DEATH IN THE AFTERNOON PODCAST – Don’t Drink the KoolAid!: SEASON 1: EPISODE 4

Welcome to Death in the Afternoon, a new podcast about all things mortal, from The Order of the Good Death.

Each week, on Wednesday you’ll get a new episode of Death in the Afternoon; a podcast about all things mortal. You can listen (and subscribe!) on iTunes or Spotify.

What can I expect from Death in the Afternoon?

Our mission is to educate our audience about death in a unique, relatable, and entertaining way; to further open up conversations about death in a death phobic culture. And sometimes (ok, all the time) let things get delightfully bizarre.

From our podcast you can expect:

  • The surprisingly heartwarming tale of a woman who just couldn’t say goodbye to her dead family.
  • Baffling, chilling, and bizarre stories of when people die in a cult.
  • When embalming goes right, wrong, and WTF.

Plus many more stories plucked from current events, our favorite historical incidents, and death folklore. You can listen to our Season One trailer here.

For each episode of Death in the Afternoon we’ll publish a blog with images, additional reading, watching or listening, and behind the scenes notes about the making of each episode.

Welcome to our fourth episode, Don’t Drink the KoolAid! 

Episode description: Unfortunately, being in a cult doesn’t always end well. Beyond promises of salvation and immortality, one thing many cults have in common are dead bodies. This week, as we discuss the disturbing world of cults, we confront the questions: Why shouldn’t we drink the Kool-Aid? How many puppies does it take to resurrect a teen queen? And, what shouldn’t you bring into a doomsday cave? (Spoiler: corpses)

When we were discussing subjects for Death in the Afternoon, we all knew we wanted to do an episode dedicated to cult bodies. Sadly, there here are so many cases we could have covered in this episode, but if there’s a second season of the podcast we’ll likely return to this topic.

As we’ve stated many times before, death sucks. It is incredibly painful, complicated, and messy – which is one of the reasons why it is so important to talk about it, and begin to unravel our feelings. Just because we (your hosts) deal with death on a daily basis, doesn’t really make it easier. Here’s Louise with more on this:

This week was a rather SERIOUS podcast, at least for me. I tend to get very emotional when researching heavy topics, and Jonestown was definitely in that realm. I’m the gal most likely to be typing at a computer in a coffee shop, tears running down her cheeks with a buffer of three empty tables around her because well, who wants to sit too close to that person? (NICE PEOPLE THAT’S WHO.)  

Everybody loves when I write in public. 

But I’ll be honest, when I listened to this week’s podcast, a podcast where I felt like I did more talking than usual, I wasn’t tearing up, I was listening to my S’s. Jim JoneS…JoneStown…SocialiSt…SoCiety. 

I do this every week, listen to my S’s, but I did it a lot more this time. You see, in the past I had a slight speech impediment that I’ve always been very nervous about when I’m recorded. 

Now you’re all listening for it aren’t you? 

Ever so slightly, I used to make this sort of smacking/sucking/whistling sound when I said my S’s and sometimes T’s. I don’t even know if this would qualify as an impediment, I just know I used to get notes about it all the time in theater school, at auditions, at rehearsals, from friends, from “friends”, from myself when I was confronted with the torture of having to listen to my recorded voice back in the day. (I’m better about it now…mostly.) 

The whistling lisp sound – “The Whistling Lisp” shall be the name of my first folksy horror novel – typically popped up when I was in that magical state of being both nervous and tired (so all of college). I’d stop thinking about where my tongue was, I’d stop enunciating (or maybe it was because I had dry mouth and was OVER enunciating?), and I’d let that gap in my teeth get the best of me. 

After some training and moving around of my teeth, the whistling lisp has not been a part of my life for a long, long time. But it still haunts me. 

The day I recorded the Jonestown segment of the podcast, I’ll admit I was anxious, jet lagged, and under caffeinated. My mouth felt like it was full of spiders. 

And while now I can’t even make the sound if I’m thinking about it too hard – as Sarah pointed out when I weirdly tried to demonstrate in the studio – I still live in fear that one day I’ll listen to the podcast and I’ll be a smacking, whistling S-mess. 

So there you go, there’s a little behind-the-scenes drama for you. O, podcast life! What a world, what a world! 

And don’t join a cult. You’ll make me cry. 

Additional Reading: 

Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple

370 More Bodies Discovered in Jonestown

The “Death Tape”

 

As Caitlin mentions during the introduction of this episode, Sarah’s segment on The Great Eleven cult is a story that is almost too incredible to be believed. But, it did happen, and it was even more bizarre than we could cover in a single episode. Here’s Sarah with just a few of the things we had to edit out of this incredible story:

– May and Ruth had a handsome, young chauffer who knowingly allowed the women to lead him into a barn to be willingly shot in the foot with a gun by Ruth, all because an angel had commanded it.

– Her Heavenly Highness Queen May would bestow upon each member a special title, such as: The Concord of Taste, Queen of the Scaling Breath on the Inside of the Body, and The Four Winds of the Whirlwind God.

– Cult members included May’s own mother, Grandma Jennie, who was chained to a bed for two months. When questioned about it, she said it was the happiest she’d ever been.

– May’s husband, Ward was also her stepbrother and 20 years her junior. Ward wore his black hair slicked back and sported a fu-manchu style mustache – little, unconnected wisps of facial hair at the corners of the mouth. Ward’s job within the cult consisted of two tasks – stand outside each day and keep count of the number of cars passing by, and when it rained, to collect the rain in a coffee can and measure it, and report his findings back to May.

Ward died alone and broke in 1975. His body would become a cadaver for students at a local chiropractic college to study.

AP photo dated Oct. 7, 1929. Caption: The caskets of Willa Rhoads, princess of The Divine Order of the Royal Arm of the Great Seal, whose body was buried under the home of her foster parents, and of the seven dogs (in the other casket) which were buried in the same grave as part of the cult practices.

The above photo is from the Historical Crime Detective website, which has some great additional reading on the case.

If you want to do more than just read about The Great Eleven, you should definitely hop aboard the Esotouric bus for their Wild Wild Westside tour, where you can also visit some of the locations and learn more about the Blackburns. I cannot possibly recommend Kim and Richard’s tours and events enough, these passionate and knowledgeable LA historians have been uncovering the city’s unknown, and often macabre history for decades.

May and Ruth.

You can get even more behind the scenes goodness from Death in the Afternoon over on Twitter and Instagram. Follow us – let’s be friends…’til death.

 

 

Death in the Afternoon is a podcast written, researched, and developed by Caitlin Doughty, Sarah Chavez, and Louise Hung of The Order of the Good Death. 

Caitlin Doughty is a mortician and funeral home owner in Los Angeles, CA. Along with Sarah and Louise she runs The Order of the Good Death and the Good Death Foundation, orgs that spread the death positive gospel around the world through video series like Ask a Mortician, blogs, bestselling books, and now, a gosh darn podcast!

Sarah Chavez is the executive director of The Order of the Good Death. As the child of parents in the entertainment industry, she was raised witnessing choreographed Hollywood deaths on soundstages. Her work has been influenced by her unique life and weaves together the relationship between death and food, feminism, Mexican-American death rituals, and the strange and wondrous history surrounding the culture of death itself.

Louise Hung is a writer, researcher, and community manager for The Order of the Good Death. While she can usually be found hunched over her computer working on video scripts for Ask a Mortician, Louise has also been known to tap out a few words about death in folklore, history, pop culture, and Asian or Asian American communities.

Editor and composer: Dory Bavarsky

Engineering: Paul Tavener

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