Cemetery of the Week #115: the Stanford Mausoleum

Vintage postcard of the Stanford Family Mausoleum

Vintage postcard of the Stanford Family Mausoleum

Stanford Family Mausoleum
In the Stanford Arboretum, near the Arizona Garden
Between Palm Drive and Quarry Road, north of Campus Drive
Stanford University
Palo Alto, California 94305
Telephone: (650) 723-7974
Built: 1889
Number of Interments: 3
Open: Only on Founder’s Day celebrations, usually in early April, but in 2013, it was held in October

Born on a farm in New York, Leland Stanford studied law, but didn’t graduate. This didn’t prevent him from becoming a lawyer in Wisconsin in his 20s. He followed his brothers to California in 1852, setting himself up as a grocer and supplying the gold miners. This proved lucrative enough that he entered politics. He served as governor of California during the Civil War, a Lincoln Republican who managed to keep the state in the Union.

During his two-year stint in office, he also supported legislation that would build the railroad eastward over the Sierras. At the time, he was also president of the Central Pacific Railroad, but the United States had no policy against conflict of interest. He drove the Golden Spike uniting the Central Pacific with the Union Railroad at Promontory Summit, Utah. Stanford headed the Central Pacific Railroad until his death, returning to politics in 1885 as a U.S. Senator.

When Stanford’s only son, Leland Jr., died suddenly of typhoid fever on a family trip to Florence in March 1884, his parents discussed what would be a fitting memorial to their only son. They settled on building a university on the horse farm they owned in Palo Alto, north of San Jose.

Leland Stanford Jr. was buried temporarily in a vault on the East Coast, while his parents visited Harvard, M.I.T., and other universities. Frederick Law Olmstead, the landscape architect of Manhattan’s Central Park (and Oakland, California’s Mountain View Cemetery), was engaged to draw up plans for Leland Stanford Jr. University.

The Greek Sphinxes guard the back of the mausoleum.

The Greek Sphinxes guard the back of the mausoleum.

By Fall 1884, Junior’s body was brought to California and buried in a brick mausoleum near the family’s mansion on the budding university’s grounds. This “small” mausoleum included a small sitting room “upholstered in gold and purple,” a stained glass ceiling, and a fresco of angels bearing Junior to heaven.

The granite and marble family mausoleum was completed in 1889. The tomb cost a reported $100,000, more than $2.3 million in adjusted dollars. The mausoleum is flanked by four Greek sphinxes, but the more well-endowed pair have been exiled to the rear of the mausoleum, facing the trees. Apparently Jane Stanford did not find their contours pleasing. A more sedate Egyptian couple now guard the front.

The Stanfords' Egyptian guardians.

The Stanfords’ Egyptian guardians.

Stanford himself was interred in the mausoleum in June 1893. Five days later, his son’s lead-lined casket was exhumed a final time and moved to its hopefully eternal rest.

In April 1899, Jane’s youngest brother Henry Clay Lathrop died in San Francisco of dropsy, swelling caused by cirrhosis of the liver. Two years later, Jane commissioned a copy of William Wetmore Story’s Angel of Grief Weeping over the Dismantled Altar of Life. (The original sculpture marks Story’s own family grave in Rome’s Protestant Cemetery — and another copy marks the grave of Jennie Roosevelt Pool, a cousin of Teddy Roosevelt, buried in Colma’s Cypress Lawn Cemetery. Hers wasn’t commissioned until her death in 1911.) Lathrop’s monument stands slightly north of the mausoleum. Once it was in place, Jane had an urn of her brother’s ashes sealed in its base.

Jane and Leland Sr.'s sarcophagi

Jane and Leland Sr.’s sarcophagi

Jane died on a trip to Hawaii in 1905. She had been poisoned once at home before the trip and strychnine was found in the bicarbonate soda she consumed the night she died, but no one was ever charged with her murder. Her body was brought home to Palo Alto and interred in a marble sarcophagus between her husband and son.

The 1906 earthquake spared the mausoleum, but destroyed the Angel of Grief. The University commissioned a replacement from Antonio Bernieri, sculptor of the initial one.

The mausoleum and angel are surrounded by an arboretum that contains Crape Myrtle, Paperbark Maples, and Guadalupe Palms transplanted from elsewhere on campus as the university grew. In addition to the collection of trees, cactus, and other plants, the arboretum is “a wonderful destination for bird enthusiasts,” according to the Stanford University website.

Since 1905, the semi-isolated mausoleum has served as a lover’s lane. It continues to be the site of a raucous undergraduate Halloween party and a much more sedate Founder’s Day celebration, the only time the mausoleum is opened to the public. There is not a lot to see inside.

The copy of the Angel of Grief on the Stanford University campus.

The copy of the Angel of Grief on the Stanford University campus.

Founder’s Day celebrations include a procession of flags, including the flags of Stanford’s various Colleges. The year I attended, the Green Street Mortuary Band and the Stanford Gospel Choir performed, alongside several students who’d written prize-winning essays about “what the founding of the University means to them.” Wreathes were laid and speeches given and a student sang the Stanford Hymn.

Useful links:

Information on the Stanford Mausoleum and surrounding area

Founder’s Day celebrations

Some beautiful antique postcards of the original Stanford Angel of Grief

The Angel after the 1906 earthquake

Information about the latest restoration of the Stanford Angel of Grief

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About Loren Rhoads

I am the author of the essay collection Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel, co-author of the novel As Above, So Below, and editor of The Haunted Mansion Project: Year Two. My science fiction trilogy begins with The Dangerous Type in 2015. In addition to blogging at CemeteryTravel.com, I blog about my morbid life at lorenrhoads.com.
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4 Responses to Cemetery of the Week #115: the Stanford Mausoleum

  1. Love the Sphinxes guarding !

  2. coastalcrone says:

    This is fascinating history! I didn’t know much about the Stanford family. With all that money someone must have had a motive to kill Jane. Excellent post, Loren!

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