I get a lot of questions each week about Dayton, the Scopes Trial, and how I anticipate the local community will respond to my book. So I thought I’d take this Friday morning to answer a few of the most frequently asked questions for those of you who are history buffs…or nosy...or just like monkeys.
Q: Have you seen Inherit the Wind?
A: Yes, but as a good Daytonite I feel obligated to remind everyone that Inherit the Wind is only loosely based on the Scopes Trial. In fact, Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee wrote the play in response to McCarthyism back in the early 1950s, so much of the story is complete fiction. (Inherit the Wind was supposed to be a bit like Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, which also served as an allegory to McCarthy Trials.) To tell you the truth, there aren’t many Inherit the Wind fans in Dayton because the play and the film make the residents of “Hillsboro” appear ignorant and backwards, and because so many people get all their information about the trial from that source alone. If you want a more accurate picture of the Scopes Trial, consider reading Edward Larson’s Pulitzer Prize winning account, Summer for the Gods, or check out the PBS “American Experience” documentary on the subject.
Q: How do people from Dayton feel about the title of your book—“Evolving in Monkey Town”?
A: I don’t know, and I wasn’t really that concerned about it until recently. See, a few weeks ago,MainStreet Dayton, a local organization that funds and organizes events in the downtown area, announced with a big, colorful billboard an event they called the “Monkey Town Mardi Gras,” scheduled for March 6. The billboard, located just north of town, included a picture of cute cartoon monkey wearing a hat and mardi gras beads. When I saw it, I thought to myself, “Oh good. People around here embrace Dayton’s colorful history, including the whole ‘Monkey Town” thing. I’ve got nothing to worry about.”
Well, three days later, the vinyl on the billboard was ripped off so that only shreds of it remained.
It stayed that way for nearly a week before it was replaced with this:
The very same billboard, but without the “Monkey Town.”
So now I’m a little paranoid. I love the title of my book, and I wouldn’t dream of changing it. I can only hope my friends and neighbors will have a sense of humor about it, recognizing that the Scopes Monkey Trial is a part of our history—for better or for worse. In fact, as I explain in my book, the idea to host the Scopes Trial in Dayton came from local politicians and businessmen who hoped a high-publicity test trial might bring some much-needed attention to the town in the 1920s, when the local coal mining companies were really struggling. Any expert on the trial will tell you that it essential began as a publicity stunt. The way I see it, we can either pretend the whole thing didn’t happen or embrace it with a smile.
Q: What do you think of William Jennings Bryan?
WJB was a fascinating character, and the more I’ve learned about him over the years, the less I’ve been able to box the guy in. Sure, he was a bit of a Bible-thumper, but he also supported women’s suffrage, advocated for the rights of laborers and farmers, and so passionately opposed U.S. involvement in World War I that he resigned as Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson. He was a prohibitionist, a trust-buster, an anti-imperialist, and a (borderline obsessive) proponent of Free Silver. In fact, I would say that his performance on the witness stand during the Scopes Trial was a low moment for WJB. He was not well prepared, and he should never have allowed Darrow to cross-examine him. Interestingly enough, if you read the transcript from the Scopes Trial you will see that Bryan did not necessarily believe in a literal seven-day creation, but conceded that the “days” described in Genesis may have simply been “periods.”
Q: How will people at Bryan College react to your book?
A: I’m not sure. In a lot of ways, I have strayed from what I was taught at Bryan. I can no longer support young earth creationism in good conscience. I’m not exactly a strict religious exclusivist anymore. I voted for Barack Obama in 2008, support gay rights, and prefer the word “inspired” to “inerrant” when describing the Bible. I would hope that my desire to follow Jesus and my commitment to orthodox Christianity would be enough to keep me in the Bryan College fold, but this remains to be seen. My biggest fear is that my parents will catch flack over my book. They have been nothing but encouraging, supportive, and understanding throughout this whole process, and I'll be really disappointed if they are ostracized because of something I wrote. I worked especially hard to portray my experiences in Dayton and at Bryan College in a favorable, yet truthful, light, and I’ve spent hours and hours double-checking the manuscript to make sure that I am fair, considerate, and honest. At the end of the day, I can be confident and at peace knowing that I did my best to write with integrity. How people respond is out of my control. (Read: I worry about it all the time.)
Q: This book sounds like a work of literary genius. How can I pre-order it?
A: Why, thank you for asking! You can order it now on Amazon for the low, low price of just $10.19. The book will be released in June/July.
So, do you have any more questions about Dayton, The Scopes Trial, or the book?
What about you? Is YOUR hometown famous for anything? (Please include food, if applicable.)