Purified by Fire: A History of Cremation in America / Edition 1

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Just one hundred years ago, Americans almost universally condemned cremation. Today, nearly one-quarter of Americans choose to be cremated. The practice has gained wide acceptance as a funeral rite, in both our private and public lives, as the cremations of icons such as John Lennon and John F. Kennedy Jr. show. Purified by Fire tells the fascinating story of cremation's rise from notoriety to legitimacy and takes a provocative new look at important transformations in the American cultural landscape over the last 150 years.

Stephen Prothero synthesizes a wide array of previously untapped source material, including newspapers, consumer guides, mortician trade journals, and popular magazines such as Reader's Digest to provide this first historical study of cremation in the United States. He vividly describes many noteworthy events—from the much-criticized first American cremation in 1876 to the death and cremation of Jerry Garcia in the late twentieth century. From the Gilded Age to the Progressive Era to the baby boomers of today, this book takes us on a tour through American culture and traces our changing attitudes toward death, religion, public health, the body, and the environment.

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Editorial Reviews

Ronald L. Grimes
Readers of Purified by Fire will find themselves enthralled by their own history and left pondering the disposition of their own remains. Prothero has crafted a thoroughly admirable book, a model for writing cultural history on religiously significant topics. The scholarship is exemplary. Prothero is accurate, critical, anlaytical, and all the while, he tells a good story.
Christian Science Monitor
Offers an engrossing look at a largely ignored subject. While it's an academic approach, Prothero's style is energetic and lively. As a historian, he is thorough and conscientious. As a writer, he spins a good yarn. Which seems like the right way to treat this deathly subject.
[A] religiously relevant study. . . . Purified by Fire, an historical account of cremation in three parts, reveals an unexpected buoyancy as Prothero pays ample attention to the wielding of metaphors and literary imagery by both cremationists and traditionalists.
At once an exploration of the changing meaning of religious rituals, a witty piece of reporting on the machinations of the death industry, and a very serious piece of scholarship on the origins and popularization of a cultural practice. . . . A terrific read, highly recommended.
Gary Laderman
In Purified by Fire Stephen Prothero deals with the history of cremation in a superbly innovative and sophisticated way. His training in American religious history and the history of religion shines through, and his ability to situate debates over cremation in the larger social and cultural ecology makes the arguments even more compelling for the reader. The scholarship here is superior.
Christian Science Monitor
Offers an engrossing look at a largely ignored subject. While it's an academic approach, Prothero's style is energetic and lively. As a historian, he is thorough and conscientious. As a writer, he spins a good yarn. Which seems like the right way to treat this deathly subject.
Library Journal
As Prothero (religion, Boston Univ.) states in the introduction, "what Americans usually do is bury." In this outstanding work, he delves deeply into a subject that is often avoided: death and, most specifically, cremation. He reads ancient texts, showing how the likes of Homer, Virgil, and Ovid discussed cremation. As Christianity rose in the West, cremation disappeared, and from the late fourth century C.E. until the 17th century burial was the accepted way to dispose of the dead. Prothero cites English physician Sir Thomas Browne's 1658 book on cremation as critical to the modern cremation movement. But Prothero focuses mainly on cremation in America. Starting in the late 1800s, when the first modern American cremations took place, Prothero traces the changing views about cremation in America up to the present. Now almost a quarter of the populace chooses cremation, and cultural icons such as John Lennon and President Kennedy have been cremated without a second thought. Some of the more interesting sections of the book consider the interplay of cremation and public health and the centrality of the immortality of the soul to cremationists. This very interesting book is highly recommended for larger public, academic, and theological libraries.--Jay Stephens, Roanoke Higher Education Ctr. Lib., VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520236882
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 11/15/2002
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 298
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen Prothero is Associate Professor of Religion at Boston University, coeditor of Asian Religions in America: A Documentary History (1998), author of The White Buddhist: The Asian Odyssey of Henry Steel Olcott (1997), and coauthor of The Encyclopedia of American Religious History (1996).

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations xi
Acknowledgments xiii
Introduction 1
Part 1 Birth, 1874-1896 13
1. The Cremation of Baron De Palm 15
2. Sanitary Reform 46
3. Resurrection and the Resurrectionists 67
Part 2 Bricks and Mortar, 1896-1963 103
4. The Business of Cremation 105
5. The Memorial Idea 127
Part 3 Boom, 1963-Present 161
6. Consumers' Last Rites 163
7. Contemporary Ways of Cremation 188
Timeline 213
Abbreviations 219
Notes 221
Selected Bibliography 253
Index 263
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First Chapter

Chapter 1

The Cremation of Baron De Palm

On December 6, 1876, in the small town of Washington, Pennsylvania, the corpse of Baron Joseph Henry Louis Charles De Palm went up in flames in an event billed as the first cremation in modern America. Supporters hailed the event, the first cremation in modern America, as a harbinger of a new age of scientific progress and ritual simplicity. Opponents denounced it as Satan's errand. Reporters too were divided. Some wrote up the story as a tragedy, others as a comedy. Either way, the event was a grand triumph for the U.S. cremation movement.

