Oakland Tours in Focus: The Kiser Mausoleum and Oakland’s Funerary Architecture

by Marcy Breffle, Education Coordinator

Classical or Gothic Revival, simple stone house or ornate mini-church – the 50-plus mausoleums that dot Oakland’s landscape can make the cemetery seem more like an outdoor art gallery than a graveyard. These large, above-ground burial chambers hold the remains of hundreds of Atlanta citizens, but are noted for their symbolism and funerary design. One of the most visited mausoleums at Oakland is the Kiser Mausoleum.

Built in 1873, the Kiser Mausoleum was one of the first mausoleums constructed at Oakland. With its rock-faced granite exterior and coursed ashlar masonry, the mausoleum was designed in the Romanesque Revival style. This style is based on the architecture of medieval Europe and is commonly found at Oakland.

Marion Columbus Kiser, the patriarch of the Kiser family, was born in Campbell (now Fulton) County in 1830. He began his career as an apprentice for his older brother Wiley, who owned a dry goods store. After the Civil War, Kiser opened his own wholesale business with his brother John. M.C. and J.F Kiser Company became a successful wholesale shoes and dry good store. Kiser turned his sights to real estate, investing in development around the city. He erected two buildings on Pryor Street, the Kiser Building and the Marion Hotel. The eight-story Kiser Building was constructed in 1890 to house law offices. In 1893 Kiser opened the Marion Hotel at 97 Pryor Street. The hotel was built in the Romanesque style and served guests for 58 years. Both buildings were demolished – the Kiser Building in 1936 and the Marion Hotel in 1951.

Marion Kiser married three times. His first wife Octavia died in 1873 at age 34. He remarried 19-year-old Hessie Scott, who also passed away in her mid-30s. One day, Kiser was visiting Oakland to pay his respects to both former wives when he met Sarah Turner Ivy, a widow who was visiting the grave of her deceased husband, Michael. They began courting and he proposed marriage. Sarah accepted his proposal, with one condition. Sarah made it clear that she would not share the mausoleum with Kiser’s first two wives unless her first husband, Michael, was also there. Kiser agreed and Michael Ivy’s remains were moved. Kiser died in 1893, and he was interred within the mausoleum along with his three wives, Sarah’s first husband, and several other family members.

Other monuments on the family lot honor members of the Kiser family. The monument topped with the angel Gabriel was erected for Marion’s brother John, who died in 1882.

Family monuments outside of the Kiser mausoleum.

Another monument was built in honor of Marion’s beloved son, Eddie, who died at age 18. The monument is covered with symbols: an anchor (hope), tree stump (a life cut short), rock base (a life built on a firm foundation), a cross (Christianity), and ivy (abiding memory).

Detail of epitaph to Eddie Kiser.

To learn more about Victorian symbolism and Oakland’s collection of mausoleums, attend the Art and Architecture of Death special topic tour Sunday at 6:30 p.m. This tour does not require reservations and tickets can be purchased at the Visitors Center and Museum Shop.