A Snapshot of the Jonestown Photo Project

by Laura Johnston Kohl

One of the most exciting projects for Peoples Temple survivors and family members to come along in recent years is the new photo gallery which will make its home on this website in the near future.

Photos from all kinds of Peoples Temple activities and locations have surfaced from many usual and also unexpected sources. The FBI recovered hundreds of photos from Jonestown. Many of these have been released to the Jonestown Institute under the Freedom of Information Act. There were also many photos which Temple attorney Charles Garry turned over to the court-appointed receiver, Robert Fabian, in 1979. Fabian later donated these photos to the California Historical Society. A few years later, the family of Annie Moore and Carolyn Layton turned over a number of photos, ranging from family pictures of their childhood to those taken during John and Barbara Moore’s trip to Jonestown in May 1978. (Some of those photos may also be found here, at least for the time being.) All of these collections are housed in a safe temperature-controlled environment and monitored by a wonderful staff.

Now, on a regular basis, other families are donating their personal photos so that the collection can truly represent all the members of Peoples Temple. Some families are also donating photos of members from the years before they joined Peoples Temple. The result is that there are literally thousands of photos just waiting to be uploaded and made available on-line.

The photo galley project will represent a dramatic expansion of this website’s section already online. In addition, the Who Died list has passport and/or Temple membership photos of almost everyone in Jonestown.

These new photos will be contain as much identification as possible and will be searchable by name. If you want to look at various “Jonestown” photos, for example, you may search by that keyword. If you want to focus on a particular activity within Jonestown – agriculture, for example, or education – you’ll be able to do that. And, of course, if you want to look for photos of a specific person, you will be able to do that too.

Over the years, as I have come upon photos of individuals, I have sent copies or electronic files on to any relatives of them whom I might know. I am not alone in that effort. All of the survivors have done that. In addition, we have been able to respond to requests for information for specific individuals. Not long ago, for example, a person contacted this site about Temple member Kathy Grauman, who died in Jonestown. Working together, Don Beck, Pinkie Jones and I were able to come up with photos and information about her that wasn’t available on line. It took some hands-on searching. This kind of effort will be eliminated as soon as the photos are put on-line.

We will soon be uploading sets of photos. It will be slow going at first as we work out the kinks. However, the end result will have thousands of photos from the California Historical Society, from families and friends of Temple members, and from private collections, available to all who want to see them. This project will be a wonderful way for relatives and friends to see loved ones as they lived in Peoples Temple. The photos cover the whole history, from early comedy acts and busses along the road in the United States, to the building of cabins in Jonestown.

The section is being built from the ground up and – as with similar projects of this magnitude – we have had birthing pains. We must make all references consistent, and have everything from every source in that same format, but we hope that a great number of these photos will be accessible by the end of the year.

As the manager of this section of the site, I will be working to identify photos, and will be in contact with other survivors who can help me with the identifications. Let me know if you want to be in at this level. It is fulfilling and important work, and it means so very much to loved ones of those who died in Guyana.

(Laura Johnston Kohl, who had lived in Jonestown but was working in Georgetown on 18 November, died on 19 November 2019 after a long battle with cancer. She was 72. Her writings for this website appear here.)

Originally posted on July 25th, 2013.

Last modified on November 20th, 2019.
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