York Cremation Society. An enterprising gentleman from Philadelphia filed for and received a patent for a cremation urn. It was, in short, a time of near-millennial excitement for cremation partisans. As an ebullient medical student at the University of Pennsylvania put it, soon the "barbarous and injurious practice" of burial would step aside, uniting the whole world "in the one universal practice of disposing of the dead by 'cremation,' and persons will wonder and seem surprised that they ever conformed to the old system."[Note 2]

Burial Pollutes, Cremation Purifies

America's Gilded Age, the period of rapid social and intellectual change spanning the years from the end of the Civil War in 1865 to the 1890s, has been called an age of debate. Lincoln traded barbs with Douglas. Robert Ingersoll, America's most famous agnostic, took on clergymen of all stripes. Should women be allowed to vote? Should baseball games be played on Sundays? Was Darwin right? The Bible true? Each of these topics was vigorously debated on the rostrum and the editorial page. So, too, was whether to bury or to burn.

Come one and all good Sophomores,
And drop a doleful tear;
For he is dead—Bocher is dead,
And lies upon this bier.
His reader is all bustified,
His grammar is all torn,
His lifeless form is muchly mourned,
By Sophomores forlorn.

In sure testimony to the practice's cachet, urban legends spread of fathers cremating sons in basement furnaces in Pennsylvania and of cremationists coming together to form clandestine societies as far south as Georgia.[Note 11]

When that time comes, Henry is nowhere to be found and the boys, who turn out to know something about cremation after all, pull a switch on Muggins, placing a dummy in the furnace and walking off $200 richer.[Note 12]

The First Modern and Scientific Cremation

While cremationists had plenty of arguments in 1874 for the superiority of cremation to burial, they lacked a suitable crematory. This would not have been a formidable obstacle if they had been willing to follow the ancient tradition of cremation on an open-air pyre. Despite their interest in restoring to America the grandeur that was Greece and the glory that was India, however, cremationists were reformers to the core and, as such, were determined to find a better, more modern, and more scientific way.

progress. Given the aim of nineteenth-century American cremationists to marry an ancient rite with up-to-date technology, it is appropriate that the New York Times described the first modern cremation in America as "a form of burial at once ancient and modern." It was, in short, a modern revival.[Note 13]

One dismissed him as "a filthy old man in bad clothes." That slander concerned not sexual peccadilloes but hygiene, since among LeMoyne's odd convictions was reportedly the belief "that the human body was never intended by its Creator to come in contact with water."[Note 14]

The Cradle of American Cremation

LeMoyne's hometown was not the most auspicious place to hold cremation's coming-out party. A "dry" town of 4,000 to 5,000 inhabitants nestled into the lower foothills of the Allegheny Mountains, Washington was dominated, in the words of a Times newspaperman, by "old-fashioned Presbyterians, who regard the waltz as an invention of Satan and a game of cards as sure destruction." A Tribune writer emphasized on ethnicity rather than religion, but his point was the same. Washington's citizens, he wrote, "belong, as a rule, to ancient Scotch Irish clans, who make a god of precedent and walk in the narrow but excellent path of their fathers from the cradle to their death-bed. . . they will not be likely to fling themselves out of that bed into a heterodox furnace." Though these reports were surely written to tickle the cosmopolitan prejudices of New York City readers, Washington was indeed both rural and provincial. Locals called their township "Little Washington," presumably to distinguish it from the nation's capital, but no one who had stepped foot outside of town was liable to confuse this Washington with the vast metropolis designed by Pierre L'Enfant. "Little Washington" was a sleepy place, largely lacking in the sorts of "advanced thinkers" who enlivened faddish salons in more cosmopolitan settings. Here cremation was, according to the Times, "rank heresy." "No good church member within 1000 miles of Washington would give his body to be burned any sooner than he would sell his soul to Beelzebub."[Note 19]

A Ghastly Sight

The corpse of Baron De Palm had been injected with arsenic as a preservative before his May funeral, but as the search for a crematory dragged on it was determined that stronger stuff would be necessary if the corpse was to keep until the cremation. Mr. August Buckhorst, an undertaker from Roosevelt Hospital (where the baron had died), was called in to embalm. "A big, burly, red-faced, heavy mostached [sic] German," Buckhorst was the sort of man who would have been considered a live wire if he had not earned his keep as an undertaker, and he took on his historic task with what might be described as glee daubed with only a thin veneer of professionalism. One newspaper report claimed the embalming was performed "in the Egyptian fashion," but Buckhorst's efforts were far more haphazard than the techniques of the mummifiers of the Nile.[Note 22]

Making a Rite

On December 6, 1876, Olcott and LeMoyne awoke to the sort of bleak morning that can depress even the most uplifted soul. The day was unusually cold and windy, even for a Pennsylvania winter, and dirty snow clung to the ground. It was, in short, an inauspicious beginning for a movement that would hitch its fortunes to metaphors of sun, light, warmth, and purity.

Christian tradition of burying lay people with their heads to the west so they could look to the east for the Second Coming, Olcott and LeMoyne debated whether it was more auspicious to place the body into the furnace head-first or feet-first. The fireman and the crematory's builder then joined the procession, forming a coterie of six pa

Spiritual Phenomena

There was a momentary sizzle and a bit of smoke. But soon the door was cemented shut and the furnace made airtight. The evergreens and the hair around the head caught on fire, and "the flames formed," according to the Times reporter, "a crown of glory for the dead man." At first witnesses were repelled by the smell of burning flesh, but soon the sweeter aromas of flowers and spices banished foul odors from the room. Witnesses who peered through a peephole in the side of the furnace noted that the flowers were almost miraculously reduced to ash without losing their "individual forms." About an hour into the proceedings a rose-colored mist enveloped the body. Later the mist turned to gold. Meanwhile, the corpse became red-hot and then transparent and luminous. All these effects lent to the retort "the appearance of a radient [sic] solar disk of a very warm. . . color." After some time yet another intimation of immortality pressed itself on the witnesses: "the palm boughs. . . stood up as naturally as though they were living portions of a tree." Then the left hand of the baron rose up and three of his fingers pointed skyward. The scientists present later attributed this incident to involuntary muscular contractions, but others saw in it something of a spiritual phenomenon. The main event concluded officially at 11:12 A.M., when Dr. Folsom, secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Health, formally pronounced the incineration complete. All that remained of the body had fallen lifelessly to the bottom of the retort, but the ashes of a few sprigs of evergreen remained, seemingly suspended in air above the iron cradle. Cremationists interpreted this too as a propitious sign.[Note 34]

Part Folly, Part Farce

The De Palm cremation was big news across the country. Virtually every major paper reported on it, and many editorialized. The event might have received even more attention, but on the same day a fire at New York City's Brooklyn Theater killed over 200 people and, as Olcott later wrote in his diary, "the greater cremation weakened public interest in the lesser." Still, assessments of the "lesser" event made their way into print. Most reviews came in somewhere between mildly critical and utterly hostile, which is to say that journalists interpreted the cremation in the same light as the townspeople of "Little Washington." Even the World judged cremation "objectionable." "Ridiculous," wrote the Daily Graphic. Part "folly," part "farce," concluded the Herald.[Note 37]

advance their theories."[Note 42]

Reading the Rite

There are many things to say about this pioneering cremation. The first and most obvious is that its organizers were social reformers. Their movement was an effort to improve society by substituting for the pollution of burial the purity of cremation. More precisely, early cremationists were just the sort of enlightened ladies and gentlemen whom historians have seen as central to the tradition of genteel reform. Colonel Olcott was a lawyer and Dr. LeMoyne a physician. De Palm was a foreign-born baron and, if we are to believe Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, also a high-ranking Mason—"Grand Cross Commander of the Sovereign Order of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem, Knight of St. John at Malta, Prince of the Roman Empire, late Chamberlain to His Majesty the King of Bavaria." Soon the movement would attract an even more impressive list of genteel elites: capitalist William Waldorf Astor, temperance advocate Kate Field, Harvard president Charles William Eliot, newspaper editor Charles A. Dana, educator Elisabeth P. Peabody, philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, abolitionist Cassius Clay, Senator Charles Sumner, Buddhist sympathizer Moncure Conway, ethical culture leader Felix Adler, Unitarian minister Jenkin Lloyd Jones, Episcopalian bishop Phillips Brooks, and Transcendentalist Thomas Wentworth Higginson, to name only a few.[Note 43]

and bursting entrails which makes one shudder at an open-air pyre-burning.. . . There was none of that unpleasant odour that sometimes sickens one who drives past an Indian burning-ghat."[Note 47]

out of his coffin prior to the cremation in order to avoid mixing his ashes with foreign remains (and thus confusing sacred relics with profane fuel). They acted, in short, like priests conducting a solemn ritual. Yes, they were promoting a sanitary technology, but they were also performing a purification rite. It would not have been the least bit out of character if at the end of this rite Olcott and his coofficiants had prayed, as one newsman did: "peace to his ashes."[Note 50]

