Friday, December 24, 2021

From Bosley’s Cyclopædia of Courtroom Anecdotes

Wellsir, in answer to your question: yes, what with that there trial being the biggest thing that’s ever happened here in Dayton, or really even the only thing that’s ever happened here in Dayton, I have heard a fair amount about what folks from other parts o’ the country have said about it. I hear tell they mostly blame Bryan’s downfall on all them snippy highfalutin things Darrow said about Scripture. For example, there was that bit he did about the book of Joshua, about how Joshua couldn’ta made the sun stand still as long as Scripture says he did ’cos if he had the earth woulda turned into “a vast molten mass”—I guess ’cos the bit o’ the earth facin’ the sun woulda been facin’ it too long.  Then o’ course Darrow laid into them mile-deep family trees in the book o’ Genesis with all them begats—“And Arphaxad begat Salah, and Salah begat Eber,” and so forth. He tried to show that even after you added up all them begats starting with Adam, the world turned out to be a heck of a lot too young ’ccordin’ to the Bible by comparison with how old them scientist-folks said it was ’ccordin’ to some cockamamie way they had o’ weighin’ rocks—or maybe it was smellin’ ’em; I don’t rightly remember. Well, like I said, from what I hear tell, them out-o’-town folks think that Bryan’s goose was cooked by all that highfalutin mumbo-jumbo, that it discombobulated him and also made him look like a clown in the eyes o’ the jurors. But I say different, and I say it partly ’cos apart from one other moment—which I’ll get round to talkin’ ’bout in the sweet by and by—I can’t recall any other time during the trial when the jury looked more like a circus audience or a passel o’ goose-cookin’ spectators than when Darrow was spoutin’ that there mumbo-jumbo. What’s that you asked, mister? Oh yeah, there sure as heck is such a thing as a public goose-cookin.’ They’re mighty pop’lar around here, or were mighty pop’lar round here, till that Julia Child woman started ’pearin’ on television. Anyhow, like I was sayin’, the jury was obviously unimpressed by Darrow’s Bible-bashin’ spiel.  In particular, I remember how the foreman, Jim Stebbins, seemed to find the whole spiel completely ridiculous, and he looked like he found it more and more ridiculous the longer Darrow talked. He started out by rollin’ his eyes, then he moved on to stickin’ his tongue out, and by the time Darrow was wrappin’ up he had his right hand balled up into a fist and was movin’ it to and from his person in a manner that as a Christian I daren’t even describe in greater detail, let alone show you with my own northpaw. What’s that you ask, mister? Since the jury did end up findin’ Mr. Scopes not guilty, mustn’t there have been somethin’ ’bout Mr. Darrow’s case that they did end up findin’ convincin’? Why o’ course there musta been, and that brings me to that other moment I was alludin’ to just now.  It came just after Bryan’s rebuttal o’ the Bible-bashin’ spiel. The upshot o’ this rebuttal was that for all he, Bryan, knew, Darrow mighta been right about the sun and about all those rocks, and even about somethin’ he, Darrow, had said earlier than that, namely that give or take a million or two begats, every single one of us—includin’ Adam and Eve—were actual, genu-wine monkeys’ nieces and nephews. So Bryan said that for all he, Bryan, knew Darrow mighta been right about that but that he, Bryan, couldn’t see what difference it made even if he, Darrow, was right. He, Bryan, said the whole thing reminded him o’ somethin’ in that feller Boswell’s book about his, Boswell’s, friend Sam Johnson. You see, Boswell and Johnson had been chattin’ with an acquaintance o’ theirs, a sort o’ Chuck Darwin before his time; only he wuddn’t just a regular scientist-type feller like Darwin; he was one o’ them-there aristocrats, a lord, you know, a real high mucky-muck, although I’m tempted to call him a monkey-monk, not only ’cos he was wild about monkeys like Darwin but also ’cos his name sounded like one o’ them there bigger types o’ monkeys—it was Lord Monumbo or Benombo or somethin’ like that. Anyhow, like Darwin this Lord Monombo feller thought that us human bein’s used to have tails and walk on all four like monkeys and that they’d somehow lost them tails and started walkin’ upright along the way ’cos it wuddn’t useful for em to have tails anymore on account o’ their not livin’ in trees anymore. And Johnson thought this Lord Monombo was just about the silliest feller in the world—not only or even mainly just ’cos he, Johnson, didn’t believe human bein’s had ever had tails or walked on all four (although to be sure, he sure as Sam Hill didn’t believe that), but mainly ’cos he reckoned that even if human bein’s had had tails and walked on all four once upon a time, it