Anniversary of Jonestown

Leo J. Ryan

Friday marks the thirty-third anniversary of the Jonestown Massacre, the cult mass-suicide that killed 918 people in and around the Jonestown compound in Guyana. The dead also included a congressional delegation (led by Congressman Leo Ryan) that was seeking information about alleged abuses by the leadership of the community.

It’s unfortunate that today, Congressman Ryan is remembered primarily for his murder in Jonestown. During his years in the Assembly (1959-1972), Ryan played a significant role in the operation of the legislature. In 1966, Ryan was led the opposition to Proposition 1A, which created California’s full-time legislature.

California State Assembly seal

A year later, Ryan authored the resolution (HR 410 of 1967) that established the design of the seal of the California State Assembly (which is still used today).

During the same period, Ryan also wrote a book about the legislature titled Understanding California Government and Politics. In it, Ryan describes the many interests that compete for the attention of a legislator, and offers some excellent advice to constituents who are thinking about contacting their legislators;

“You have a state legislator within easy reach of you. He does have an office. If you need information, call him. If you would like to have him speak to your class, invite him. When they have the time, most legislators will be interested in meeting you. You will find them sympathetic to your interests and far from unapproachable.”

The Ghost of Assemblyman Chalmers

Assemblyman Robert Chalmers

Sorry we missed Halloween with this one…

As research continues into the biographies of California’s legislators, occasionally a story emerges that we just have to share with you. Today: The story of Assemblyman Chalmers.

Robert Chalmers was born in Scotland and came to America as a young man. After his arrival in California, he was a successful miner and businessman (later operating a vineyard  in El Dorado County). In addition to being the father of at least nine children, Chalmers was a prominent citizen in his area (Elected Treasurer of El Dorado County in 1867 and to the Assembly in 1871). In 1879, Chalmers “went mad” (some websites indicate that his madness was the result of syphilis) and, to protect herself, his wife chained him to a brick wall in the basement of their home. Two years later, Chalmers died of starvation (still chained to the wall).

The Chalmers home, now known as the Vineyard House (in the town of Coloma) is reportedly still haunted by the ghost of Assemblyman Chalmers. The haunting was made a bit more famous when the location was featured on a 1979 episode of the show “In Search Of…” (hosted by Leonard Nimoy). In the episode, titled “Ghostly Stakeout“, a medium attempted to communicate with Chalmers and his wife.


Senator Voorheis
I’m only familiar with one other instance of a legislator remaining to haunt the living (other than the obvious lobbyist jokes) is State Senator Edward Converse Voorheis, who is claimed to haunt the Sutter Creek Inn (in the town of Sutter Creek). Senator Voorheis lived in the building for several years, but it’s unclear if he would have as convincing a reason as Assemblyman Chalmers to hang out. If you know of any other “legislative ghost stories”, please let us know by commenting below.

Dr. Timothy Alan Hodson (1950-2011)

“If your parents don’t vote, tell them that they’re idiots.” – Tim Hodson’s instructions to high school students at an event in October 2008.

The Director of the Center for California Studies, Tim Hodson, died this morning in Sacramento. In addition to his service at the Center, Hodson been a member of California’s Fair Political Practices Commission and a long-time State Senate staffer.

A year and a half ago, Hodson asked me to run a list of the legislators who had served during the years that he worked in the Senate and at the Center. The updated total (through today) was 551 legislators including;

  • 90% of the women who have ever served in the legislature.
  • 85% of the members who have served since the legislature became full-time in 1967.

Hodson was a mentor to many in the Capitol community, including the Editor of this website. His advice and insight will be missed.