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Cremation in America

Cremation in America

Posted Friday, Nov 19
Written By Jason Engler
The Cradle of American Cremation & The Cremation Association of North America
Southern Calls, Vol. 33, September 2021

America’s “Modern” Cremation Movement

It was a cold and rainy December day in 1876 when the modern cremation movement in America made its debut. In the small town of Washington, Penn., Dr. Francis Julius LeMoyne, a local eccentric physician, had built a simple two-room crematory on his property for use at his demise. However, it would not remain idle until LeMoyne’s death, as it was pushed into use by Henry Steel Olcott, co-founder of the Theosophical Society of America, for the cremation of Bavarian immigrant Baron Joseph DePalm. This first cremation was a newsworthy event that was covered in almost every major newspaper in the country.

The LeMoyne Crematory remained the only crematory in the country until, in 1884, the Lancaster Cremation and Funeral Reform Association constructed their crematory in Lancaster, Penn. This was followed in 1885 by the United States Cremation Company at Fresh Pond, Long Island, which remains the longest continuously operating crematory in the country, and the Buffalo Cremation Company in New York.

The most ornate (and expensive) building of its time, the Gardner Earl Crematorium was built as a memorial to cremationist Gardner Earl in Troy, NY. Its committal room featured marble floors, onyx columns, frescoed walls, and stained glass windows. (Engler Cremation Collection)

In 1886, the first crematory in a funeral establishment was opened by Hudson Samson in Pittsburgh, Penn., and soon after, cremation became available to residents of Cincinnati, Los Angeles, Detroit, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Baltimore. In the 1890s a dozen more crematories were constructed and by 1900, 13,281 cremations had been performed in 25 crematories in the United States.

Following this, cremation became an option for people in many major U.S. cities, and the number of cremations continued to slowly increase. By 1928, 109 crematories had been built in the U.S., and over 100,000 cremations had been performed.

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