wouldn’t do ’em any good now to know they’d once had ’em and done that, ’cos they didn’t need tails or need to walk on all four anymore now. “Sir,” Sam Johnson had said to Boswell, ’ccordin’ to Bryan, “it,” meanin’ this notion o’ human bein’s havin’ had tails like monkeys and walkin’ on all four way back when, “is all conjecture about a thing useless, even were it known to be true. Knowledge of all kinds is good. Conjecture, as to things useful, is good; but conjecture as to what it would be useless to know, such as whether men went upon all four and had tails, is very idle.” Those had been Sam Johnson’s exact words ’ccordin’ to Boswell ’ccordin’ to Bryan; I’ve got one o’ them what they call phonographic memories, you see, even if I can’t quite remember the exact name o’ that Lord Monombo or Benombo feller; most peculiar, that. Anyhow, I thought Sam Johnson’s words made mighty good sense, ’specially with regard to the whole point at issue in the trial, the question whether that Darwin feller’s mumbo-jumbo should be taught in our school. After all, school’s all about—or should be all about—teachin’ the young ’ins readin,’ writin,’ and ’rithmetic, teachin’ ’em things they’ll actually use in a complex, ever-changin’, and increasingly globalized workin’ ’vironment. And what could the blessed use be of knowin’ their umpteenth-great granpa ‘n’ granma went around on all four and swung from tree to tree by their tails like a dad-blamed monkey? Will they somehow climb up the…how do you say?…corporate ladder with that nonexistent tail o’ theirs? That nonexistent tail sure as heck duddn’t do me any good at the jail or the courthouse. ’Course in lots o’ ways it would be nice if I had that tail, if it was an existent tail. I could carry m’keys with it, and maybe lassoo prisoners with it if they tried to run away. But as long as I ain’t got that tail, and that’s goin’ to be as long as all eternity, there’s no point in dwellin’ on what I could be doin’ with it, ’cos that’s just goin’ to make me sad. And I s’pose I could go ’round the courthouse on all four even now if I wanted to. But the judge and the sheriff’d never stand for it—or, rather, join me on all four for it—and it’d be mighty hard to slip handcuffs on the prisoners if I had to keep m’own two mitts on the floor as a matter o’course. I suppose I’d just whip the cuffs into m’teeth first with m’tail. Anyhow, like I was sayin’, or about to be sayin’, I found that Sam Johnson-powered spiel o’ Bryan’s pretty persuasive, and more to the point, the jury seemed to be findin’ it pretty durned persuasive too. Jim Stebbins started out by furrowin’ his brow and pursin’ his lips and noddin’ pretty sympathetically, and by the time Bryan was finished, he was kissin’ his fingertips (I mean his own fingertips not Bryan’s) over ‘n’ over again in a manner that as an American, and more to the point a non-Eyetalian, I daren’t even describe in greater detail, let alone show you with m’own northpaw-‘n’-kisser. I tell you, that jury looked like the furthest thing in the world from a passel o’ goose-cookin’ spectators; they looked like they was watchin’ an…I dunno…an owl-freezin’, I guess. Bryan himself seemed pretty satisfied with that owl-freezin’ spiel, and rightly so, and I reckon that if the trial had ended right then ‘n’ there, Mr. Scopes woulda been found guilty on all counts and sent straight to the hoosegow, and he’d probably still be behind bars to this day. But unfortunately the order o’ bidness that day allowed Darrow a counter-rebuttal. And that counter-rebuttal was what really administered the abovementioned cookin’ to Bryan’s goose. It bawled down to just fifteen words, and none of ’em any o’ those fifty-cent lawyerly words neither. Surprisin’ ain’t it, that a feller’s whole goose could be cooked by just fifteen little words? But it wuddn’t the words alone that were so devastatin’; what made ’em so devastatin’ was what Darrow was doin’ as he was sayin’ ’em.  But even to give you an idearrof what he was doin’ then, I’ve got to tell you a little story. You see, a few days before this, before this day of the trial, Darrow paid a visit to our town’s only tailor, Joe Haggardy, to order some new pants. I know this ’cos I stopped by Joe’s shop m’self a few days later, a few days after the trial was over, to have a new pair o’ pants for m’uniform made from scratch, which I had to do for reasons that’ll soon become clear, and Joe told me all about what Darrow’d said to him during his visit. He said Darrow wanted the new pants—six pairs o’them, actually—’cos all the ones he had with him were fittin’ him too tightly in a certain part o’ the body that as a Christian I daren’t name. “The problem with the pants I got now,” Darrow says, as he’s standin’ in his skivvies and Joe’s measurin’ him for the new pants, “is that the crotch, down where your nuts hang”—What’s that, you say? Why am I namin’ the place when I just said I daren’t name it? Well, ’cos this ain’t me talkin’ now, you see: this is Darrow talkin’, courtesy of my phonographic memory. So anyhow, Darrow says, “The problem is that the crotch, down where your nuts hang, is always a little too tight. So when you make the new ones up, give me a couple inches that I can let out there, ’cos the old ones cut me. They’re just like ridin’ a wire fence. See if you can’t leave me about six inches from where the zipper ends around under my—back to m’ bunghole.” “In other words,” Joe rejoins, and again, this is Joe talkin’ now, not me, “you’d like just a little more stride in the crotch?” “Yeah that’s right,” Darrow re-rejoins. “I asked him that,” Joe says to me after tellin’ me all this, “’cos that’s what I always ask a feller when he wants more room down there, but o’ course six inches is an awful lot o’extra cloth just for addin’ a little more stride, and I woulda thought one extra inch wouda done for that purpose for a man o’ his build, if you know what I mean.” And I did know what he meant, and I still know what he meant, only I ain’t goin’ to specify it, ’cos it ain’t somethin’ fit for a Christian to specify, and m’phonographic memory’s obviously no use to me now ’cos Joe didn’t specify it himself. But I reckon a fancy-pants city slicker like yourself, a feller who’s prob’ly got his own personal tailor, will know what Joe meant if a pig-ignrn’t hayseed like me does. Anyhow, considerin’ Darrow didn’t seem to need all that extra cloth, you mighta thought he’d asked for it with exactly what he did in court a coupla days later in mind, ’cept I don’t know how he woulda known he was goin’ to have occasion to do what he did then, ’cos I don’t know how he woulda known Bryan was goin’ to say what he said just before he, Darrow, did what he did. It almost makes you think the two of ’em had scripted it all out beforehand, duddn’t it? Well anyhow, irregardless of whatever the two o’them’d concocted behind the scenes, what Darrow did ‘n’ said after Bryan finished up his mighty persuasive spiel was meant to make Bryan look like a clown, and certainly it did just that. Now what he did was this: he grabbed the fly o’his trousers—one o’ the pairs of trousers he’d just had Joe make him—and bunched up the cloth there so that a good bit of it—yes, yes, yes: a good six inches of it—was stickin’ out from between his thumb ‘n’ forefinger. And then he said with a smile on his face that woulda’ made that wicked Roman feller from that fancy film ’bout our Savior’s robe—Caligula, you say?—right, Caligula; he said with a smile that woulda made Caligula blush, “Mr. Bryan, I am much more interested in the Johnson of life than in the Life of Johnson.” And then he wiggled that bit o’ cloth over ‘n’ over again; he kept wigglin’ it and wigglin’ it, and dad blame me if (and ’member I didn’t yet know he’d been to Joe’s shop then), dad blame me if it didn’t look like there was nothin’ but a flypaper-thin layer o’ gabardine ‘n’ broadcloth apiece separatin’ my peepers ‘n’ the peepers of everybody else in that courtroom from the sight o’ his nekkid you-know-what. And I don’t know if it was owin’ to the sheer dad-blamed cheekiness o’ the whole performance, or the sheer dad-blamed ridiculousness of it or sheer-dad blamed awe at the presumed dimensions of that-there-you know what, but whatever the reason was, there wuddn’t a man or woman in that courtroom—includin’ Bryan himself ‘n’ the judge—who could keep a straight face as they watched those six inches o’ cloth jigglin’ up ‘n’ down ’tween Darrow’s fingers. And some of us, includin’ m’self, also couldn’t keep control o’certain other parts of us, certain parts down below other’n the one we thought Darrow was jigglin’; hence m’need to visit Joe’s shop afterwards. And perhaps not quite needless to say, ’cos that some-of-us also included the stenographer, that lady stopped mindin’ the keys on her machine altogether ‘n’ never got ’round to recordin’ any part o’ the “Johnson o’ life” episode, so’s it ended up bein’ missin’ from the record of the trial, so’s that as far as the general public and history’ve been concerned, Darrow nailed Bryan on nothin’ but his ignorance o’ that cockamamey mumbo-jumbo ’bout rocks.  But that’s all goin’ to change now, ain’t it, Mr. Hornbeck? You’ll make sure the truth finally gets out, wontcha?

—Enos P. Shroyer, former bailiff at the jail and courthouse of Dayton County, Tennessee, speaking to E.K. Hornbeck, Jr. of the Baltimore Herald on January 23, 1965. The typescript of Shroyer’s remarks, evidently transcribed from a subsequently destroyed Dictaphone tape, was discovered in Hornbeck’s posthumous papers in 1999; no article incorporating the remarks had appeared in the Herald or any other newspaper in the meantime.