Cremation after De Palm

The De Palm cremation spread the good news of cremation, but likely set the cremation movement back rather than propelling it forward. Still, in the years that followed that landmark event a slow but steady stream of the dead lined up to follow him into the fire. On July 31, 1877, Dr. Charles F. Winslow, formerly of Boston, Massachusetts, became the second person to be cremated in modern America when his corpse was reduced to ashes in a furnace in Salt Lake City, Utah.[Note 51] A few months later, in November 1877, Julius Kircher, a German-American Lutheran, caused a stir in New York City when, after arguing with his Jewish wife about whether their dead eight-day-old son should be interred in a Lutheran or a Jewish cemetery, he cremated the infant in a furnace in his paint factory.[Note 52] On February 15, 1878, Mrs. Benjamin Pitman of Cincinnati became the first woman to be cremated in modern America and the second person to make use of the facilities at Dr. LeMoyne's crematory.[Note 53] On October 16, 1879, Dr. LeMoyne himself was cremated.[Note 54] Each of these death rites followed to a remarkable extent the precedent of the Baron De Palm.

cherry and mahogany casket—an elegant example, custom-carved with the monogram "P" at the foot and a large cross at the head. On the cross sat a wreath of fresh flowers, and the catafalque supporting the coffin was dressed in light blue silk. At an informal service at her home, an address was read and a poem recited. For the trip to the LeMoyne crematory the coffin was draped with black cloth. The corpse was displayed in the crematory's reception room, where observers noted that the pure white satin interior of the coffin perfectly matched the purity of her white satin dress. At the crematory Mrs. Pitman was eulogized, and an original poem was read in lieu of a prayer. The body was taken out of the coffin, wrapped in a white, alum-soaked shroud, covered with flowers, and placed on the catafalque. Attendants then committed the corpse, head-first once again, to the furnace. Later, Mr. Pitman was said to be considering strewing the ashes around the base of Mrs. Pitman's favorite rose bush, "that the blooming and fragrant rose may bring brightly before [her husband's] mind the memory of his loved and faithful wife." In this way, Pitman had added, this believer in the "creed of the beautiful" might be born again as a rose.[Note 56]

from the standard ritual formula of Gilded Age Americans. While the unwritten rules of ritual propriety dictated a reverence for tradition, those rites celebrated innovation. But however improvised and personalized, they were rites nonetheless. The careful observer will see in them neither an end of religion nor an end of ritual, but a desire for new wine and new wineskins. In the events of December 6, 1876, and beyond we see evidence for a new diversity in American religion. We also glimpse the beginnings of a revolution in American ritual life that would come to fruition in the creative cremation rites of the 1960s through 1990s.[Note 58]

Chapter 1 Notes

[Note 1] Sir Henry Thompson, "Cremation: Treatment of the Body after Death," Contemporary Review 23.2 (January 1874) 319-28. See also P. H. Holland's critical response, "Burial or Cremation?" Contemporary Review 23.3 (February 1874) 477-84; and Thompson's rejoinder, "Cremation: A Reply to Critics and an Exposition of the Process," Contemporary Review 23.4 (March 1874) 553-71.

[Note 2] New York World, quoted in "The Carpers' Club," Daily Graphic (May 2, 1874) 474; "Cremation: Proposed Incorporation of the New Society," Times (April 25, 1874) 2; "Cremation," Philadelphia Medical Times (April 25, 1874) 473; "Editor's Easy Chair," Harper's New Monthly Magazine 49.290 (July 1874) 283; Jacob Wyce Horher, "Cremation," (M. D. thesis, University of Pennsylvania, 1875) 18, 21. The patent is number 7,599 (July 28, 1874). The World spoke kindly of cremation in editorials on March 1, 8, 15, 22, and 29, 1874. The results of the doctors' poll appear in J. F. A. Adams, Cremation and Burial: An Examination of their Relative Advantages (Boston: Wright & Potter, 1875). The bibliography is "Cremation as a Mode of Interment, and Related Subjects," Boston Public Library Bulletins 2.30 (July 1874) 268. These are by no means the only texts from 1874. See, e.g., George Bayles, "Disposal of the Dead," Sanitarian 2.3 (June 1874) 97-105; Fannie Roper Feudge, "Burning and Burying in the East," Lippincott's Magazine 13.33 (May 1874) 593-603; and George Bayles, "Cremation and Its Alternatives," Popular Science Monthly (June 1874) 225-28.

[Note 3] Persifor Frazer, Jr., The Merits of Cremation (Philadelphia: n.p., 1874) 7, 8, 12. This paper was originally published in the Penn Monthly in June of 1874.

[Note 4] Frazer, The Merits of Cremation, 13. Frazier was quoting from "Opinion of an English Bishop," Evening Bulletin (April 13, 1874). [Note 5] O. B. Frothingham, The Disposal of Our Dead (New York: D. G. Francis, 1874) 11, 13.

[Note 6] Frothingham, The Disposal of Our Dead, 13, 27-28, 18, 20.

[Note 7] Frothingham, The Disposal of Our Dead, 22-24.

