Memorial Day (formerly Decoration Day) is observed on the last Monday of May. It commemorates the men and women who died in military service. In observance of the holiday, many people visit cemeteries and memorials, and volunteers place American flags on each grave site at national cemeteries.
A national moment of remembrance takes place at 3:00 p.m. local time.
Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans — the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) — established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.
The ceremonies centered around the mourning-draped veranda of the Arlington mansion, once the home of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Various Washington officials, including Gen. and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant, presided over the ceremonies. After speeches, children from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphan Home and members of the GAR made their way through the cemetery, strewing flowers on both Union and Confederate graves, reciting prayers and singing hymns.
We surprised everyone — except ourselves — when we announced our plans to honeymoon in Ireland. “Neither of you is Irish,” they said, foreheads wrinkled.
I’m not sure why people assume the reason to go to Ireland is to look for “roots.” The Irish make the same assumption. While we were there, we were often asked why we’d come and on hearing neither of us is Irish, would get looks of puzzlement. Then, they’d look again and ask “Are you sure?”
It was a great place for Americans. There’s strain between the Irish and English for longstanding historical reasons, but they have nothing but smiles for Americans. From Dublin to Sligo, Shannon, Galway, Cashel and all the lovely towns in between, people were friendly, open, and welcoming. When they learned we were honeymooners, we were treated to rounds of drinks and offered the best accommodations. Avoiding big hotels, we stayed in bed and breakfasts which we found using the National Tourist Board guidebook and a map. At first, we’d zero in on a destination and phone ahead. After we’d been there a while, it began to work the opposite way. Wherever we landed, we’d see who had a room and stay there. We always found someplace nearby and each home was spotlessly clean and comfortable, although tiny by American standards.
Our first stop after Shannon was Cashel. The bed and breakfast was like a little European pension. In the shadow of the Rock of Cashel, adjacent to the ruins of a medieval Dominican church, the location was perfect. We stayed two nights, then headed for Dublin.
Dublin, after we began to pick way through the one-way systems and detours, was a city of music and good company. There were evening’s at Foley’s, where Irish music played every night and we all joined in, each in our own key. And then there were the pubs, where the Irish Coffee was always strong and the people eager to wish us well and advise us on our itinerary. We shopped, sang, and drank, not necessarily in that order. We listened to stories, told some of our own, and would gladly have stayed another week or more.
From Dublin, we drove cross-country to Sligo. As we entered Sligo, the rain began to pelt down. For perhaps five minutes, it poured. Then, as the rain slowed to a drizzle, in front of us appeared a brilliant double rainbow. I felt that it was our personal rainbow, welcoming us to Sligo. Our destination was a bed and breakfast called Rathnashee, which we later learned means “fairy ring.” Indeed, there is an earthwork fairy ring in the field adjoining the house. I had selected it because it had a room with a private bath, was on a main road (we never stopped getting lost, but we did learn to enjoy it), and had a library.
The entire parlor of the house was a library about Ireland, and Sligo in particular. Evenings, by the warmth of the peat fire, settled in with a pot of tea and a plate of cookies, we read about Yeats, about the Great Hunger, and the long and often tragic history of the north. In the course of events, Garry discovered that he might after all have Irish roots, while I dreamt of fairy circles and magic mountains.
Sligo is bursting with magic. You can feel it as you explore the ancient earthworks, standing stones, cairns, and castles. I became convinced that the “Little People” live there still. Loch Gill, where lies the Isle of Innisfree, has its own kind of magic. We spent a grand afternoon exploring the recently restored Park Castle. The crystal waters so clearly mirrored the sky that those viewing the pictures we shot that day have trouble telling which is water and which is sky. Later that same day, while heading toward Knocknarea, the mountain top cairn of the legendary Queen Mab, we met Gordon Winter, ex-spy, author, and local character. We were photographed in close encounters with his pet chickens, sipped tea in his kitchen, and bought an autographed copy of his latest book “Secrets of the Royals.”
Throughout our vacation, the weather never stopped changing. The sun shone, disappeared and reappeared in rapid succession. Wind blew, and clouds rolled in, and it rained. A few minutes later, the rain stopped, the wind died, the sun came out, the temperature rose, and just as you had taken off your jacket and put on your sunglasses, you’d realize it was raining again. We took our sunglasses on and off twenty times an hour, and took our jackets on and off almost as often. The second morning in Sligo, we awoke to pounding rain. I peeked out the window to see another rainbow, even brighter than the one we’d seen coming in, in the field across the road.
By the time we went to breakfast, the sun had come out, but by breakfast’s conclusion, it was again drizzling. Such is Irish weather. It never rained all day, but it rained a little almost every day, and we learned to ignore weather and proceed with our plans, counting on the ever-changing skies to give us enough clear weather to tramp through a ruin, scale a castle wall, or walk down by a riverside.
After three days in Sligo, we traveled down to Connemara. One afternoon, we drove to Cong, where John Ford shot “The Quiet Man” years ago. Being ardent movie buffs, we literally climbed over fences and through pastures until we found the “quiet man’s cottage,” now in ruins. The setting is as idyllic as ever, though, and the stream still flows past the cottage door and under the little bridge. Clearly the movie was the biggest thing to ever hit the town. Cong is full of Quiet Man memorabilia, and the local residents full of anecdotes and memories.
