May 30, 2011

Cremation in the United States, 1891-1901

Cremation Increasingly Popular
April 4, 1901, The Conservative, Nebraska City, Nebraska 
It is cheering to note the steadily growing popularity of cremation in the United States. While at the Fresh Pond crematory of New York city there were incinerated in 1900 about six hundred bodies. A newly organized cremation company anticipates that by introduction of improved methods it will be able to increase the number more than a hundred per cent. With the furnaces at present in use by the Fresh Pond crematory, to consume a body requires from two to four hours.  The directors of the new company guarantee to do the work in half an hour. Truth to tell, it has hitherto required three days to transact all the business involved in a cremation. Upon application to the incineration authorities, arrangements were perfected for conversion of the body into ashes on the following day. The next step was to convey the body to the crematory and deposit it in the retort. "On the third day one could call for the ashes. " In the language of a director, you can, under the new regime "call him up over the 'phone in the morning, bring the body over immediately and in an hour go home with the ashes." 
Cremation societies have been greatly handicapped by popular prejudice, but that has now been largely overcome.  They affect to have discovered that their two worst enemies are women and the church. We quote from the New York Sun : 
"Louis Lange, president of one of these societies, says that men often come to him and tell him how they pine to be cremated after death, how they have labored with their loving wives to bring them around to the same view and of how dubious they feel about the future. The burning question with these men seems to be, how to get the wife to agree to the burning. They say she'll be sure to bury them if they happen to die first. The conviction a man may have, that he won't lie easy in his grave under those circumstances doesn't help him much.  But apparently, in some cases his uneasiness reaches the widow. For Mr. Lange says that women often come to him and say: 
"'I can find no rest! My husband wanted to be cremated, but I, basely persuaded, put him in a grave! Now I want him disinterred and cremated.' Hard is the way of the transgressor!" comments Mr. Lange. 

"Yes, and expensive, too. Think of having a cemetery lot and a granite tombstone for the exchange and barter column! It would be a worse plight than that of the 'widower who would like to exchange a lady's riding habit for anything useful. * 
At Fresh Pond there is but one furnace and but one chapel for funeral services.  The new crematory is to have five. Said a director by way of explanation: "We don't want to have one funeral party sitting on the front steps waiting for another one to get out." 
It appears that the number of voluntary cremations in the city of New York exceeds that of any other city either in Europe or the United States. There are more incinerations in Paris than in America because in Paris all paupers and unclaimed bodies from the hospitals and the morgues are burned in a public crematory. The only exceptions to the hostile attitude of the church to cremation are the Episcopalians. Not only do their ministers often officiate at the crematory; many of their famous men like Bishop Potter, Bishop Lawrence, Dr. Rainsford and Dean Hodges have shown cremation societies marked favors. Both the German emperor and the Pope are against incineration, deeply prejudiced. 
The number of crematories in the United States in 1884 was two. Twenty five is the present number.  Moreover, from forty-seven in 1885 the number of cremations became in 1900, 10,000. It transpires that while in actual number of incinerations New York remains at the head of the class, San Francisco is a good second and the number of cremations in proportion to population is far greater in the metropolis of the Pacific Coast than in New York City. The Odd Fellows' crematory of San Francisco, by the bye, enjoys the distinction of being the finest in the world. 
Burial of the corpse is a relic of barbarism. It is unclean, revolting; scantily considerate of the dead and a menace to the living. Cemeteries occupy much valuable land that could be used to better purpose and by pollution of the water-supply of cities annually slay unnumbered thousands. --Californian.

Nebraska City, Nebraska - The Conservative - April 4, 1901

*A riding habit being clothing worn by women when riding horses, not a habit in the sense we might think of today (as a routine action).

This next clipping is from the same paper, from the same year.  I particularly like this one because it lists where the crematoriums in the country are located as well as the cost of cremation.

