Life-sized William Jennings Bryan  statue will adorn courthouse lawn

There are three statues of William Jennings Bryan in the U.S. and a fourth will be placed on the Rhea County courthouse lawn next fall. Pictured is a statue of Bryan in his home town of Salem, Ill. (Photo courtesy of Jim Reincke of the Salem Illinois Tourism Board)

Nearly 80 years after he made the Rhea County Courthouse famous, William Jennings Bryan will become a permanent fixture in downtown Dayton when a life-sized statue of the Great Orator is erected on the courthouse lawn next fall. The Bryan College Board of Trustees recently commissioned Chattanooga artist Cessna Decosimo to create the statue in honor of the school's 75th anniversary and as a gift to the community. The Rhea County Commission approved its placement on the courthouse lawn. "Bryan College is here because of William Jennings Bryan's suggestion that this would be a good place for a school that teaches from a biblical perspective," said Tom Davis, chairman of the Rhea County Commission. "That comment, in addition to his participation in the Scopes trial, makes him a significant person in Rhea County's history. It is only fitting that we honor him." There are three other statues of Bryan throughout the United States, all of which depict Bryan at an old age. However, Decosimo said he plans to make the bronze statue reflect the younger Bryan, who ran for president three times, drew thousands with his captivating speeches and championed progressive causes. "I've been studying Bryan and the more I read about him, the more I realize just how extraordinary he was," said Decosimo. "He brushed shoulders with Teddy Roosevelt, who really admired him; he was nominated for president three times by the Democratic Party; and he was really, in a way, a poet. This guy could meszmorize multitudes. I read somewhere that his Sunday school class drew 5,000 people." Decosimo, who has completed numerous public and private commissions in sculpture, including the Police Memorial sculpture for the City of Chattanooga, said that studying up on his subject affects the sculpture in two ways. "First, learning about a person affects the sculpture on an emotional level," he said. "I'm a lot like a biographer. When I am informed about the subject, the piece has an emotional aspect to it, more depth and feeling. Then, intellectually and practically speaking, the more I read about Bryan the more I know how to create his clothing and physical attributes." Right now Decosimo said he is researching what collars looked like at the turn of the century. A project like this one takes about a year to complete, Decosimo said. Bryan College officials hope to dedicate the statue during its 2005 homecoming festivities. "The statue is really a gift to the community to recognize the important relationship between Bryan College and Rhea County," said Davis. Davis said it is unlikely that a statue of Bryan's chief adversary in the 1925 trial, Clarence Darrow, would make it to the courthouse lawn. Rachel Evans can be reached at raevans@xtn.net.