Our time was almost up, and as we continued down along the coast, we began to realize that we would really have to go home. The idea was so depressing that we stopped in the nearest pub for some solace.
Probably the only difficult part of our Irish honeymoon was driving. Keeping left was one problem; the roads themselves were another. Narrow, with a terrifying mix of blind curves, roaming sheep, and meandering cattle, local people nonetheless drive these lanes at frightening speeds. Often, on a road that appeared hardly wide enough for our little compact car, we were overtaken and passed. More than once we felt obliged to check and see if the door handles and mirrors were still attached.
Pretty much every intersection — even way out in the countryside — had signs telling you where you were. In Connemara, the signs were often in Irish, which we couldn’t read nor match to anything on the map. Apparently we were not the only ones who found the signs in Irish less than helpful because they were full of bullet holes. Eventually we just stopped worrying about where we were and enjoyed wherever that happened to be. Every place was beautiful, so we let the road take us where it would. It turns out you don’t need to know exactly where you are. If you’re not on a schedule, you can roam and find things that aren’t in the tourist guides. We could be sure that whenever and wherever we stopped, a warm pub and friendly faces would greet us.
We always hoped we’d go back again, but other places called and the years ran away faster than I believed possible. But forever, Ireland lives in memory and photographs.
“He who sups with the devil should have a long spoon.” — Old English proverb, dating to the 14th century.
There has been an upsurge of interest in Jonestown over the past few years. This post went by with little notice when I wrote it — about a year ago, I think — but since then, it has developed a life of its own. Not surprising given the current state of disunion in this country — and elsewhere. Jim Jones and Donald Trump share many traits. More importantly, so do their followers.
This is a cautionary tale, an urgent warning for everyone. Talk is not harmless. Lies matter. Corruption kills. To you who blindly follow, I hope you’ve got that very long spoon handy. I have a gut feeling — you are going to need it.
From Nothing, Something Terrible Comes – Remembering November 18, 1978
If you are my age or near it, you remember the Jonestown Massacre. Even if you are younger, if in 1978 you were old enough to watch TV or read a newspaper, you could hardly forget it. With fundamentalism enjoying a rebirth among our politicians and so-called religious leaders it’s a good time to remind everyone where this kind of thing has led in the past and where it could easily lead in the future.
There is nothing remotely amusing about this story. It was horrible when it happened; time has not made it less so.
The Road to Jonestown
The phrase “drink the Kool-Aid” has become common parlance in American business and politics. Roughly translated, it means “to blindly follow.” It usually carries a negative connotation. The “Kool Aid” references go all the back to the 1950s when it was the typical drink for children on suburban summer afternoons. The origin of the saying is something else — darker, and different. It has become the kind of bland rhetoric about which we don’t give a thought, but its roots lie in horror.
Before we talk about Kool-Aid, let’s take a brief trip down memory lane to that particularly awful episode of American history.
Jim Jones, cult leader and mass murderer, was a complex madman. A communist and occasional Methodist minister, he founded his pseudo-church in the late 1950s. He called it the “Peoples Temple Full Gospel Church,” known in short as the “Peoples Temple.”
The lack of a possessive apostrophe was intentional. The name was supposed to be a reference to “the people of the world.” While Jones called it a church, it was closer to a warped version of a Marxist commune. Initially, it combined a hodgepodge of Christian references that Jones used in his diatribes … supposedly sermons.
It was never a real church. The Peoples Temple was a straight-up cult. It required a level of commitment and financial support from members plus a degree of obedience that’s the defining quality of a cult.
Jones was the cult’s leader — and a homicidal maniac. But he had positive attributes. Jones and his wife Marceline were in favor of racial integration. They adopted a bunch of kids from varying backgrounds and were the first white family in Indiana to adopt an African-American boy. Other adopted children included three Korean Americans, a Native American, and a handful of white kids. They also had a child of their own.
The “Rainbow Family”
Jones called his adopted kids the “Rainbow Family.” He made a name for himself desegregating institutions in Indiana. Before you get all dewy-eyed about this, note this story ultimately climaxes in the murder of all the Jones children by their parents.
The Peoples Temple continued to expand through the 1960s. Jones gradually abandoned his Marxism. His preaching began to increasingly focus on impending nuclear apocalypse. He even specified a date — July 15, 1967 — and suggested afterwards, a socialist paradise would exist on Earth. Where would the new Eden be?
Jones decided on Redwood Valley, California and before the expected apocalypse, he moved the Temple and its peoples there. When the end-of-the-world deadline passed without a holocaust, Jones quit pretending to be a Christian and revealed himself as an atheist who used religion to give his own opinions legitimacy. Jones announced that “Those who remained drugged with the opiate of religion must be brought to enlightenment — socialism.” Prophetic words since Jones was a drug addict who preferred literal to metaphorical opiates.
As media attention increased, Jones worried the Peoples Temple’s tax-exempt religious status was in danger. He was paranoid about the U.S. intelligence community — probably with justification.
