Best of Phoenix

Best of Phoenix 2020: Beyond the Grave at Papago Park's Pyramid Tomb

Best of Phoenix 2020: Beyond the Grave at Papago Park's Pyramid Tomb
5of7/Creative Commons via Flickr

Visitors to the white-tiled pyramid at Papago Park have sometimes mistaken it for an oddly placed homage to Egypt. But the unadorned monument isn’t a Sonoran hat-tip to Cairo; it’s the gravesite of Arizona’s first governor, George W. P. Hunt, who held office between 1912 and 1933. He was interred there in 1934, alongside the remains of his daughter and his wife, and those of her in-laws and his wife’s sister.

“He wanted to have a significant place where he and his family could be buried,” according to local historian Donna Reiner, PhD. “And he really loved Arizona. Even though he’s not native-born, his heart belonged to this state, and he wanted some place where he could look out over the Valley when he went to visit his wife’s grave.”

At the time that Hunt built his oddball resting place, the property was federal land. “The feds weren’t going to allow him to put a tomb up there,” Reiner explains. “And then all of a sudden, he’s lobbying to get that land transferred to Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Tempe as a public park.”

If Hunt was shrewd, he was also misunderstood. “People say he came up with the pyramid shape during his time as the ambassador to Siam,” Reiner says. “But I don’t see those kinds of pyramids in Siam. Most people agree the pyramid is a reference to his affiliation with the Freemasons, because the pyramid is the Masons’ symbol.”

An opponent of child labor, Hunt reportedly did all the grocery shopping for his household — an uncommon activity for a man in the early 20th century — and was an avid knitter who made piles of scarves for World War I soldiers. Plaques posted on the site claim Hunt was a descendant of a “Revolutionary War patriot,” though the soldier goes unnamed. According to the signage, the esteemed governor allowed Arizona women to vote nearly a decade before it was legal in the rest of the United States and was reelected more times than any other gubernatorial candidate.

Reiner remembers how, about 15 years ago, visiting members of the Daughters of the American Revolution noticed that Hunt’s tomb was in disrepair. “The top had fallen off,” she says, “so they decided they would repair it. Little did they know how bad things were. They thought they’d just stick the top back on. But they ended up spending $76,000 fixing up that tomb.”

Although this unusual gravesite provides gorgeous hilltop views of the desert, the Phoenix Zoo, and big hunks of the Valley, Reiner doesn’t think Hunt’s Tomb is a tourist destination.

“I think most people who know about it have stumbled upon it,” she says. “But either way, it’s a sight to see. And you’ll never find another pyramid-shaped tomb on city-owned land, that’s for sure.”
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela