The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Crowdsource This (please): Scopes Trial Photos
In July 1925, two photographers were among the crowds of people (including, of course, many other photographers) who descended upon Dayton, Tennessee, to witness the "Trial of the Century." Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes was a test trial to overturn the newly-passed state law prohibiting the teaching of evolution in schools. Watson Davis, managing editor for Science Service, was a professional journalist covering the trial; William Silverman was a Georgia Tech student on summer break who traveled to Dayton with his former high school teacher as more casual observers of the activities that summer.
The pictures these two men took are part of the Smithsonian Archives collections and among the highlights I often pull out to show to visitors and Smithsonian staff who tour our facility. Since the Davis photos were discovered in 2005, and the Silverman images were donated in 2009, we have become familiar with the faces of a number of the trial participants and visitors who are depicted in them. These Scopes trial images, all in the Flickr Commons, offer a unique look into 1925 Dayton, and into a pivotal and interesting moment in American history.
While most of the people and places in these photos have been identified and described, others remain mysterious figures. We have playfully given names and back-stories to some of them. Take the woman above, smiling for the camera. Was she a Dayton resident? The wife of one of the scientists who planned to testify for the defense? We've dubbed her "Twiggy," but would love to know her story (and her real name). Then there's the man mugging for William Silverman's camera. Who could he be? And why is he wearing a heavy coat in the Tennessee summer’s heat?
Who is the sweet young woman leaning against a bike rack in the above image? Was she there with Silverman that day? Who are the men talking with Clarence Darrow, standing in the street? Their faces are obscured, but there are smiles on the faces we can see, and Darrow has a somewhat whimsical look on his face. Was Darrow relating a humorous anecdote? Did he just make a sardonic comment? And who was William Silverman's teacher, anyway?
This month, on the 86th anniversary of the trial, we are calling on you to help us identify these mystery characters who play a role in the pictorial history of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes. We’ve tagged the photos that have unidentified individuals in them as “Unidentified-Scopes” in our Flickr Commons set, and would love for you to jump in. Our imagined back-stories are fun, but when describing our collections our goal is always accuracy. Search away, and let us know what you find by leaving a comment on the Flickr Commons!