New York Times Article (Full Text)

Head Note: The New York Times covered the Scopes trial extensively. Its editorials condemned the Butler Act and sided with the defense. As you read, think about how a newspaper from New York City portrayed a small Tennessee town. Dayton’s population in 1925 was 1,800.

Cranks and Freaks Flock to Dayton

Strange Creeds and Theories Are Preached and Sung Within Shadows of the Court House.


Visitors for the Opening day of the Scopes Trial Are Mostly Tennessean Mountaineers.

Special to the New York Times.

DAYTON, Tenn., July 10.- Tennessee came to Dayton today in overalls, gingham and black to attend the trial of John Thomas Scopes for the teaching of evolution. The Tennesseans -- and nearly all the visitors were Tennesseans --came from mountain farms near Dayton, where work, usually begun at daylight, had been deserted so that gaunt, tanned, toil-worn men and women and shy children might be in the Rhea County Court House by 9 o'clock to see William Jennings Bryan's "duel to the death" with "the enemies of the Bible."

The expected horde of visitors from distant points had not materialized --at least not yet.

Those "who did come today came in small automobile, bult high because of rocky mountain roads. They came in wagons fitted with settees and chairs and drawn by big-legged horses and small-legged mules. Some came on foot. all were sober-faced, tight-lipped, expressionless, for they were to witness, it seemed to them, a "battle for the Lord.

They overflowed the crowded courtroom, where only the earliest comers found seats, onto the great lawn of the court house shaded by newly white-washed maples and newly planted with strange pipes, where one pressed a button and bent to drink for relief from the sun which beat down upon the village. they sat on the benches of an open-air tabernacle, improvised by an itinerant evangelist, who had a pulpit against a wall of the building.

Listen to volunteer Evangelists.

They stood in groups under the trees, listening to volunteer and lay evangelists, moved by the occasion to speak for the "Word." They listened to blind minstrels, who sang mountain hymns with promises of reward for the weary and faithful, to other minstrels who sang more worldly songs, and to a string quartet of negroes. They walked up and down hot, dusty Market Street, with its squat one and two story buildings, hung with banners, as for a carnival in which religion and business had become strangely mixed, lined with soda-water, sandwich and book stalls.

They sat on the steps of grocery stores amon watermelons, roasting ears, early harvest apples and tomatoes, and they stood about a peddler who auctioned shoes, calico and notions, bidding cautiosly, for the East Tennessean loves a bargain. They even experimented with a slot machine in which one dropped a nickel and got five brass checks good for a quarter once in a while, or more often a stick of gum.

But most of them remained on the court house lawn, for there, at least, they could be near Mr. Bryan, who was to defend their trust in the infallibility of the Bible, and could hear the evangelists and the minstrels. To the preaching they listened silently, without expression. They had heard it all before.

They read, too, the signs on the trees: "Read your Bible daily" and "Be sure your sins will find you out." And slowly, without expression, they read a larger one hung at the front gate of the lawn, which was headed "the Kingdom of God," and continued:

"The sweetheart love of Jesus Christ and Paradise Street is at hand. Do you want to be a sweet angel? Forty days of prayer. Itemize your sins and iniquities for eternal life. If you come clean, God will talk back to you in voice."

Minstrel Sings of Heaven.

The minstrels seemed to stir them most. Will Grissom, a blind man with a portable organ, sat at the iron fence at Market Street, only half shaded from the broiling sun, playing mountain hymns, while scores of men and women stood or sat in the grass listening raptly, their eyes shining as the blind man sang:

We read of a place called Heaven:
It's made for the pure and the free.
These truths in tgod's Word he hath given--
How beautiful Heaven must be!

Stanza after stanza the blind man sang, and after every stanza the refrain "How beautiful Heaven must be," and the faces of the standing men softened and the women who sat under the trees closed their eyes. When the blind man had finished with the promise of Heaven for the weary, a score of men came with coins in gnarled hands and dropped them carefully in his faded, black hat.

A little way off, Charley Oaks, another blind man, played on a guitar and mouth organ, or played the guitar and sang lighter songs, in the tunes of which were the measures of the Virginia reel and the plaintive notes of ancient ballads to which new words had been written. One extolled indirectly, and by ridicule of the Kaiser, the prowess of the American soldier. The crowd liked it, for many of them had served overseas with the Thirtieth Division and came of the same mountain stock which bred the Tennessean Sergeant Alvin York. Oaks sang it to the tune of Frankie and Johnny," and one stanza ran:

Hindenburg said to the Kaiser,
"You'd better get your gun,"
The Kaiser said to Hindenburg,
"Just give me room to run--
I see the boys of your Uncle Sam."