In 1977, Jones moved the Temple and its people to a different site that Jones had been working on since 1974. It was located in Guyana and he modestly named it “Jonestown.” It was a bleak, inhospitable place. Built on 4000 acres with limited access to water, it was much too small and seriously overcrowded. Temple members had to work long hours just to keep from starving.
Nonetheless, Jones decided his people would farm the land of his utopia. He had put together several million dollars before getting to Jonestown (he confiscated all his followers’ money), but wealth was not distributed. He barely used any of the money for himself and lived in a tiny, bare-bones shared house.
All Hell Breaks Loose
U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan visited Jonestown in November of 1978. Rumors of peculiar goings-on were leaking out of Jonestown. Ryan decided to investigate rumors of abuses in Jonestown. Ryan didn’t travel alone. He took a contingent of media people including NBC News correspondent Don Harris and other reporters, plus relatives of Jonestown residents. He assumed that this would protect him — a major miscalculation.
During his visit to Jonestown, Congressman Ryan talked to more than a dozen Temple members, all of whom said they wanted to leave. Several of them passed a note saying: “Please help us get out of Jonestown” to news anchor Harris.
If the number of defectors seems low considering the more than 900 residents of Jonestown, remember they had not been allowed to talk to most of the “fellowship.” The number of those who wanted to leave could have been much more. We’ll never know.
Ryan began processing the paperwork to repatriate Temple members. In the middle of this, Ryan was attacked with a knife by temple member Don Sly. This would-be assassin was stopped before Ryan was hurt. Eventually the Ryan party decided to leave. They and the Jonestown defectors drove to the airstrip and boarded planes.
Jim Jones had other plans. He sent armed Temple members — his “Red Brigade” — after the Congressional party. These creepy “soldiers of the Temple” opened fire on them, killing Ryan, a Temple defector, three members of the media, and wounding eleven others. The survivors fled into the jungle.
When the murderers returned to Jonestown and reported their actions, Jones promptly started what he called a “White Night” meeting. He invited all Temple members. This wasn’t the first White Night. Jones had hosted previous White Night meetings in which he suggested U.S. intelligence agencies would soon attack Jonestown.
He had even staged fake attacks to add a realism, though it’s hard to believe anyone was fooled. Faced with this invasion scenario, Jones told Temple members they could stay and fight imaginary invaders. They could take off for the USSR or run into the jungles of Guyana. Or they could commit mass suicide.
On previous occasions Temple members had opted for suicide. Not satisfied, Jones had tested their commitment by giving them cups of liquid that supposedly contained poison. Which they drank (???). After a while, Jones told them the liquid wasn’t poison — but one day it would be.
Jim Jones had been stockpiling poisons — cyanide and other drugs — for years. On this final White Night, Jones was no longer testing his followers. It was time to kill them all.
Don’t Drink It!
After the airstrip murders outside Jonestown, Jim Jones ordered Temple members to create a fruity mix containing a cocktail of chemicals that included cyanide, diazepam (Valium), promethazine (Phenergan — a sedative), chloral hydrate (a sedative/hypnotic sometimes called “knockout drops”), and Flavor Aid, a beverage similar to Kool-Aid.
Jones told his followers they should commit suicide to make a political point. What that point was supposed to be is still a matter of considerable debate. Temple member Christine Miller suggested flying members to the USSR.
Of course, Jones was never really interested in escape. There was only one answer that he would accept. Death and lots of it. He repeatedly pointed out to his followers that Congressman Ryan was dead (and whose fault was that?) which would surely bring down the weight of American retribution. An audiotape of this meeting exists. It is just as creepy as you’d expect.
Then it was time for the detailed instructions which — still baffling to me at least — the followers did as they were told. I will never understand why. Probably that’s a positive sign indicating I’m not insane.
Jones insisted mothers squirt poison into the mouths of their children using syringes. As their children died, the mothers were allowed to drink poison from cups. Temple members wandered out onto the ground where eventually just over 900 lay dead, including more than 300 children. Only a handful of survivors escaped — primarily those who happened to be away on errands or playing basketball when the mass suicide/massacre took place.
Jones did not drink poison. He died from a gunshot to the head. It’s unclear if it was self-inflicted. Jones probably died last or nearly so and likely preferred the gun to cyanide. He had witnessed the horrendous effects of death by cyanide and preferred something quicker.
What’s With the Kool-Aid?
In the wake of the tragedy at Jonestown, the phrase “drink the Kool-Aid” became a popular term for blind obedience, as Temple members had apparently accepted their cups of poison without objection. According to various accounts, the primary beverage used at Jonestown was actually Flavor Aid (sometimes “Flav-R-Aid”) — although both Kool-Aid and Flavor Aid were used.
Kool-Aid was better known than Flavor Aid. Kool-Aid was introduced in 1927 in powdered form. When Americans thought about a powdered fruity drink mix (other than “Tang”), “Kool-Aid” came immediately to mind. Therefore, although Kool-Aid and Flavor Aid were both present at Jonestown, the phrase “(don’t) drink the Kool-Aid” has become entrenched in popular lingo.
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