November 18, 1988, New York Times, Ghost of Jonestown Haunts Survivor,
Hyacinth Thrash's scars are the kind that do not show. In her cozy room at Mount Zion Geriatric Center, she reclines in a wheelchair and tries to forget the unforgettable: Jonestown.
Ten years ago tomorrow 913 members of the Peoples Temple, including their charismatic leader, Jim Jones, died in Jonestown, Guyana. Most committed suicide, at Mr. Jones's behest, by drinking a cyanide-laced liquid.
A few people escaped into the nearby jungle, but by the next morning only one person in Jonestown remained alive: Mrs. Thrash. Her sister, Zipporah Edwards, and several friends were among the dead.
Mrs. Thrash, now 86 years old, said the nine previous anniversaries were easier to endure. "This one has worried me more than any of them," she said. "Lately, I haven't been sleeping too well."
'Like a Big Family'
That is hardly surprising. Over the last few weeks she has repeatedly dredged her memory before a parade of local reporters, reciting her survival story countless times. Somehow, her raspy voice stays steady, even when recounting the most horrifying details, and her manner remains pleasant and cooperative.
But discussing Jonestown is not the same as seeing it again, as she discovered Wednesday when a television newscast showed the bodies.
"I just don't feel too good thinking about it," she said moments after the newscast.
"When I see all those people, it makes me nervous," she said. "We had a nice bunch of people there. It was just like a big family. All those people should have lived a long life, especially those babies."
The Young 'Need to Know'
She talks a lot about babies and children. One reason she so willingly relives the agonizing memories is that she wants to prevent young people from falling prey to similar cults.
"I like to witness to the kids," she said, "The young generation needs to know. I think the kids will read about it, and it might keep somebody else from falling into the same trap."
Although her ordeal centered on a church, Mrs. Thrash has remained steadfast in her religious faith. "God saved me," she said of her survival in Jonestown.
Her bitterness is directed at Mr. Jones, whom she once admired for his civil rights work in Indianapolis. In the 1960's, Mr. Jones espoused the cause of underprivileged blacks. "He was nice at that time," said Mrs. Thrash, who had endured racial prejudice as a child in the South.
'Possessed of the Devil'
With her sister's encouragement, she joined the Peoples Temple. At Mr. Jones's urging she sold her Indianapolis home for $35,000 and gave him the proceeds. A few years later, when the church moved to California, she bought and sold another home, again giving the money to Mr. Jones.
But by 1977, when he led his followers to Guyana, Mr. Jones had become erratic, showing contempt for Christianity, said Mrs. Thrash. "He changed in so many ways," she said. "He said there was no Jesus, there was no God - that he was the onliest God. I think he got possessed of the Devil."
Mrs. Thrash grew increasingly disenchanted with him. On the night of the mass suicides, when Mr. Jones summoned his followers to the town pavilion, Mrs. Thrash refused to go, declaring to her sister that she was "sick of Jim Jones." Her sister went ahead.
Later, Mr. Jones's security guards combed the community for stragglers but overlooked Mrs. Thrash, who had turned out her lights and crawled under the bed. She hid there for about five minutes, then, unaware of the holocaust that was unfolding, undressed and went to bed.
The next morning, on the way to breakfast, she discovered 15 bodies. Panic yielded to calm, she said, when God told her He was with her. She returned to her cottage, where Guyanese authorities found her the next day.
'No Place Like Home'
After returning to the United States, she spent the first five years living with relatives and the last five in the nursing home. Today, sitting in her corner room, Mrs. Thrash seems safely removed from the Jonestown nightmare. But perhaps she will never be. "This is nice, but there's no place like home," she said. "If I'd kept my California home, I'd be out there now."
Still, she said, "I have things to be happy about." "I'm not going to let it drive me crazy," the Jonestown survivor said. "I know it was terrible and it happened, but you know, time goes on. You can't give up on life over that."