Going ape in Dayton, TN

Friday, August 3rd, 2007 | All Things, Eats, Travel

That morning, we retraced our path to Dayton, Tennessee to pay a visit to the Rhea County Courthouse, site of the Scopes Monkey Trial.

It was a scorchingly hot day when we rolled into historic downtown Dayton. Just outside the still-working courthouse, a street was lined with about a dozen produce vendors, selling gorgeous, vibrantly-colored, homegrown fruits and vegetables from the backs of pick-up trucks. Also, jars of homemade preserves and “chow-chow,” which I learned from J (our resident expert on all things Southern), is a sweet, pickled relish traditionally utilizing vegetables abundant in summer’s harvest.

Dayton produce

Dayton produce

A plaque on the lawn outside the courthouse reads: “Here, from July 10 to 21, 1925, John Thomas Scopes, a county high school teacher, was tried for teaching that man descended from a lower order of animals, in violation of a lately passed state law. William Jennings Bryan assisted the prosecution: Clarence Darrow, Arthur Garfield Hays and Dudley Field Malone the defense. Scopes was convicted.” (The jury returned its verdict in nine minutes, and 25-year old Scopes was fined $100. He never returned to teaching.) The landmarked red brick courthouse was built in 1891, and restored for $1 million upon the completion of the Scopes Trial Museum in 1979. Every year, the town of Dayton and its Christian Bryan College – named for the prosecutor in the case — sponsor a re-enactment of the trial that is the town’s claim to fame.

We toured the two basement rooms of the museum (through which you could also access the one-room Rhea County Heritage Museum with its displays on the county’s notable native sons), which tells the story of the trial with large-scale black-and-white photos, newspaper clippings, memorabilia and information about the trial’s major players. On the way out, we had a rather eyebrow-raising conversation with the museum guide (during which I studiously had to avoid eye contact with my friends), in which he flatly rejected the notion that man could have descended from apes. I won’t rehash here, except to say that his strongest argument against the theory of evolution was to point out that one of the monkeys outfitted in a three-piece suit for the Scopes trial ultimately died, whereas human men were able to tolerate the intense Tennessee heat, “proving” once and for all the disparity between the species.

Would that I were joking.

Dayton Courthouse

Afterwards, we strolled along the two to three deserted blocks comprising the downtown area, and drawn to the old-school looks of it, decided to lunch at the Dayton Coffee Shop and Restaurant. The dining room was packed full of locals – most a good couple of decades our elders – and like every other eating establishment so far, the daily specials were handwritten on a board mounted to the wall.

Dayton Coffee Shop

By 1PM, the coffee shop was out of catfish, so S and I once again had vegetable plates. (Mac n’ cheese, by the way, apparently counts as a vegetable in Dayton. Not kidding.) As we expected, desserts were homemade — and at about $1.50 apiece, so inexpensive, it seemed almost silly not to try them: the egg custard and coconut cream pies, and a warm peach cobbler made with canned peaches, just like (J’s) grandma used to make.

Dayton desserts

There are 7 Comments ... Going ape in Dayton, TN

August 9, 2007

Take your stinking paws off me you damn dirty ape! (NOTE: it’s not Get or Hands, but rather Take and Paws, for reals).

August 10, 2007

I guess evolution was a dealbreaker between you and that guide, VIP? 😉

August 10, 2007

I suppose so! Who (besides you) knew there could be such a thing? The list just keeps on growing…

August 10, 2007

HYB, from what I saw and gleaned, the states of TN and KY would be dealbreakers for you (and most of us!) Horrid.

August 10, 2007

“I hate every ape I see
from Chimpan A to Chimpan Z
No you’ll never make a monkey out of me.
Oh my god, I was wrong.
It was Earth, all along.
Well you’ve finally made a monkey
(Yes we’ve finally made a monkey)
Well you’ve finally made a monkey out of me!”

January 6, 2008

That monkey museum guide was using some kind of new logic that hasn’t made it out to the rest of the world yet. Sounds real avant garde to me! 😉

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