[Note 8] Richard L. Bushman, The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities (New York: Knopf, 1992); John Tomisch, A Genteel Endeavor: American Culture and Politics in the Gilded Age (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1971) 24; Frederick Law Olmstead, quoted in Bushman, The Refinement of America, 422. See also Stow Persons, The Decline of American Gentility (New York: Columbia University Press, 1973); John F. Kasson, Rudeness and Civility: Manners in Nineteenth-Century Urban America (New York: Hill and Wang, 1990); and Thomas Bender, New York Intellect: A History of Intellectual Life in New York City, from 1750 to the Beginnings of Our Own Time (New York: Knopf, 1987). The term "dangerous classes" comes from Charles Loring Brace, The Dangerous Classes of New York and Twenty Years' Work among Them (New York: Wynkoop & Hallenbeck, 1872).

[Note 9] "Call a Spade a Spade," Urn 4.3 (March 25, 1895) 2; MC 2.12 (December 1887) 177. Also appearing in a cremationist periodical was this Matthew Arnold dictum, which some have cited as the definitive statement of American gentility: "Culture is to know the best that has been thought and said in the world" (Urn 3.12 [December 25, 1895] 11).

[Note 10] Eric Hobsbawm, "Mass-Producing Traditions: Europe, 1870-1914," in The Invention of Tradition, ed. Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983) 279.

[Note 11] "Cremation: The Ancient Grecian Method of Burning the Dead," Leslie's (April 25, 1874) 1, 101, 103. The Philadelphia Sunday Press published a mythical tale of a physician who cremated his deceased son in a furnace in the cellar of his home. Though intended for publication on April Fool's Day, it appeared later in the month. See "Cremation in Philadelphia," Times (April 20, 1874) 1; and "The Philadelphia Cremation Story a Hoax," Times (April 22, 1874) 1. The Princeton festivities are documented in an undated pamphlet, "Creative Ceremonials Conducted by the Sophomore Class of Princeton College, over the Remains of the Late Brig. Gen. Joseph Bocher." The doggerel appears in "The Carpers' Club," Daily Graphic (May 2, 1874) 474. A Georgia newspaper published an apocryphal account of a pro-cremation meeting in Augusta, Georgia. See "Cremation: The Stupid Philadelphia Hoax Imitated in Georgia," Times (April 28, 1874) 8. Another Augusta-based spoof is discussed in "The Funeral Pile," Boston Herald (November 28, 1876) 4; and "A Distinguished Cremationist," Atlanta Daily Constitution (December 8, 1876) 4. Both articles refer to an open-air pyre cremation, supposedly conducted by either "The Oriental Order of Humanity" or "The Oriental Order of Humilitate."

[Note 12] Cremation: An Ethiopian Sketch (New York: Robert M. De Witt, 1875).

[Note 13] "De Palm's Incineration," Times (December 7, 1876) 6. Other newspaper sources include but are in no way exhausted by: "A Fool Cremated," Atlanta Daily Constitution (December 6, 1876) 4; "Ashes to Ashes," Boston Daily Advertiser (December 9, 1876) 2; "Baron De Palm in Ashes," Boston Daily Globe (December 7, 1876) 8; "A Subject for Cremation," Boston Herald (November 27, 1876) 1; "Cremation," Boston Herald (December 6, 1876) 4; "Cremation," Boston Herald (December 7, 1876) 1; "The Cremation of Baron Palm," Boston Medical and Surgical Journal 95.24 (December 14, 1876) 710-712; "Cremation vs. Interment," Boston Pilot (December 28, 1876) 4; "The Subject for Cremation," Boston Post (November 30, 1876) 2; "Cremation," Boston Post (December 7, 1876) 2; "Cremation of the Remains of the Late Baron De Palm," Leslie's (December 23, 1876) 259; "Successful Cremation," New Orleans Times Picayune (December 7, 1876) 8; "Particulars of the De Palm Cremation," New Orleans Times Picayune (December 8, 1876) 8; "Baron Von Palm's Body," Herald (November 29, 1876) 5; "A Theosophical Roast," Herald (December 5, 1876) 5; "A Cremation Pilgrimage," Herald (December 6, 1876) 7; "The Cremation Folly," Herald (December 7, 1876) 6; "Baron De Palm's Cremation," Times (December 6, 1876) 10; untitled editorial, Tribune (November 20, 1876) 4; "Burning and Burial," Tribune (November 28, 1876) 4; "Cremation and Burial," Tribune (December 7, 1876) 4; "The Baron's Last Journey," World (December 5, 1876) 2; "Burning a Baron," World (December 6, 1876) 1; "Baron De Palm Cremated," World (December 7, 1876) 2; untitled editorial, World (December 7, 1876) 4; "Cremation," Inquirer (December 6, 1876) 8; "Some Talk on Cremation," Inquirer (December 6, 1876) 8; "Cremation," Inquirer (December 7, 1876) 1-2; "More Cremation Conversation," Inquirer (December 7, 1876) 2; "Cremation of Baron De Palm," Inquirer (December 7, 1876) 4; "De Palm's Body Reduced to Ashes," Philadelphia Press (December 7, 1876) 8; untitled editorial, Philadelphia Press (December 7, 1876) 4; "Cremation," San Francisco Chronicle (December 7, 1876) 1. The Daily Graphic also covered the event exhaustively, devoting to it a series of articles and editorials as well as a front page cartoon (November 28, December 4, 6, 7, 9, 13, and 15, 1876).

