DAYTON, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee town known for the famed 1925 “Scopes monkey trial” saw no protesters Friday as it unveiled a statue of the lawyer who argued for evolution near a sculpture of his creationism-advocating legal rival.
About 75 people were on hand at the Rhea County Courthouse in Dayton as officials revealed the statue of skeptic Clarence Darrow, who argued for evolution. His likeness stands on the opposite side of the courthouse from a 2005 statue of William Jennings Bryan, the Christian defender of biblical creationism.
Though pockets of opposition to the statue exist due to religious objections, no protesters showed at Friday’s ceremony for the sculpture championed by atheists. Some attendees donned 1920s-era garb for the festivities.
The new statue hasn’t drawn teeming crowds like the ones that forced some 1925 trial proceedings to be moved outdoors. Historians say the trial started as a publicity stunt for the small town, and it succeeded in grabbing plenty of national headlines.
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The one small hitch Friday had nothing to do with public backlash – the group had trouble peeling off the black cloth that covered the statue. Former Star Trek actor John de Lancie used an umbrella to help pry it off the Darrow sculpture’s head.
Philadelphia-based sculptor Zenos Frudakis crafted the Darrow statue, funded largely by $150,000 from the Freedom from Religion Foundation. The group said the project would remedy the imbalance of Bryan standing alone.
Historians say the trial came about after local leaders convinced John Thomas Scopes, a 24-year-old high school teacher, to answer the American Civil Liberties Union’s call for someone who could help challenge Tennessee’s law that banned teaching evolution. He was found guilty but didn’t spend time in jail.
Bryan, a three-time Democratic candidate for president, died just five days after the trial ended.
Formally known as Tennessee vs. John Thomas Scopes, the case was immortalized in songs, books, plays and movies.
The unveiling Friday helped kicked off Dayton’s annual Scopes Trial festival, a 10-day event featuring a theatrical production.
Mattise reported from Nashville, Tennessee.