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Reframing Scopes

Journalists, Scientists, and Lost Photographs from the Trial of the Century

Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette

April 2008
196 pages, 51 photographs, 7 x 9
Cloth ISBN 978-0-7006-1568-1, $45.00

book cover imageThe plight of John T. Scopes dominated headlines for weeks, but behind the scenes of the famous “Monkey Trial” were other dramas hidden from public view. Now a serendipitous discovery has opened a new window on the “Trial of the Century,” enabling modern readers to comprehend more completely the tensions that gripped a Tennessee community—and the nation—in 1925.

Historian Marcel LaFollette discovered at the Smithsonian a cache of more than sixty never-before-published photographs taken at the Scopes trial. Her research on these photos sheds new light on the proceedings, as well as on the journalists and scientists who gathered for this epic confrontation between science and tradition.

LaFollette takes readers behind the scenes to witness the trial from the perspective of journalist-photographers Watson Davis and Frank Thone, who had come to cover the trial but became informal liaisons between defense attorneys and the scientific community. They observed visitors and events and even befriended John Scopes in the years following the trial. Their impressions offer new views of Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan and reveal the role of fascinating characters like George Washington Rappleyea, the cocky promoter who saw the trial as a way to bring publicity, tourists, and new business to Dayton.

These photos—trial witnesses and visiting celebrities, an outdoor baptism service, defiant ministers assembled in front of a Dayton church—help ground the Scopes trial in southern religion and culture and relate it to a time and place on the cusp of change. The notes of Davis and Thone preserve keen observations of personalities and events, while letters between Scopes and the two reporters in the years after the trial help illuminate the character of an ordinary young man thrust into extraordinary circumstances.

LaFollette weaves an engaging story of friendship, newly minted coalitions between scientists and journalists, and acts of goodwill in the midst of turmoil. Her book enables us to understand better the passions that swept one small town and came to divide the nation.

“LaFollette has unearthed a gold mine of new and provocative photographs from the Scopes trial, and she puts these to excellent use in explaining the ways in which scientists, journalists, and lawyers collaborated to publicize their own version of the ‘trial of the century’”—Jeffrey P. Moran, author of The Scopes Trial: A Brief History with Documents

“LaFollette resurrects a wonderful collection of photographs—some still familiar, others long forgotten—that recaptures a colorful trial from a distant era that still echoes today.”—Edward J. Larson, author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate over Science and Religion

“A riveting account.”—Thomas Lovejoy, director, Heinz Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment

MARCEL CHOTKOWSKI LAFOLLETTE is a historian who lives in Washington, D.C. Her books include Stealing into Print: Fraud, Plagiarism, and Misconduct in Scientific Publishing and Making Science Our Own: Public Images of Science, 1910–1955.

 

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