[Note 14] John Storer Cobb, A Quartercentury of Cremation in North America (Boston: Knight and Millet, 1901) 100; untitled editorial, Tribune (June 16, 1876) 4; "A Fool Cremated," Atlanta Daily Constitution (December 6, 1876) 4; Boyd Crumrine, History of Washington County, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: L. H. Everts, 1882) 540; "Dr. LeMoyne's Furnace," Times (February 19, 1878) 2; "Baron De Palm Cremated," World (December 7, 1876) 2. For LeMoyne on cremation, see F. Julius LeMoyne, M.D., Cremation: An Argument to Prove That Cremation Is Preferable to Inhumation of Dead Bodies (Pittsburgh: E. W. Lightner, 1878). Additional biographical information can be found in Crumrine, History of Washington County, Pennsylvania, 449, 456, 540, 541, 543-48.

[Note 15] On Olcott, see Stephen Prothero, The White Buddhist: The Asian Odyssey of Henry Steel Olcott (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996).

[Note 16] "Burning and Burial," Tribune (November 28, 1876) 4; "Cremation," Boston Herald (December 6, 1876) 4; Henry S. Olcott, Old Diary Leaves: The History of the Theosophical Society (Adyar, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1974) 1:150. I discuss this funeral at some length in Prothero, The White Buddhist, esp. 54-57. For more contemporary accounts, see Olcott's Old Diary Leaves, 1:147-84; untitled editorial, New York Independent (June 1, 1876) 15; "A Theosophical Funeral," Times (May 29, 1876) 1; "A Rosicrucian in New-York," Tribune (May 26, 1876) 4; "'Theosophical' Obsequies," Tribune (May 29, 1876) 4; "Baron de Palm's Funeral," Tribune (May 29, 1876) 5; "A Theosophist's Obsequies," San Francisco Chronicle (May 29, 1876) 3; "The Theosophical Ceremonial over a Coffined Corpse," San Francisco Chronicle (June 6, 1876) 1. Apparently De Palm's funeral inspired imitators. See "Another Fancy Funeral," Tribune (March 6, 1878) 4.

[Note 17] "Burning and Burial," Tribune (November 28, 1876) 4; "A Theosophical Funeral," Times (May 29, 1876) 1.

[Note 18] "Two Lively Corpses," Boston Herald (December 1, 1876) 2; "A Rosicrucian in New-York," Tribune (May 26, 1876) 4.

[Note 19] "Dr. LeMoyne's Furnace," Times (February 19, 1878) 2; untitled editorial, Tribune (June 16, 1876) 4.

[Note 20] "Baron De Palm Cremated," World (December 7, 1876) 2; "A Cremation Pilgrimage," Herald (December 6, 1876) 7; Olcott, Old Diary Leaves, 1.174.

[Note 21] Olcott, Old Diary Leaves, 1.170.

[Note 22] "A Cremation Pilgrimage," Herald (December 6, 1876) 7; "Two Lively Corpses," Boston Herald (December 1, 1876) 2.

[Note 23] "The Subject for Cremation," Boston Post (November 30, 1876) 2. Robert W. Habenstein and William M. Lamers, The History of American Funeral Directing, 3d rev. ed., ed. Howard C. Raether (Milwaukee: National Funeral Directors Association, 1995) contains a helpful history of embalming in nineteenth-century America (197-231).

[Note 24] "The Subject for Cremation," Boston Post (November 30, 1876) 2; "The Baron's Last Journey," World (December 5, 1876) 2.

[Note 25] "A Cremation Pilgrimage," Herald (December 6, 1876) 7.

[Note 26] "A Cremation Pilgrimage," Herald (December 6, 1876) 7.

[Note 27] "A Cremation Pilgrimage," Herald (December 6, 1876) 7; "Burning a Baron," World (December 6, 1876) 1.

[Note 28] "Baron De Palm's Cremation," Times (December 6, 1876) 10; "Baron De Palm Cremated," World (December 7, 1876) 2; "A Cremation Pilgrimage," Herald (December 6, 1876) 7. The Philadelphia Inquirer writer apparently had a stronger stomach. He witnessed a corpse "in a good state of preservation" and was not horrified in the least ("Cremation," Inquirer [December 6, 1876] 8).

[Note 29] "Burning and Burial," Tribune (November 28, 1876) 4.

[Note 30] See A. Otterson, "Cremation of the Dead," in Report of the Board of Health of the City of Brooklyn, 1875-1876 (Brooklyn: Brooklyn Board of Health, 1877) 131-32; and W. J. Asdale, J. P. McCord, and J. D. Thomas, "Cremation," Annual Report of the Board of Health of the City of Pittsburgh for the Year 1876 (Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh Board of Health, 1877) 113-23.

