What You Don’t Know About . . . The Mausoleum

LION QUEENS: The pair of sphinxes shown above was eventually moved to the rear. Courtesy Stanford University Archives

Early versions of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted's plans for Leland Stanford Jr. University placed a family mausoleum at dramatic focal points for which the entire campus would provide an elaborate frame. The final plan, however, saw the Mausoleum shifted just west of Palm Drive to its location near the present-day Arizona Cactus Garden, where the landscape provides a sheltered setting for Founder's Day ceremonies and Halloween bacchanalia. The tomb, completed in 1889, cost more than $100,000 (about $2.3 million today). Here are more facts crypt fans can keep in mind

HORSEPOWER NEEDED: Granite and marble for the Mausoleum was quarried in Barre, Vt. Quarryman Fayette T. Cutler described the task of moving the two 50-ton triangular gables in the Boston Evening Transcript. The first was "on skids which went over round logs used as rollers. It took forty horses to pull it down. That is, six horses in front, and the rest in back to hold it from going too fast!" It took 18 days to go 6 miles. The second gable was moved, after a snowstorm, on sleds. (Courtesy Aldrich Public Library, Barre, through the Vermont Historical Society)

Braces of sphinxes wing thee to thy rest. Jane Stanford pondered many decisions in building the Mausoleum, but one important change order involved the commission of Greek sphinxes to flank the doors. An archival document notes that Mrs. Stanford, upon seeing the woman/lion statues, "found the artistic effect not pleasing." The buxom sphinxes were moved to the back of the building, and more androgynous specimens were installed up front.

The third time's the charm. The Mausoleum is not the site of Leland Jr.'s first burial—or even his second. After his death from typhoid fever in Florence in March 1884, the teenager was temporarily laid to rest in a vault on the East Coast. In the fall, the remains were reinterred in a "smaller" brick mausoleum on the grounds of the family mansion. This small mausoleum was still plenty grand, featuring a sitting room upholstered in gold and purple, a fresco depicting two large angels who bear Leland's body to heaven, and a ceiling decorated with stained glass. It was June 29, 1893—five days after his father's burial—that young Leland's lead-lined casket was moved to the mausoleum we know today.

MAXIMUM SECURITY ETERNITY: Fearful that someone might disturb their son's rest, Leland and Jane Stanford hired a watchman for the first mausoleum at the family mansion. They also had the tomb wired to sound an alarm should anyone breach its walls. After her husband's interment in 1893, Mrs. Stanford forwent a new electrical alarm system, but installed a guardhouse, shown here, near the front steps. (Courtesy Stanford University Archives) 

Shaken, not disturbed. After the 1906 earthquake, much of the University lay in ruins. The Mausoleum? "Not a crack," observed a reporter. (In the late 1990s, though, the building got a needed makeover, including a thorough cleaning, a coat of anti-graffiti sealant, and zinc strips on the roof to discourage the growth of lichen and fungi.)

It's a magnet for the contemplative. While working with the conservation team in 1996, University archeologist Laura Jones, MA '84, PhD '91, was shown a small shrine erected to the west of the tomb. "There were candles, incense and plaster statues of saints," she says. "In the spaces between the statues I found rolled-up prayers written on homework assignments. One had a math problem set on the back."

A MANY-PETALED SPLENDOR: Sen. Leland Stanford was the first of the three family members to be buried in the Mausoleum, even though planning for the building had begun after the death of Leland Jr. The elder Leland's funeral in 1893 included this array of floral memorials, including a topiary-like figure of the former governor's favorite horse and a reproduction of the Quad's already famous arches. (Courtesy Stanford University Archives) 

Years of florid—and floral—tributes. For more than a century, the Stanford community has come together on a more or less yearly basis to honor the University founders with a procession, speeches (including William James in 1906 and Wallace Stegner in 1991) and the solemn presentation of flowers. Although in 1919 one biplane hired for the occasion "met with an accident" on its way to Stanford, the San Jose Mercury Herald reported that another aviator, Captain Paul Williams, "looped the loop in his aeroplane and dropped flowers over the ceremonial procession."

A BRILLIG SETTING: When Ava Roy, '03, directed 'Jabberwocky,' based on the works of Lewis Carroll, the Mausoleum grounds became Wonderland, with actors and audience moving through the space as scenes unfolded. The show culminated at the Mausoleum's doors, where Alice (played by Jonatha Giddens) was honored by the Red Queen (Jessica Joffe, '04) and the White Queen (Teresa Kelley, '03). Alice stepped across the building's threshold to a new life. "Like graduation," Roy says.(Courtesy Ava Roy)

Revels loud enough to wake the dead? Jim Dewey, '79, remembers Roble-sponsored parties at the tomb. One, in honor of Leland's birthday on May 14 "was very informal, a typical throw-the-kegs-in-the-car and let's go over." At midnight, classmate Jay Roach "picked up one of the huge iron or brass rings, and started banging on the crypt. He chanted, "LE-LAND!" (BANG BANG), "LE-LAND!" (BANG BANG), "LE-LAND!" (BANG BANG). No one answered the door. We left a note, cleaned up, and went home."

By the mid-to-late '80s, students celebrating Halloween had made the Mausoleum Party a fixture of the student social calendar. An alumna who wishes to remain anonymous remembers Halloween 1996. "A dormmate and I dressed up as ovaries and ran into a bunch of guys dressed as sperm. I remember the DJ played Tiffany's 'I Think We're Alone Now.' It was magic."


Jenny Pegg is a doctoral student in the history and philosophy of science and technology.