I believe in Jim Jones: A cinematic tribute to the people of Peoples Temple

by Susan Spaller

While growing up in Redwood Valley, I took swimming lessons in the former Peoples Temple baptismal pool, I had my first Girl Scouts meetings in the church, and I currently live three miles away from where the building still stands on East Road. I drive by the church almost every day, and not a day goes by that I do not think of the people who once occupied it, the dreams that they had and the world that they tried to change.

09d-09-Jackson,Kathy
Photo Courtesy of California
Historical Society, MSP 3800

However, what leads me to my current writing project is the loss of my aunt, Kathy Graumann, in Jonestown. All my family says about Aunt Kathy is that she refused to attend my parents’ wedding because my mom is a American Indian, and then that she died in Jonestown. What happened to her between these two extremes? Why does nobody ever talk about her? Did my grandparents try to get her body back after the suicides? Why did she join Peoples Temple in the first place? The lack of answers to these questions is what leads me to the script that I am writing.

Being located in an area where Peoples Temple thrived for so many years is fortunate and interesting. You can still find a fair amount of people who still refer to the building as the “Jim Jones” church, and many of them are willing to tell you about the Temple members they knew, the few services they attended, or the few times they met or heard Jim Jones speak. However, the number of people who are willing to talk about family members who joined and died or who had any real involvement in Peoples Temple is limited. In general, Peoples Temple is still a sore subject to the people of Redwood Valley. Therefore most of my research for my story comes in the form of books, videos and news clippings.

Act I is the introduction of characters and the church. I will show the personal, racial, economic and political circumstances that led each character to join Peoples Temple. The development of these characters will parallel the development of the character of Jim Jones and reveal the history of Peoples Temple, which includes Indiana, Redwood Valley, and San Francisco, and up through the construction of Jonestown.

Act II will be dedicated to Jonestown, the move to 1000 people there, the amazing accomplishment that it truly was, the day-to-day life there, and the factors – the deterioration of Jim Jones, the politics, planning, and paranoia of the “inner circle,” and the arrival of the Concerned Relatives and Congressmen Leo Ryan – that led up to the suicides. I will show the suicides all the way through, to show exactly what happened to the people – mentally and physically – and to experience Jim Jones’ final exhortation to his community.

The final act will be the realization of what happened: family members receiving the information of their lost loved ones; and the nightmare that was the clean up, both physical as well as emotional. Some characters will defect, some will escape, but like real life, most of them will die.

The story is a work in process and it will go through many changes and revisions as I begin to formulate the actual script. My writing is honest and from the heart, and it is my mission to present to the world a personal interpretation of the why of Jonestown. Moreover, with the completion of my script, maybe I will finally be able to let my Aunt Kathy rest in peace.

The areas of the script that I need more information include: what Jonestown was really like, especially in the beginning and during the times when Jones was not there. In addition, I am finding it difficult to find out information about the aftermath and clean up; what was that like for families? Where did they turn to recover loved ones? If there is anyone willing to communicate with me regarding this missing research, I would greatly appreciate it. Please feel free to contact me at s.spaller@yahoo.com. All contacts will be kept confidential.

Originally posted on July 25th, 2013.

Last modified on December 27th, 2013.
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