April 18, 1900: Mount Auburn’s first cremation performed

September 1, 2018

The trustees of Mount Auburn first started to consider establishing a crematorium in 1885 but awaited “the further development of public sentiment.” In 1897 the Cemetery applied to the state legislature for an act authorizing Mount Auburn Cemetery to establish a crematory.

Architect Willard T. Sears was enlisted to design a plan to renovate the interior of the old chapel (now Bigelow Chapel) to accommodate a crematory, and “only the outer granite structure which it was deemed desirable to retain on account of its associations was preserved.

In 1899, the interior of the old chapel was renovated to accommodate the first crematory in a cemetery in Massachusetts. (The first cremation in Massachusetts – that of the well-known suffragist and social reformer, Lucy Blackwell Stone – took place in December of 1893 at a facility operated by the Massachusetts Cremation Society.) A basement was constructed and the floor was raised. Additionally, an elevator in front of the alter area was installed for lowering caskets to the retorts below.

On April 18, 1900, Mount Auburn’s first cremation was performed. During that year, Mount Auburn performed 50 cremations. President Israel M. Spelman, reported in the 1900 Annual Report, “That cremation is growing in favor seems clearly evident. It is undoubtedly not only the most speedy method of resolving the body into its elements, one hour doing the work of years, but also the safest in a sanitary point of view.”

Cremation is on the rise in the U.S. In preparation for this rapid growth in the national and regional cremation rate, Mount Auburn is set to open its new state-of the art crematory later this year and is continuing to create new unique and innovative spaces designed specifically for the burial of cremated remains.  Here are a few interesting national statistics that have helped Mount Auburn inform its cremation-related business goals:

*In 2017, the U.S. cremation rate was 51.6%. By comparison, the 2017 cremation rate in Canada was 70.5%.

*By 2030, the U.S. cremation rate is predicted to reach 70%.

*At 47.1%, Massachusetts’ annual rate of cremation is the lowest of all New England states. By comparison, the 2017 rates in the rest of the region were as follows: Maine – 75.9%; New Hampshire – 73.8%; Vermont – 70.6%; Connecticut – 55.4%, and Rhode Island – 8%.

*Though it currently has the lowest cremation rate in the New England region, Massachusetts is in a period of rapid growth and its annual cremation rate is expected to grow dramatically in the next decade.

*Mount Auburn’s crematory is one of 24 in the state. By state law, only cemeteries may own and operate crematories in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

*Communities that have more readily adopted cremation tend to be more transient with a higher exposure to new traditions regarding death and burial. Here are some of the key demographic factors these communities have in common:

Less religious affiliation

More affiliation with non-Christian religions

More small businesses owned by women

Higher household incomes

Higher immigrant population and more non-English speaking residents

Higher average education level

Less home ownership

Higher home values

*Of the individuals who are cremated:

1/3 are then buried
1/3 are then scattered
1/3 are kept by families

Mount Auburn offers many options for the burial of cremated remains. Hazel Path, currently under construction, will provide cremation burial space for approximately 400 individuals along a beautiful woodland path offering a spectacular view of the Boston skyline.

Statistics extracted from the Cremation Association of North America’s Annual Statistics Report (2018).

One Comment

  1. Judith Hill says:

    This interesting article does not provide cremation methods in 1900 compared to today’s methods. That would have been interesting to read.

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