Several years ago, on a road trip exploring the south eastern United States, and routing our trip through places that our AAA guide mentions and we think might be fun or interesting, we passed through Dayton Tennessee. Now you might remember Dayton from you history classes or from some mention of it when people bring up evolution. Dayton was where the trial took place because a teacher, John Scopes, was accused of teaching human evolution in a State funded school. This was in 1925 and the trial made major news all around the world.
Now Dayton is and was a small town. (population 7,313 in 2012; 1,800 in 1925 and it is estimated that more than 10,000 attended the trial each day) There are no tourist draws like a theme park, historic battle ground, biggest bunnock, or the like to draw in visitors. There is only the trial – from 1925 – to bring notoriety, and ultimately tourists, to the town.
On our drive toward the remote town of Dayton, Tennessee we noticed that the outskirts of the town had graveyards. Lots of graveyards. So many that we really started wondering about the town. Now we like a good cemetery and have visited several of them on our trips, but the quantity was alarming. Remember, this has never been a big town.
As fate would have it, we took the wrong fork and accidentally passed the town. We were one block off and didn’t notice the town. So we stopped at a convenient store to ask where the old courthouse was located. There was an old pickup truck parked outside. Walking into the store felt more like walking in to someone’s living room. Someone who liked to hunt and whose wife didn’t mind having his buddies hanging around. A living room where people get quiet when you walk in the room. I asked for directions and the guy at the counter explained how we had missed the main thoroughfare. Just before I went back to the car I mentioned, “There sure are a lot of graveyards around here” and got the reply, “no more than normal.” I was suitably creeped out.
When I hopped back in the car I relayed the information to Briget, she too was creeped out and we headed back toward town and the Old Courthouse.
Now that we were on the main strip we saw that there were few businesses that were not real estate agents. Startlingly few. There were more than your average number of graveyards surrounding the town and lots of real estate agents within the town. We postulated that the agents keep killing off residents so they can get commissions for the same property over and over again. We’re not conspiracy theorists, but this was too good to not speculate on. Either way, it entertained us.
The Old Courthouse was enjoyable, and very informative, but nothing beat the single sheet of copy paper folded to be a brochure that highlighted important places in the town.
The last started with places like the Old Courthouse and the hotel where the reporters stayed during the trial. From there it started seeming like it was reaching a bit. All I remember is that one of the last entries was something like, ‘None of the original structure still stands but part of the fence wall on the side was standing at the time of the trial.’
These things may make light of the day but I have to say that the trip was worth it and memorable, if for no other reason than the history that was made there. We had a great time, had plenty to talk about, and the little town of Dayton has stayed in our minds as one of the highlights of our trip. We have even discussed going back!