Summer Reading: The Story of Jane Lathrop Stanford (2)

This is the story of Jane Lathrop Stanford and the mysterious circumstances surrounding her death in the early 1900s.

By June Morrall

One year befoe Leland Stanford drove home the golden spike, wife Jane gave birth to Leland, Jr. in the richly furnished surroundings of her Sacramento mansion. The Stanfords had had a long childless marriage, now the couple rejoiced, and the baby boy became the center of their lives.

At an exclusive dinner party, the infant was passed around on a silver platter for guests to admire.

With their great wealth, the Stanfords built a stately residence high atop San Francisco’s Nob Hill, with sweeping views of the bay as well as the Central Pacific Railroad depot. Within the walls of what was described as the largest private residence in California, Jane Stanford entertained leaders from all over the world.

An eclectic decor accentuated the interior of the Nob Hill mansion. Soon after being greeted at the front door by a maid or butler, distinguished guests walked across a marble floor inlaid with a zodiac, while 70-feet above their heads sunlight filtered through an amber glass skylight.

Music of the era flowed through the mansion; its source a huge “music box.” In the East India room visitors studied Gov. Stanford’s mementos; they admired the furnishings in the Chinese room, reportedly provided by the Chinese government and lingered in the mosaic-decorated Pompeian room. Guests experienced a mild shock upon discovering an artificial jungle with mechanically chirping birds in the art gallery.

Leland’s business interests and Jane’s love of travel abroad often separated the pair, but when the couple was together, Leland revealed a romantic side.

On one occasion, he chose Italy’s stunning Lake Como as a backdrop for a surprise birthday party for Jane.

In the morning, Leland presented his wife with an enameled box of jewels; at sunset he arranged for her to be serenaded by musicians aboard a barge draped with hundreds of fresh flowers.

All that was missing in their lives was a country home on the Peninsula.

In 1876, the Stanfords purchased “Mayfield Grange” from Mrs. George Gordon, on eof the notorious characters in local novelist Gertrude Atheron’s scandalous 1899 book A Daughter of the Vine. The Stanfords renamed the acres of vineyards, orchards, stock farm and race track the Palo Alto Farm.

Young Leland Jr. frolicked in the stables and rode his father’s sleek, fast horses across the fields and over the hills. He displayed a talent for languages and a curiosity for archaeology, filling his doting parents with immense pride.

But when Leland Jr. sailed for Europe with his mother in 1884, it would be their last time together.

(next Part 3)