Atlas Obscura is organizing trips! Join us on an adventure »
Today Only: 50% off Atlas Obscura books and calendars at Barnes & Noble »

Palo Alto, California

Stanford Mausoleum

Guarded by the Angel of Grief, the Stanford family tomb attracts an odd mix of halloween revelry and somber contemplation. 

Originally planned as the site for Leland and Jane Stanford’s grand mansion, the family changed their plans following the death of their young son, Leland Junior. Instead, they built a university that they named after him, and built a tomb near their recently completed cactus garden. Leland and Jane Stanford were later buried in the tomb alongside their son. The mysteries surrounding Jane’s death by strychnine poisoning have never been completely solved.

The angel of grief statue lies just north of the mausoleum and was dedicated to Jane’s brother.

Although rarely visited by tourists and locals, the mausoleum hosts annual Founder’s Day ceremonies and raucous undergraduate halloween festivities. At the turn of the century, the Mausoleum was often visited by courting couples after a stroll through the cactus garden.

The place also appears to elicit spiritual responses. University archaeologists have found small shrines set up near the tomb, featuring candles, incense, saint statues, and prayers written on the back of homework papers.

The tomb was completed in 1889 and cost an equivalent of $2.3 million today. Four marble sphinxes flank the four corners. The Greek sphinx-women that were originally planned to go in the front of the mausoleum turned out to be a little too shapely for Mrs. Stanford’s tastes, and were relegated to the back, while less offensive sphinxes took over in front.