Items of Interest To Cremationists

November 14, 1901, The Conservative, Nebraska City, Nebraska 
There are 22 crematory temples in the United States situated as follows: Washington, Pa., Detroit, Mich., New York, N.Y., Lancaster, Pa., San Francisco (2), Pittsburg, Pa., St. Louis, Mo., Baltimore, Md., Philadelphia, Pa., Troy, N.Y, Boston, Mass., Davenport, Ia., Cincinnati O., Swinburne Island, N.Y., Chicago, Ill., Waterville, N.Y., Buffalo, N.Y., Pasadena, Cal., Los Angeles, Cal., Fort Wayne, Ind., Portland, Oregon. 
The cost of incineration, urn, and niche in the urn hall (or columbarium) is far cheaper than earth burial.  An incineration costs about $30 to $45.  The best way for Freethinkers who believe in this scientific disposal of the body is to arrange matters when living--this can be done by the purchase of a "Cremation Certificate" for $30--$5 cash and balance in monthly payments of one or more dollars; these certificates are transferable and will be honored by nearly all the cremation associations in the world. 
Cremation appeals to radical, independent thinkers; it is a clean, rapid method.  For those who have taken the trouble to investigate, there is no choice between the sunset glow of a furnace and the foulness and corruption of the earth. 
Cremation statistics indicate a steady annual advance in all countries, and this is particularly the case here.  In 1879, 4; 1899, about 260; 1899, about 1,000; 1900, about 1,200. 
If the 22 cremation societies would keep a standing advertisement in the Liberal papers it would be sound business policy, as nearly all Freethinkers are inclined to favor cremation. 
Respectfully submitted, WALTER BREEN

Nebraska City, Nebraska - The Conservative - November 14, 1901

I tried to find an article from this time period which either argued against cremation or summarized arguments against it.  It took much longer than I thought it would, since all those I read in favor of the practice referred to it as controversial, and since cremation in the South is still not terribly popular a hundred years later.  

The following are excerpts of an article from the Pittsburgh Dispatch.  This is by no means the entire article, which spanned two pages, just the parts which addressed opposition to cremation.  The full article can be viewed here.

Urns, Not Coffins
August 10, 1891, Pittsburgh Dispatch, Pittsburgh, PA
Growth of Sentiment for Cremation
"Dust to dust."
That was the cry which assailed venerable Dr. F. Julius LeMoyne on all sides, just 15 years ago, when he proposed to erect a furnace at Washington, Pa., in which to cremate the bodies of dead people.  He was told that he was horrid, that his ideas were awful, and that he outraged filial emotions. 
Up to that time there had never been a cremation in the United States save two crude attempts which Dr. LeMoyne recorded in a pamphlet he issued then.  One was a Colonel Lawrence, somewhere in the South, who insisted upon something like the old funeral pyre arrangement.  The other was the case of a man in New England who cremated the body of his own child by means of a primitive stove.
His Own Resting Place
Holding such radical views, it is not surprising that to-day, although leaving an estate at his death valued at $250,000, Dr. LeMoyne's relatives did not feel justified in erecting more than the $15 pedestal of stone at the door of his crematory.  It is planted directly over the spot where the urn containing his ashes lies buried.  On this stone is cut simply his name, the dates of his birth and death, and the words, "A fearless advocate of the right." 
The position of those who oppose the introduction of cremation have been summed up in a small pamphlet by J. S. VanVoorhis, A.M., M.D., of Fayette county.  He fortifies the claims of sepulture with the Bible.  From the time Abraham established the burial place for his family until now the Christian mode of disposing of the dead was by burial.  Save in the case of Saul is there an instance in the Scriptures where cremation was practiced, and then it was to prevent the enemy from exposing the bodies to mutilation.

Points Against Cremation
During all wars of history we have no record of pestilence arising from wholesale sepulture.  The catacombs of Egypt, the extensive cemeteries of Paris, London, Constantinople, Canton, etc., are cited as an example of the fact that no ill-health has ever been known to result therefrom.  The aborigines of America practiced sepulture, and it has been estimated that, in the Monongahela Valley, for instance, the burials of Indians exeeded the number reached by the whites since, and yet no question has ever been raised about the longevity of the Indian race.  The pure water supplies of our American cities are cited as illustrations of how little there is in the claim of pollution from cemetery drainage. 
In addition to this, Dr. VanVoorhis, for the opponents to cremation, claimed that no advantages had been satisfactorily shown by the experiments at the LeMoyne furnace.  On the other hand, it was proven there that twenty-nine thirtieths of the human body is composed of material that wille vaporate during the process of incineration and pass into the air.  It was charged that this was absolutely dangerous to the health of the community about the crematory, especially in the cases of contagious diseases.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania - Pittsburgh Dispatch - August 10, 1891


Anonymous said...

Was there any record of cremation in Nebraska in 1906? Were people listed in the newspapers , for instance? I am looking for a body of a great grandmother that is missing, no grave found... wondering if cremation was an option.

Jason Ryan Engler - "Mr. Cremation" said...

There was not a crematory in Nebraska until the crematory at Forest Lawn in Omaha opened in 1914.

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