November 1978

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from Reporter’s Note Book by Duffy Jennings.


When November arrived in San Francisco in 1978, balmy fall weather lingered at first, teasing an extended Indian summer even as snow blanketed the High Sierra. It reached seventy-five degrees in San Francisco on election day, November 7. But temperatures dropped rapidly in the days after the polls closed. It wasn’t just the weather that changed. Foreboding developments were already in the wind. By the time the month gave way to December, the city would be altered forever.

By then I had been a reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle for close to nine years. At thirty-one, I thought I was at the peak of my career, to the point where I had my eye on the city editor’s chair. I’d covered parts of the Zodiac and Zebra serial murders, the Patty Hearst kidnapping, the Golden Dragon Restaurant massacre, and other major stories. I loved my work. Newspapers were the kings of news in a pre-digital world. People got most of their news from the daily paper, either delivered to their front door or picked up at a corner news stand.

On election day, November 7, San Mateo Congressman Leo Ryan announced he would visit the Peoples Temple agricultural commune in Guyana, South America, dubbed “Jonestown.” He planned the trip to investigate complaints that its leader, the Reverend Jim Jones, was keeping a number of Jonestown’s nearly one thousand residents, most of them from the Bay Area, there against their will. “I intend to stay down there as long as it takes to find out what is going on,” said Ryan.

Three days after the election, thirty-two-year-old city supervisor Dan White resigned, ten months into his term, citing financial and personal pressures.

November was only ten days old, but both story lines—the Ryan trip to Jonestown and the White resignation—were on a collision course for an explosive end to the month.


© 2019 by Duffy Jennings. All Rights Reserved.

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November was only ten days old, but both story lines—the Ryan trip to Jonestown and the White resignation—were on a collision course for an explosive end.

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