Tuesday, November 17, 2015

School visit surprises in Dayton and Chattanooga, TN

On 11/16/15, I spoke at Dayton City School in Dayton, TN. This was a first for me—never been to Dayton. I did not know this till my talks were over, but it was also a first for the risk-taking librarian who invited me, Jennifer Spengler (no relation to Egon): she had not hosted an author before. Makes me feel bad that I demanded the principal’s parking space, an organic homemade lunch in the teacher’s lounge (without teachers), and an introduction accompanied by “Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince blasting from the sound system. I fear it will make her fear that all authors are high maintenance.

Joking aside, Jennifer was a total pro. She (and her students) gave me the warmest of welcomes. She mentioned her principal several times before adding that the principal was also her mom.

She and her colleague Jennifer (no relation) set up a vibrant signing station.

Before I went into the school, I took photos of the digital sign announcing my visit, but for some reason, they came out garbled like this:

Or just plain blank like this:

(I swear they were legible in real life. I can’t explain it.)

I tried again on my way out, and that time, it worked:

This was also my introduction to the sweatbee.

At one point I asked what Dayton is known for and Jennifer said the Scopes “monkey trial.” So glad I asked! I love visiting less-traveled historic sites and also love a surprise; this was both. The courthouse where the now-infamous 1925 trial took place was literally three minutes from the school, so I beelined there after my talks and signing.

As with my recent visit to Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas, I did not realize how little I knew about a site of strife till I was there. I was curious to find that both the AR high school and TN courthouse are still in active use. It’s so invigorating to learn about a significant event precisely where it took place.

Another shocker: lawyer William Jennings Bryan, who opposed teaching evolution, “won” the trial (at some expense to his reputation) and died during a nap five days later. He was also a possible inspiration for the Cowardly Lion of Wizard of Oz fame. In the distance behind my right shoulder, you can see the statue of him that stands in front of the courthouse.

I’d gotten to the courthouse just before 4:30, when it closed; the small museum in the basement had closed at 4 p.m. I thought I’d have to settle for outdoor photos only. However, I went around back and came upon a smoke break; one of the guys said a trial was in progress so I couldn’t go into the courtroom but I could give myself a tour of the museum. So I did, with the place all to myself.

 original evolution bill (1925)

 “Why Dayton—of all places?” My thought indeed!

 Funny twist: a store in the small town was named Darwin’s.

 Last surviving participant of the trial: Thomas Jefferson Brewer, 
born approximately 1921, died 2003.

 I love the flowery way people of this era described things.
If produced today, this would invariably be called “Trial of the Century!”

 Monkeys both real and toy were on hand.

Before leaving, I swung by the courtroom just in case I could somehow see inside. The trial was indeed still in progress so I decided to wait a short while with the hope that it would soon wrap up. No such luck…but they did go to a recess. My chance!

The next day, I spoke to three groups at Baylor School in Chattanooga (founded 1893). The entrance to the lovely, hilly campus is grand. The road from there to the school is marked with large red paw prints—tiger tracks. Just the school mascot making his presence known. Then you reach more tracks—this time, for trains. (Appropriate for Chattanooga.)

My host was Julie King, who co-hosted me before when she was at another school.

She is one of the most laid-back, generous hosts I’ve had, and gave me a tour of the school. I can’t escape from fascinating history!

I was struck by how many subjects were on this 1893 report card—and the way that both arithmetic and geography were divided into two subcategories.

Speaking of tours, an admissions officer and the family of a prospective student stopped to listen to part of my talk. It turns out that this young man had been assigned to do a biography project...on Bill Finger. Total coincidence.

You cant tell from this photo, but the view out the window behind me was spectacular: a sweeping view of campus and the river that runs through it.

So you will have to settle for this view (of the airport apron when I landed in Tennessee a few days earlier):

Thank you again, Julie and Jennifer!

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