Friday, March 13, 2009

Happy Birthday Clarence Darrow!

Today I went to a wonderful event, namely the Clarence Darrow Memorial Celebration at the Clarence Darrow Memorial Bridge.

Yes, it had a retired alderman with a wheelchair and a megaphone. Yes, it had haphazard throwing of flowers into the lagoon behind the Museum of Science and Industry. Yes, it had invocations which were not prayers, because prayers would be inappropriate at the Clarence Darrow Memorial Celebration. (All of these, especially the last two, made me wish my Ritual Studies professor was there.)

It also had this story:

Apparently, one time Clarence Darrow was hanging out with some spiritualists. (At this point, you might be thinking that I should be posting this to the Spurious Facts About Long-Dead Famous People blog, but the retired alderman with the megaphone said it, so I believe it.) He told them that he didn't believe in their spiritualism, but in case it was true, he would show up on the bridge behind the museum at ten'o'clock in the morning on his birthday.

And so now, and for the past fifty years, a small but formidable crowd has shown up, at that time and location, to remember Clarence Darrow and to celebrate his life and work.

And to see if he shows up.

It was bizarrely similar to an Easter-sunrise service, and the invocation used a formula that I've heard at those services. ("We're gathered to remember, but also to think about the future...)

This post doesn't have much of a point other than to celebrate this lovely and localist little observation. Except this:

Last night, in preparation for attending today's celebration, I read Darrow's wikipedia page. You should too, he's a cool and interesting guy, and it is his birthday.

Then I read William Jennings Bryant's Wikipedia page.

And I felt oddly sad. Because, like: all these early Christian opponents of Darwinism were largely objecting on social justice grounds. Darwinism must be opposed, yes because it's against the Bible, sure, but MOSTLY because it justifies the strong oppressing the weak. Bryan, and many others like him, opposed teaching human evolution in order to guard against teaching social Darwinism. I think this is fascinating, and I mark it as a place where American evangelicalism kind of lost its way. I don't hear much about this critique in contemporary Creationist arguments. (Now, granted, I haven't been to the museum...)

When you read their Wikipedia pages, at least, Darrow and Jennings both seem like heroes to me. And it's sad to think of them as opponents.

Maybe they are friends in heaven, and if I am to believe what I say about the dead, then they work together with us in the struggle, both of them, different as they are.

And maybe the meet at the bridge and hang out, when nobody else is around. And admire the flowers that we dropped in the lagoon.


cbroadwe said...

David, I just checked Darrow's wikipedia page. March 13 isn't his birthday, it's his deathday. But March 13 is my birthday, so maybe that's why you got confused. Darrow's birthday is April 18. BAM, I call superior research skills. Again.

David Reese said...

Hrm. Perhaps this explains why he hasn't shown up all these years. Also, Clarence Darrow was born the day before me. This is why we're friends, Carrie.

David Reese said...

ps- just my luck that the only person who actually reads this blog is a professional fact-checker.

cbroadwe said...

Okay, let me say that I didn't read Darrow's wikipedia page in order to check your facts. I wanted to read more about him (as you suggested we all should), and I just happened to notice that the dates were wrong.

PS- do people come to the bridge on his actual birthday? Because I like to think that no one does, and that's the day that he shows up, always wondering where everyone is. You should be there this year on April 18, just in case.