One More Thing Before We Go: Thought Chuck for Nov. 18 Nov18

Share This

One More Thing Before We Go: Thought Chuck for Nov. 18


A Proof of Nerd ID by Charles Cron


On November 18, 1978, over 900 members of the Peoples Temple in Jonestown, Guyana committed what their leader, the Reverend Jim Jones, termed “an act of revolutionary suicide protesting the conditions of an inhumane world.”

The members of Peoples Temple – coming from all over the United States and all walks of life – had been lead by Jones from Redwood Valley, California to San Francisco, and from there to the remote jungles of Guyana in search of a better life and a utopian society.  When objecting family members convinced San Francisco Representative Leo Ryan to visit the settlement, he did so and was impressed by the group’s accomplishments.

But when people began requesting to leave Jonestown, things quickly unraveled for Jones and his followers.  Ryan was attacked at knife point, and he and his entourage left with approximately two dozen Peoples Temple members accompanying him.  Jones, betrayed, ordered the congressman and the deserters killed.  A shootout at an airstrip seven miles away resulted in Ryan’s death, as well as that of several NBC news staff and a deserting Temple member.  When reports of the massacre at the airstrip were confirmed, Jones then induced his followers to kill themselves.

Initial news reports were sketchy due to the remote location and lack of adequate local broadcasting technology, and almost exclusively focused on the assault and murder of Ryan’s party.  It was only days later that the bodies were discovered at Jonestown, seven miles from the airstrip.  Early estimates of the dead were low, but mistaken – in some places the bodies piled as high as five deep.

Since then, the phrase “drank the Kool-Aid” has become part of the American lexicon.  However, this is a slight misstatement of fact, as the men, women and children who died that day actually drank cyanide-laced Flavor-Aid instead.  But this is only one instance in which the story of Jonestown has been misunderstood.  Some other eerie factoids after the jump:

Before September 11, 2001, the suicides at Jonestown were the greatest single loss of American civilian life in a non-natural disaster.

Jim Jones and his wife were the first white couple to legally adopt a black baby in the state of Indiana.

Congressman Ryan is the first and only member of the U.S. Congress who has ever been killed in the line of duty.

After the attack on the airstrip, the dead & dying lay for 22 hours before assistance arrived.  Jackie Speier, aide to Congressman Ryan, survived after having been shot at point blank range by drinking Guyanese rum all night to quell the pain.

At a very early age Jim Jones showed a fascination with death, and enjoyed performing animal funerals for neighborhood children.

Jones would conduct what were called “White Nights” – loyalty tests in which his followers were forced to drink a liquid and then told that it was poisoned

Approximately 70 Peoples Temple members were not present in Jonestown that day, including three of Jim Jones’ sons; the rest of Jones’ family, including his pregnant daughter-in-law, all perished at Jonestown.

Jim Jones himself did not drink the poisoned Flavor-Aid – he was found dead of a self-inflicted gun shot wound.

Over 900 audio tapes of Jones’ lectures & sermons were recovered at Jonestown – including one made immediately prior to (and during) the mass suicides.

Below are excerpts from a letter written by a Peoples Temple member on that fateful day:
Nov. 18, 1978 – The Last Day of Peoples Temple

To Whomever Finds This Note:

Collect all the tapes, all the writing, all the history. The story of this movement, this action, must be examined over and over. It must be understood in all of its incredible dimensions….Please try to understand. Look at all. Look at all in perspective. Look at Jonestown, see what we have tried to do – This was a monument to life, to the renewal of the human spirit, broken by capitalism, by a system of exploitation & injustice. Look at all that was built by a beleaguered people. We did not want this kind of ending – we wanted to live, to shine, to bring light to a world that is dying for a little bit of love…Many of us are now dead. Each moment, another passes over to a peace. We are begging only for some understanding. It will take more than small minds, reporters’ minds, to fathom these events. Something must come of this. Beyond all the circumstances surrounding the immediate event, someone can perhaps find the symbolic, the eternal in this moment – the meaning of a people, a struggle – I wish I had time to put it all together, that I had done it. I did not do it. I failed to write the book. Someone else, others will have to do this…There is quiet as we leave this world. The sky is gray. People file slowly [past] and take the somewhat bitter drink. Many more must drink. Our destiny. It is sad that we could not let our light shine in truth, unclouded by the demons of accident, circumstance, miscalculation, error that was not our intent, beyond our intent… Hugging & kissing & tears & silence & joy in a long line.  Touches and whispered words as this silent line passes. Determination, purpose. A proud people. Only last night, their voices raised in unison, a voice of affirmation and today, a different sort of affirmation, a different dimension of that same victory of the human spirit. A tiny kitten sits next to me. Watching. A dog barks. The birds gather on the telephone wires. Let all the story of this People’s Temple be told. Let all the books be opened…If nobody understands, it matters not. I am ready to die now. Darkness settles over Jonestown on its last day on earth.


Photo Credit: Tyler Sherman/flickr