Sunday, July 17, 2005

A lawyer, an orator, and a monkey

My mom is still in town, and for a change of pace we decided to leave Nashville and head to Dayton, TN to see a reenactment of the 1925 Scopes Monkey trial, which pitted famed orator William Jennings Bryan against well-known attorney and ACLU crony Clarence Darrow in an attempt to enforce a Tennessee state law against the teaching of evolution in biology classes. Interestingly, it turns out that the whole trial was more-or-less for show. The defendant volunteered to be the "test case," Bryan had publicly stated that he wanted to defend the bible in court, and the local Chamber of Commerce mainly saw the trial as a way to bring in tourists and attract national media attention. (Not realizing, it seems, that they had for all time condemned their town to become a poster-child for irrational religious fundamentalism.)

Indeed, it seems that the trial was accompanied by the sort of media circus we've come to expect when famous people have their day in court. In a technological coup, WGN radio in Chicago provided a live broadcast from the courtroom during the trial, newspapers wrote about it incessantly, souvenir vendors hawked trial memoribilia, and someone even brought a trained monkey to town and exhibited him playing piano, using a camera, and smoking a pipe.

The reenactment boils days of trial down into a two-hour play, but it gives you a pretty accurate idea of how things went down -- the History Channel has been filming this week's reenactments for an upcoming documentary.

Overall, it was a pretty fascinating experience. I took a ton of pictures, but unfortunately I left my camera cable back in Nashville so you'll have to wait until I get back to see any of them.

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