Whitney family entombed in pyramid-shaped mausoleum

Rocks, Rails and Ranches
By: Gary Day, Special to the Placer Herald
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Editor’s Note: This is the second in a two-part series on the pyramid-style mausoleum built by Joel Parker Whitney. Joel Parker Whitney died at age 78 in 1913. His cremated remains, and those of 16 of his family members, are entombed in a pyramid-shaped mausoleum near the 11th green of the Whitney Oaks Golf Course. But what motivated Whitney to want his family entombed in a pyramid? The late-19th century saw the advent of Pyramidology, a belief that pyramidal forms hold special spiritual powers. A few 19th century religions integrated its tenets. By the early 20th century, it was not unusual for a person to believe that pyramids could restore good heath and assure reincarnation. According to archeologist David Chavez, who studied the Whitney pyramid in the early 1980s, there is evidence that Whitney developed an interest in Pyramidology while attending the 1867 Paris Exhibition. He was there to display Colorado mineral samples as well as solicit investments in Colorado mines and real estate. Whitney’s Colorado investments were the main source of his wealth in his early years. French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette had recently unearthed a unique form of pyramid at Abydos, Egypt and had a model of it on display at the exhibition. Mariette’s Abydos pyramid features a base with vertical sides. Chavez’ theory is that Mariette and Whitney met at the exhibition and discussed Mariette’s find. This meeting might have sparked Parker’s interest in Pyramidology or it might have merely reinforced a belief he had acquired from his reading as well as his extensive travels in the eastern states and Europe. Whitney’s pyramid rests on an Abydos-like vertical-sided base. The pyramid is now enclosed in a one-acre iron-fenced compound, which Whitney family members set aside for their permanent use as they gradually sold off ranch property to other ranchers and land developers during the early- to mid-20th century. About a dozen of Joel Parker Whitney’s descendents gather for a reunion at the compound each May.