HE SUMMER of 1925 was a dull one for news, said John Moutoux, who was a 21-year-old cub reporter then on the Knoxville News. There wasn't a thing coming out of Washington, as Congress had adjourned the previous March.
So when Moutoux spotted a one-paragraph Associated Press story coming in over the wires, about a high school teacher who had been arrested for teaching evolution in Dayton. Tenn., he thought he'd try to make something out of it.
"I told my editor I thought it might make a good feature story," Moutoux recalled. "But he was trying to get by on a limited budget, and Dayton was 80 miles away." Refused the travel money, Moutoux decided to go on his own time and his own money to interview John Thomas Scopes on what Moutoux saw as a story with bigger than one-paragraph implications.
"On Saturday, after the last edition had gone to press, I set off, arriving after dark. The next morning, I called up Mr. Scopes," and they met in a Dayton drug store to talk about science, God and academic freedom.
"I wrote a large story when I came back," he said, and the Knoxville news - getting it for free - played it big. The Newspaper Enterprise Assn. picked it up, sending it out to more than 700 papers.t was that story which drew the attention of Clarence Darrow to the case, said Moutoux, and put a national spotlight on the Scopes trial. "It's hard to say now, but I have an idea there never would have been a story at all" if he had not insisted on making something of it, Moutoux said. "It was being treated as just a minor arrest."
While the "Monkey Trial" was pushing Scopes into history, enhancing the fame of Darrow, and finishing off William Jennings Bryan, who staked his reputation on suppressing the teaching of evolution. it was doing modestly well by John Moutoux. He was asked. to cover the trial by United Press - along with all those reporters who deserted that dull Washington summer for Tennessee - and later worked for United Press in Boston, New York and Washington. In World War II. be became a government information officer for the War Production Board, and except for two years with the newspaper P. M. until it fodded. Moutoux was spokesman for different government agencies until he retired, in 1964, to devote full time to his orchard business.
The Moutouxs have a 40-acre farm near Vienna. Va., where they live and grow peaches, apples and plums, and they have rented a fruit stand at Seven Corners for the last 21 years. Moutoux has been too ill to work lately - he had a stroke three years ago, and has had his legs amputated - and his son runs the orchard, hiring college students to help.
"The boys and girls ask me questions about what I've done sometimes," Moutoux said, but it's rarely about the Scopes scoop. "They're more interested in hearing about growing fruit."