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William Jennings Bryan Comes to Town
Written by Larry Roeder, Editor
2022-01-12

The Rock of Ages is more important than the age of rocks – W. J. Bryan

 

            William Jennings Bryan was one of our country's greatest orators in the late 1890s and early 1900s.  He was a lawyer, editor-in-chief of the Omaha World-Herald, a

William Jennings Bryan was one of our country's

greatest orators in the late 1890s and early 1900s.

He was a lawyer, editor-in-chief of the Omaha

World-Herald, a United States Congressman, Sec-

retary of State, and three-time Democratic Party 

nominee for President of the United States. 

United States Congressman from Nebraska, and three-time Democratic Party nominee for President of the United States.  He also served as Secretary of State for Woodrow Wilson.  He was widely known and heralded for his lectures that openly denounced and criticized many government plans and decisions.  He had a very deep religious background, and some considered him a political evangelist.   

            It isn't every day that someone of that kind of national prominence makes an appearance around here.  So whenever the opportunity arises to make that happen, it's accompanied by an extreme desire to make sure everything goes well.  Hopefully, the personality might return, or others may be inspired to come. 

            Back in 1922, one of our local school boards was able to secure a visit from Bryan.  Whether you agreed with his ideas, opinions, and teachings or not, just the thought of meeting him was enough to excite the residents of our area.   

            This was long before television was invented and radio broadcasts were still in their infancy.  Attending public talks, by prominent speakers, was a vital way for people to learn back then.

Bryan gave a public lecture on Pending Problems

to a capacity crowd at East Greenville's Realty Hall

in 1922. 

            The East Greenville School Board was indeed proud that they were able to schedule this esteemed public speaker to deliver his lecture on "Pending Problems" at the borough's Realty Hall on April 1, 1922.  Bryan was in the middle of a very ambitious speaking tour throughout the eastern states. 

            While traveling to Allentown, his tight schedule would allow him to make an appearance here.  According to High School Principal C. W. Woiring, Bryan was scheduled to leave Philadelphia at 5:05 p.m. and arrive by train, via the Perkiomen Line, shortly before 7 p.m.  The lecture would start promptly at 8 p.m.  The organizers were expecting a sell-out crowd to attend the event.  The hall, located at Third and Main Streets in East Greenville, had a seating capacity of 600 persons.  The demand for seating was so high that an additional 125 seats were placed on the stage.

            On the eve of the scheduled Upper Perkiomen Valley visit, Bryan spoke to a crowd in Virginia.  He reportedly left word with a hotel porter to call him in time to catch the morning train to Philadelphia.  For whatever reason, the porter woke Bryan an hour too late to catch the early Philly bound train that would allow him to make his Perkiomen railroad connection.  Rather than skip the engagement in East Greenville, he came up with a plan.  Keep in mind, this was a man of worldly reputation who never visited, nor had any friends in our Valley.  As a matter of fact, during his run for the Presidency in 1896, Montgomery County voters preferred William McKinley over Bryan by a 19,000 to 14,000 margin. 

            So the man of principle telegraphed to have someone from East Greenville meet him at the Philadelphia train station at 6 p.m., and he could then make the trip by automobile.

            Three volunteers rose to do their part to make sure that the event would happen.  East Greenville residents John Dimmig, Joseph Dyson, and Harvey Heck (who ran a local taxi service) hopped in Heck's car and made the trip to City of Brotherly Love to give Bryan a ride.  The esteemed speechmaker was one of the last persons to exit the train, causing a few anxious moments for the greeting party. 

            Shortly after they greeted Bryan, the travelers were in Heck's car heading back to the Upper Perkiomen Valley.  The punctual Bryan's instructions to Heck were simply "Don't be reckless, but run fast enough to make time."

            Eight o'clock came, and the speaker delivered his message on time to the capacity crowd.  At the time, it was the largest audience ever assembled under one roof in the entire Perkiomen Valley.  William Jennings Bryan delivered his lecture, and at the conclusion, stayed to shake hands with those who attended before continuing on to Allentown.

            Thanks to our trio of travelers, the visit was a success.  Bryan must have been

In 1925 Bryan argued for the prosecution in one of

the more famous court cases in American History –

the Scopes Monkey Trial.  Defending substitute

high school teacher John Thomas Scopes, who was

accused of teaching evolution in violation of a

Tennessee state law, was celebrity lawyer Clarence

Darrow.

satisfied with his visit here because he returned to our Valley for another speaking engagement in 1923.

            During his public life, Bryan was influential in the eventual adoption of reforms like the popular election of senators, income tax, women's suffrage, prohibition, and the creation of the Department of Labor.

            In 1925 he argued for the prosecution in one of the more famous court cases in American History – the Scopes Monkey Trial.  Defending substitute high school teacher John Thomas Scopes, who was accused of teaching evolution in violation of a Tennessee state law, was celebrity lawyer Clarence Darrow.  

            It was billed as a grand showdown between religion and science.

            In his closing arguments, Darrow asked the jury to return a verdict of guilty so the case could be appealed and, by Tennessee law, Bryan would be unable to present his closing argument.

            Bryan won the case.  He died five days later and was buried in Arlington Cemetery. 

            Inscribed on his tombstone are the words "He kept the faith."


 

 

 

 

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