[Note 31] "De Palm's Incineration," Times (December 7, 1876) 6; "The Baron's Cremation," Daily Graphic (December 6, 1876) 2; "Baron De Palm Cremated," World (December 7, 1876) 2.

[Note 32] "De Palm's Incineration," Times (December 7, 1876) 6; the other quotation appears in Olcott, Old Diary Leaves, 1.170.

[Note 33]Asdale, McCord, and Thomas, "Cremation," 117; "The Latest Cremation," Inquirer (February 15, 1878) 1.

[Note 34] "De Palm's Incineration," Times (December 7, 1876) 6; "Cremation of the Remains of the Late Baron De Palm," Leslie's (December 23, 1876) 259.

[Note 35] Olcott, Old Diary Leaves, 1.183. The Coney Island suggestion appears in "The End of Cremation," Times (October 17, 1879) 4.

[Note 36] "An Unceremonious Rite," Times (February 16, 1878) 5.

[Note 37] Olcott, Old Diary Leaves, 1.178; "Baron De Palm Cremated," World (December 7, 1876) 2; untitled editorial, Daily Graphic (December 7, 1876) 2; "The Cremation Folly," Herald (December 7, 1876) 6.

[Note 38] "Theosophical Obsequies," Tribune (May 29, 1876) 4; "The Cremation Folly," Herald (December 7, 1876) 6; "Baron De Palm Cremated," World (December 7, 1876); untitled editorial, World (December 7, 1876) 4; "De Palm's Incineration," Times (December 7, 1876) 6. Olcott would later note that the American papers, "which had made fun of the [Theosophical Society] for having too much religious ceremony at the Baron's funeral, now abused us for having none at all at his cremation" (Old Diary Leaves, 1.170).

[Note 39] "Baron De Palm Cremated," World (December 7, 1876) 2; "Burning a Baron," World (December 6, 1876) 1; "The Cremation Folly," Herald (December 7, 1876) 6.

[Note 40] Stevens and Stokley are quoted in "More Cremation Conversation," Inquirer (December 7, 1876) 2; Wood's remarks are from "Some Talk on Cremation," Inquirer (December 6, 1876) 8.

[Note 41] Untitled editorial, Tribune (November 20, 1876) 4.

[Note 42] "Ashes to Ashes," Boston Daily Advertiser (December 9, 1876) 2; untitled editorial, World (December 7, 1876) 4.

[Note 43] "Cremation of the Remains of the Late Baron De Palm," Leslie's (December 23, 1876) 268.

[Note 44] "Cremation of the Remains of the Late Baron De Palm," Leslie's (December 23, 1876) 268.

[Note 45] Olcott, Old Diary Leaves, 1.149; "A Rosicrucian in New-York," Tribune (May 26, 1876) 4.

[Note 46] "Baron De Palm's Remains," Times (December 5, 1876) 8; "Baron De Palm's Request," Times (December 4, 1876) 8. On cremation in Japan, see: "Walled-In Peoples," Tribune (August 3, 1881) 4; "Cremation in Japan," Tribune (May 26, 1884); "Cremation in Japan," Popular Science Monthly 40:48 (March 1892) 715-16; "Cremation in Japan," MC 1.1 (January 1886) 12. Cremation in Siam (now Thailand) was the subject of an untitled editorial in the Tribune on June 16, 1888 (4). Cremation in China is discussed in "Cremation," JAMA 2.3 (January 19, 1884) 69; and Herbert A. Giles, "A Cremation in China," Eclectic Magazine 29.5 (May 1879) 547-53. Hugo Erichsen's classic early treatment, The Cremation of the Dead (Detroit: D. O. Haynes, 1887) traces cremation back to India (7) and contains illustrations of "Cremation in Calcutta" (14) and "Cremation in Siam" (19). More on cremation in India can be found in: "Cremation in India," MC 1.4 (April 1886) 60-61; "Cremation in India," MC 2.5 (May 1887) 76-77; "Cremation in India," Urn (February 25, 1892) 9. See also Fannie Roper Feudge, "Burning and Burying in the East," Lippincott's Magazine 13.33 (May 1874) 593-603.

[Note 47] "Cremation: The Ancient Grecian Method of Burning the Dead," Leslie's (April 25, 1874) 1; Olcott, Old Diary Leaves, 1.176.

[Note 48] Olcott, Old Diary Leaves, 1.150.

[Note 49] On dechristianization, which I see as a more readily definable and useful construct than secularization, see Michel Vovelle, Pi&#233té baroque et d&#233christianisation en Provence au XVIIIe si&#232cle (Paris: Plon, 1973).

[Note 50] Jonathan Z. Smith, To Take Place: Toward Theory in Ritual (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987) 109, quoted in Catherine Bell, Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992) 102; "De Palm's Incineration," Times (December 7, 1876) 6. See also Catherine Bell, Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).

