Kurt Vonnegut in Tennessee

April 13, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut, who died this week at age 84, received part of his education at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Writing in the Tennessee Alumnus Magazine, writer Aaron Purcell describes the program that brought Vonnegut to The Hill in 1943:

“With lower enrollment and nearly empty dormitories, the university easily accommodated such groups as the air corps cadets, who received five months of instruction in English, mathematics, history, geography, physics, and physical education while completing flight training. The Army Specialized Training Program also sent several hundred students to the University of Tennessee, including then-engineering student Kurt Vonnegut. This national program was distributed on college campuses across the country to prepare specialists in engineering, science, mathematics, and foreign languages for wartime demands. During the war, these and other government-sponsored programs educated thousands of soldiers on the Knoxville campus.”

I met Vonnegut once in Massachusetts and found him to be a personable and kind individual. Here is a photo of him as a young man:


photo by Edie Vonnegut

Scopes Trial on Broadway while original set crumbles

April 13, 2007

Today’s New York Times has a review of Inherit the Wind, the play that has, for many people, become the truth about the 1925 Scopes Trial in Dayton. The part of Matthew Harrison Brady, modeled on William Jennings Bryan, is played by Brian Dennehy, a wonderful and expressive actor who, according to the reviewer, does not prove a foemen worthy of the steel of the Clarence Darrow character.

The odds were stacked against the Bryan character when the play was written in 1955, for he symbolized the evils of McCarthyism. Today, most viewers of the play or its 1960 film adaptation wouldn’t know Senator McCarthy from Charlie McCarthy, so all that is lost on them. Residents of Dayton, most specifically the faculty of Bryan College, created and named for “The Great Commoner,” mightily resent the fictional depiction of their town and their hero.

From the Knoxville News Sentinel comes an article reporting that the historic Rhea County courthouse, where the Scopes Trial took place, is showing its age. Historian Richard Cornelius, chairman of the Scopes Trial Museum Committee and former professor at Bryan College, states that problems include “birds nesting in the attic and the potential for disease that brings. Cornelius also said the third floor is settling unevenly because of the weight of books stored there and that there are cracks in the building’s brickwork.”

The courtroom on the second floor of the building, where Darrow and Bryan made history, is the scene of an annual reenactment of the trial based on the actual testimony.