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Cremation of the Dead

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CREMATION OF THE DEAD, the prac tice of disposing of the bodies of the dead by reducing them to ashes, instead of by burial. The custom is of ancient origin, and has been revived in modern times. In Greece burial was practised through the 5th century B.C., but with the spread of belief in a future life and the need of purification by fire, cremation became common. It was the Roman custom also, and only with Christianity did earth-burial become the rule in European civilization. Within the last few decades the conviction has spread that a more rapid and sanitary method of disposal must be substituted for burial, especially in the great centres of population. To find enough land for burial purposes is be coming a more and more difficult matter. If 4,000 corpses are crowded into an acre, and a mortality rate of 15 per 1,000 be assumed, then nearly four acres per 1,000,000 population are required annually to bury the dead. A computa tion of population, death rate and space re quired for burial will show that unless the cus tom is changed, much of the available space in the vicinity of all large cities will eventually be required for burial purposes. The sanitary objections to burial are of still greater import ance than the economic difficulties. Eminent scientists advocate that while cremation remain optional for ordinary cases, it should be made obligatory when death is due to such transmis sible diseases as smallpox, diphtheria, scarlet fever, typhoid fever and tuberculosis. In cases of epidemics and after battles, when large num bers of bodies are to be disposed of at once, cremation is deemed especially advisable. It is also pointed out by the advocates of crema tion that where burial is resorted to, even though the cemetery be located at a distance from dwellings, there must be contamination of the water and the air, because they are the only means of carrying off the products of dissolu tion. In these days of reaching out for streams to supply reservqirs for cities and towns, it becomes a difficult problem to ensure protection of the water supply from burials in the same watershed.

An objection to cremation, in the minds of some, is that trace of the dead is obliterated from the sight of the living. Aside from this sentimental objection, the chief argument against cremation is the medico-legal one, that with the burning of the body pcssible traces of crime are obliterated. Frederick L. Hoffman, in a paper on 'Cremation as a Life insurance Prob lem' (Sanitarian for January 1901), calls atten tion to this phase of the subject and points out that 64 of the 528 persons cremated at Saint Louis, Mo., in 1895-99 died from accidents, violence or suicide. In view of the number of murders, by poison or otherwise, that are tom mitted to obtain insurance money, it is recom mended that very special precautions be taken to ascertain the exact cause of death before issuing a permit for cremation. In 1873 there was a strong agitation in New York, more or less echoed in other Darts of the United States, in favor of cremation, and the newspapers pub lished numerous opinions of eminent physicians and others to the effect that burial gtounds were an injury to the health of the living, especially in populous sections. There was a

similar movement. in the leading countries of Europe about the same time. In 1876 Dr. F. Julius LeMoyne established the first cremator n the United States, at Washington, Pa., the first incineration being that of the body of Baron de Palin, in December of that year, This was a semi-private institution, the first thrown open to the general public in this coun try being the Fresh Pond crematory, operated by the United States Cremation Company' of New York Others were built in leadinglcities, there being a total of 24 at the close of the year '1900.

There are now crematories at the following places: Ancon, Panama; Baltimore, Md.: Bos ton, Mass.- Buffalo, N. Y.; Cambridge, Mass.; Chicago, Ill.; Cincinnati, Ohio; Cleveland, Ohio; Davenport, Iowa; Denver, Colo.; Detroit, Mich. ' • Fort Wayne, Ind.; Fresno, Cal.• Hono lulu, Hawaii; Indianapolis, Ind.; Lancaster, Pa.; Linden, N. J.; Los Angeles, Middle town, Conn.; Milwaukee, Wis.; Minneapolis, Minn.; Montreal, Canada; New York, N. Y.; North Bergen, N. J.; Oakland, Cal.; Omaha, Neb.; Pasadena, Cal.; Philadelphia, Pa.; Pitts burgh, Pa.; Portland, Ore.; Rochester, N. Y.; Sacramento, Cal.; San Diego, Cal. • San Fran cisco, Cal.; Seattle, Wash.•, Spokane, Wash.; Springfield, Mass.; Saint Louis, Mo. ' • Saint Paul, Minn.; Tacoma, Wash.; Troy, N. Y.; Vancouver, 13. C.; Washington, D. C.; Wash ington, Pa.; Waterville, N. Y.

The total number of cremations, distributed among these 45 crematories, had risen to 86, 006 at the end of 1913, the last year for which statistics are available. The total for the year 1913 alone reached 10,183.

In the earlier furnaces body and coffin were burned separately, but in the latest furnaces the remains are incinerated in the casket, with out handling, as received. A chapel is connected with the crematorium, where services may be held if desired. The casket is then lowered into the incinerating room, and, after metal handles and name plate are removed, introduced into the retort. The heat is so intense that after a few hours only the fishes of the bones remain, all else, including the structure of the casket, having disappeared in light ash or gaseous products. Screws and nails are re moved by a magnet, and about four pounds of pure ash remain. This is placed in a metallic receptacle, labeled and sealed.

Bibliography.— A chapter on cremation, treating the subject from the sanitary and economic standpoint, is contained in Baker, 'Municipal Engineering and Sanitation' (New York 1901) • Cobb, 'Quarter Century of Cre mation in North America' (Boston 1901), in cludes a complete history and statistics of the movement in the United States, with brief sup plementary matter and tables for Europe. The also contains a full bibliography of the subject. Freeman, 'Crematoria in Great Britain and Abroad' (London 1906), contains descrip tions with diagrams and illustrations of some of the principal crematoria of the world. An introductory chapter contains an historical sketch. The Sunny Side, an undertakers' trade publication, contains a department devoted to cremation news and propaganda.