Dayton, Tennessee is a tiny town of around 7,000 people.
In 1925 an event took place there that made it world famous.
It was known as ‘The Trial Of The Century’.
The State of Tennessee had passed an act which made it illegal to teach evolution in state schools.
A young science teacher, John Scopes, was found to have been doing just that.
He was arrested and brought to trial.
Two of the most famous legal minds in America headed the opposite side in the case.
Three-time Presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan headed up the prosecution.
Famous lawyer Clarence Darrow headed up the defence.
The trial set the modernists against the fundamentalists.
The main case for the defence was that The Bible was not meant to be taken completely literally.
The fundamentalist argued for the prosecution that every word of The Bible was the absolute literal truth.
The literal truth.
So mankind was descended from Adam and Eve.
And teaching that we were descended from monkeys was blasphemy.
Throughout the trial, Williams Jennings Bryan was keen to show off his knowledge of The Bible.
Being a Presidential candidate, he’d been doing this for many years and was proud of it.
The defence masterstroke came towards the end of the trail.
In a brilliant move, they called Williams Jennings Bryan, the prosecutor, to the stand.
As an expert on The Bible.
The judge at first refused to allow it, but Bryan himself insisted.
This was his chance to show off his Biblical knowledge.
Once on the stand, the defence was able to demonstrate just what nonsense Bryan’s case was.
And they ridiculed his insistence that the The Bible was historical fact.
It was science versus dogma.
Their exchange became the high point of the trial, and all the subsequent media coverage.
But what impressed me most was something very few people know about that trial. It was a publicity stunt.
In 1925. The American Civil Liberties Union had run an ad offering to finance the defence of anyone caught teaching evolution.
Three locals from the little town of Dayton were discussing the ad in the local drugstore.
Walter White the school superintendent, Sue K. Hicks a local attorney, and George Rappelyea, a representative for the local coal and iron company.
Rappelyea said “This could be just the thing to put our little town on the map. Think of the income a trial like this could generate.”
They asked a 24 year old substitute teacher, John Scopes, if he’d agree to do it.
He said he couldn’t remember if he’d ever taught evolution or not.
They said it didn’t matter, he could pretend he had.
And they persuaded three high school students to testify that he had.
And that’s how ‘The Trial Of the Century’ happened.
At the time there were millions of words by hundreds of reporters, in newspapers, magazines, books, and radio coverage all over the world.
In the decades since, there have been films and TV shows, starring Hollywood superstars like Kirk Douglas, Spencer Davis, Jack Lemmon, and George C Scott.
The revenue generated by that trial made Dayton famous and its residents wealthy.
Even today, there’s still a thriving tourist industry.
People coming to visit the museum, the schoolhouse and court house where it all happened.
To stay overnight, eat at the restaurants, and buy souveniers.
85 years later, tourist dollars are still coming into Dayton, Tennessee, population 7,000.
And that’s how three people chatting in a small local drugstore put their little town on the map.
The article first appeared on Campaign UK