[Note 51] "Cremation of a Boston Physician," Times (July 18, 1877) 2; "The Cremation of Dr. Winslow," Times (August 5, 1877) 5; "The Salt Lake Cremation," Times (August 9, 1877) 3. See also: "Cremation," Deseret Evening News (August 1, 1877) 3; Ch. Smart, "Cremation Practically Considered," Medical Record 13 (February 9, 1878) 126-29; "Cremation of Dr. Charles F. Winslow," Popular Science Monthly (October 1877) 765-67; and a series of articles and editorials in the Salt Lake City Daily Tribune (July 31, August 1, August 2, 1877).

[Note 52] "Cremation of a Baby," Times (November 20, 1877) 8; "The Kircher Cremation Case," Times (November 21, 1877) 8; "No Objection to Cremating," Times (December 5, 1877) 8.

[Note 53] "Yesterday's Cremation," Boston Globe (February 16, 1878) 1; untitled editorial, Boston Globe (February 18, 1878) 4; untitled editorial, Boston Post (February 18, 1878) 1; "The Cremation Theory Again," Chicago Tribune (February 17, 1878) 4; "Cremation," Tribune (February 16, 1878) 2; "More of Cremation," Tribune (February 25, 1878) 4; "An Ohio Lady to Be Cremated," Times (February 13, 1878) 1; "The Cremation of Mrs. Pitman," Times (February 14, 1878) 5; "An Unceremonious Rite," Times (February 16, 1878) 5; "Dr. LeMoyne's Furnace," Times (February 19, 1878) 2; "The Latest Cremation," Inquirer (February 15, 1878) 1; "Mrs. Pitman Incinerated," Inquirer (February 16, 1878) 3; untitled editorial, Inquirer (February 16, 1878) 4; "Mrs. Jane Pitman's Will," Philadelphia Press (February 13, 1878) 1; "The State," Philadelphia Press (February 16, 1878) 8; untitled editorial, Philadelphia Press (February 16, 1878) 4.

[Note 54] "Le Moyne Cremated," Chicago Tribune (October 17, 1879) 1; "A Cremation at Washington, Penn.," Tribune (October 17, 1879) 1; "A Dead Reformer," Tribune (October 17, 1879) 4; "Cremation of Le Moyne," Inquirer (October 17, 1879) 4; untitled editorial, Inquirer (October 18, 1879) 4; "The Late Dr. Le Moyne's Cremation Furnace," Philadelphia Press (October 16, 1879) 5; "Le Moyne's Body," Philadelphia Press (October 17, 1879) 1; "Reduced to Ashes," Philadelphia Record (October 17, 1879) 1.

[Note 55] "Cremation," Salt Lake City Daily Tribune (August 1, 1877) 1; "The Salt Lake Cremation," Times (August 9, 1877) 3; "Cremation," Salt Lake City Daily Tribune (August 1, 1877) 2.

[Note 56] "An Ohio Lady to Be Cremated," Times (February 13, 1878) 1; "An Unceremonious Rite," Times (February 16, 1878) 5; untitled editorial, Boston Post (February 18, 1878) 1.

[Note 57] LeMoyne, Cremation: An Argument, 5, 13, 18; Hugo Erichsen, Roses and Ashes and Other Writings (Detroit: American Printing Company, 1917) 5; "A Dead Reformer," Tribune (October 17, 1879) 4; untitled editorial, Inquirer (October 18, 1879) 4. The poetic language is Erichsen's, not LeMoyne's.

[Note 58] On the history of religious pluralism in the United States, see Catherine L. Albanese, America: Religions and Religion (3d ed.; Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 1999); Diana L Eck, On Common Ground: World Religions in America (CD-ROM; New York: Columbia University Press, 1997); Thomas A. Tweed, Retelling U.S. Religious History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997); Thomas A. Tweed and Stephen Prothero, Asian Religions in America: A Documentary History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 3, 2006

    An enlightening delve into the history of Cremation

    As a funeral director, and for me personally, cremation is a fascinating subject. Stephen Prothero's book, 'Purified by Fire,' takes an interesting and enlightening look at one of the oldest methods of 'disposition' in the world. It also explains the origins of the rite of cremation in America in an easily understood language, and removes the 'shroud' of mystery of the cremation of the dead. A fantastic read for any who wonder about death rites - and any who actually wonder about any type of history in the United States. Prothero has gone the extra mile in gathering information for the reader. He takes the door off the columbarium and crematorium and allows us to take a look inside. He gives us the background: that cremation was brought to the United States by those who were concerned about disease in the dead - then gives us a glimpse into the future: that cremation is gaining popularity, even by those in the major religious denominations. From 'Birth' to 'Boom', Prothero unleashes his magic of writing and works it into a magnificent MUST READ that I refer to as 'The Cremationist's Bible'.

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