The Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland, California is the final resting place of the 412 unclaimed bodies from the Jonestown Massacre, and so it seemed fitting that this would be the location of the official memorial.
Despite what seemed to be a clear path to closure, the memorial was embroiled in 32 years of controversy and court rulings before finally being unveiled, including what many felt was one name that didn’t belong- James Warren Jones.
Commonly known as the Jonestown Massacre, the tragedy that unfolded in Guyana was a shocking loss of life that left the entire world shaken, but none were as shaken as those in the California Bay Area. To this day it’s difficult to find one local resident over the age of 30 who doesn’t have ties to at least one of the 918 victims, most of whom were members of the People’s Temple cult, founded, operated, and destroyed by cult leader Jim Jones in a forced mass suicide of epic proportions.
The memorial contains four gray tablets, simple in design and etched with the names of the deceased, including the name of the man who led them to their deaths. Not all of the victims are buried here, including Jones, but this is the location of the mass grave that holds more than 400 unclaimed souls. Infighting among victims’ families, bureaucratic errors and a vicious battle over whether the cult leader’s name should be included on the marker held up the memorial for decades, but an Alameda County Superior Court judge finally gave one of the factions, led by Jones’ son, permission to move forward with the memorial.
The motive for refusing to omit the name of the man responsible for such a tragic loss of life was to preserve historical record and include the names of everyone who died that day, even Jones, who is listed in alphabetical order with no special attention or disclaimer- just one more name in a sea of loss.
Visit California with Atlas Obscura Trips
Hip-Hop, Hippies, and Robots: Invention and Reinvention in San Francisco
We'll set out together, September 19-21, to explore unusual galleries, test our cocktail-making skills, and visit the city's best unofficial museum.