Incidental Acts of Spontaneous Cerebral Violence

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

“Station master says 'ol ninety-four's on-time out of Chattanooga and Brady’s on board all right.”

That was my one and only line when I made my high school stage debut as the not-so-immortal Bollinger in the exquisite “Inherit the Wind.” I followed up the line with a (truly horrendous) cornet flourish to herald Matthew Harrison Brady’s arrival from the wings on stage right.

Of all the lines I delivered throughout my high school theater career, that is the only one I can recall verbatim. The cliché is that you always remember your first time. In this case, it’s true as hell. I had the lead in several plays throughout high school and can’t even come up with some of the character names, let alone any dialogue.

Yet, I remember “Inherit the Wind.” I remember almost missing my cue during one performance. I remember struggling with the fucking cornet. And I vividly remember how psyched I was to sit next to Erin Jacobs (she of the revealing lingerie in the school’s winter production of “Noises Off” and the 2-seconds of face time in “Uncle Buck”) throughout all of the trial scenes.

Why is this all flooding back to me today? Well, in addition to Ernest Hemingway (1899) and Robin Williams’s (1952) birthdays and my one-year job anniversary (see below), on July 21, 1925, John T. Scopes was convicted for teaching evolution in the “Monkey Trial” that inspired Lawrence & Lee’s “Inherit the Wind”:
Dayton, Tenn., July 21 -- The trial of John Thomas Scopes for teaching evolution in Tennessee, which Clarence Darrow characterized today as "the first case of its kind since we stopped trying people for witchcraft," is over. Mr. Scopes was found guilty and fined $100, and his counsel will appeal to the Supreme Court of Tennessee for reversal of the verdict. The scene will then be shifted from Dayton to Knoxville, where the case will probably come up on the first Monday in September.

But the end of the trial did not end the battle on evolution, for not long after its conclusion William Jennings Bryan opened fire on Clarence Darrow with a strong statement and a list of nine questions on the basic principles of the Christian religion. To these Mr. Darrow replied and added a statement explaining Mr. Bryan's "rabies." Dudley Field Malone also contributed a statement predicting ultimate victory for evolution and repeating that Mr. Bryan ran away from the fight.

Mr. Scopes, who is hardly more than a boy and whose pleasant demeanor and modest bearing have won him many friends since this case started, was nervous. His voice trembled a little as he folded his arms and said:
"Your Honor, I feel that I have been convicted of violating an unjust statute. I will continue in the future, as I have in the past, to oppose the law in any way that I can. Any other action would be in violation of by idea of academic freedom, that is, to teach the truth as guaranteed in our Constitution, of personal and religious freedom. I think the fine is unjust."
[Excerpted from the original 1925 New York Times article.]

Although Scopes’s conviction was later overturned on appeal, just reading that article gives one pause. Times haven’t necessarily changed as much as we like to think they have. Have they?

Ah, fuck it. That’s it. No more reflection for the remainder of the day. Must not forget to drink heavily, however.

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