William Jennings Bryan

March 19, 2007

Today is the birthday of William Jennings Bryan, who, had he not participated in the 1925 Scopes Trial in Dayton, Tennessee, would have been remembered in a far better light. Bryan was a progressive’s progressive. He favored women’s suffrage, the eight-hour day, and corporate income tax. He was a three-time Democratic candidate for the presidency. Then came Dayton, where in the final days of his life he took on Clarence Darrow amid a perfect storm of 1920s iconoclasm and new media. This remarkable man is now remembered as a befuddled fundamentalist in one of the more embarrassing episodes of Tennessee history. A new biography, A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan has just come out in paperback.


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Will the Big One hit West Tennessee again?

March 19, 2007

People are still talking about the 1811-12 series of earthquakes that hit the northwest corner of Tennessee. The New Madrid earthquake was so powerful that it caused the Mississippi River to briefly run backwards, created Reelfoot Lake, and made clocks stop in Boston, Massachusetts. Passengers on a steamboat miraculously survived what must have been Tennessee’s all-time greatest white water ride, and history doesn’t record if they ever set foot on a boat again.

Scientists argue today about the likelihood of this level of damage occurring again. An article originally published in the Memphis Commercial Appeal quotes a researcher who says “‘It’s (the New Madrid seismic zone) going back to sleep for another thousand years,’ said Seth Stein, a professor of earth and planetary sciences who has studied the New Madrid zone for 17 years.”

We shall see. In the meantime, cue up Mama Cass singing “they tell me the fault line runs right through here.”