instead, the play focuses more on F.E. Robinson, owner of a Dayton drug store, and George Rappelyea, a local mining engineer. Those two teamed together to cook up the plan to land the evolution case in Dayton in order to bolster business.
They recruited teacher John Scopes, who may have never even taught evolution. He taught general math and science but claimed to have covered evolution as a substitute teacher to pull off the trial.
Scopes, who only taught one year in Rhea County, never took the stand during the famous trial.
Lipps said he created this version of the Scopes story in hopes of bringing life back to the festival. His play is based on factual events but has some created to dialogue to add humor to the production.
"After 20 years, everyone had seen the other version of the play," Lipps said. [ ... ]
"Even in this day and age we are faced with the same discussion as in 1925 with creation versus evolution — probably more so today," Larkin said. "This keeps it in view and on the forefront of people's minds."
Of course, the Scope trial was most famously dramatized in the play and film versions of "Inherit the Wind." Fort Wayne native Dick York was cast in the original 1960 movie version as Bertram Cates, the character based on defendant John T. Scopes. You may view a clip of the 1960 version on YouTube. can download the 1999 remake of the movie for viewing for free at HULU.com.
Video credit: Mitch Harper | Fort Wayne Observed.
Additional credits: Tom Davis - Chattanooga Times Free Press; Nordia Epps - WDEF News 12 ;Melissa Snyder - Cleveland Daily Banner; WBGH Boston.