But, while the crowds listened to the evangelists and the minstrels, and accepted pamphlets with chapter and verse citations for Bible reading and took copies of a weekly newspaper. The Conflict recently established to combat evolution, they almost uniformly after a few moments satisfied their curiosity about the cranks and the preachers of strange ideas who have descended upon Dayton like a visitation of locusts.

Georgia Preacher is ignored.

One of the preachers, who traveled up from Georgia in a bungalow on wheels, wearing an opera hat, an alpaca coat and an ancient pair of trousers similar to those worn by policemen, found no buyers at all for a pamphlet and presently no listeners to a speech expounding a weird theory that the negro is not human. The Tennessee mountaineer is no "nigger hater." In fact, he fought in the Union Army to help free the negro, and since he is a man of fixed ideas he shows no desire to listen to attacks on the negro.

Negroes mingled freely with white persons on the lawn of the court house, and last night when T.T. Martin, an evangelist, preached in the open air tabernacle many of his hearers were black. The strange persons with strange causes are getting discouraged already, and it seems as if even those who are less peculiar and whose purposes are understood by the mountaineer are not going to make him alter his ways.

The East Tennessean is almost the counterpart of the Connecticut Yankee. He came from the same stock in the British Isles and moved into the hills more than a century ago from Viginia and North Carolina, and there has been no foreign infiltration to change even the names of Britons and Celts. Dayton is filled with Darwins-- descendants it seems of the Darwins, which bred the originator of the Darwinian theory--Bolens, who might if they cared trace kinship with the family which bred Anne Boleyn who became the Queen of Henry VIII. : Pachams, Rogerses, Morgans, Haggards, Fishers, Broaduses, McKenzies, Simses and Robinsons. They are as proud of their origin as the Connecticut Yankee, as deliberate, as impassive and as thrifty of speech and of money. They are not to be urged as has been said, into acting otherwise than usual.

Bryan's Books Fail to Sell

No one, for instance, has yet persuaded them to buy many books for or against evolution, not even Mr. Bryan's. An enterprising young man came over from Chattanooga with many volumes. There were among them "Famous Figures of the Old Testament," "In His Image" and "The Bible and its Enemies," all by Mr. Bryan, but late this afternoon not a single copy had been sold. Neither had they bought "God--or Gorilla" by Alfred McCann. They sold for as much as $3.50 each, so few Tennesseans bought and there were few buyers. The young man admitted that he had sold some volumes which sold for twenty-five cents and fifty, but no purchaser bought more than one. The best seller was entitled "Puddle to Paradise" by B.H. Shadduck, Ph.D., author of "Jocko-Home Heaven-bound." "Hell and the High Schools," "Evolution or Christ?" by T.T. Martin, and "the Evolution Issue" by the same author. Henry Fairfield Osborn's recent work, "The Earth Speaks to Bryan," remains unsold in Robinson's drug store, but it may be that Dayton does not care much for reading.

Robinson's drug store is also the town's sole book shop, with most of its stock of books consisting of "motion picture editions" and more recent editions of fiction, a half hundred volumes in all.

Two young women who brought from Chattanooga a cartoon which seemed to bear a resemblance to the lineaments of Mr. Bryan; yet also resembled an anthropoid, under which was printed "he denies his lineage," were more fortunate than the young bookseller. They sold copies at 15 cents each to the younger men of dayton, who, however, required considerable urging.

There was a bungalow automobile advertising Tampa, Fla., but this, like that of the strange preacher from Georgia, was ignored.

Near the court house is a large tent where Tom's Comedians announce that they will play tonight for visitors and celebrities, but only the celebrities will be left to see them, for most of the visitors were mountain folk and and the minute the first session of the trial was completed at 3:30 o'clock all these farmers piled their families into their Fords and wagons and drove to their homes. They were still in their overalls, of course, and there was plenty of daylight left to resume work in their hillside fields.

Source: Excerpt from a front page New York Times article, “Cranks and Freaks Flock to Dayton.” July 11, 1925.