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vol. 4, p. 30
from Adyar archives of the International Theosophical Society
vol. 4 (1875-1878)


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< De Palm's Incineration (continued from page 4-29) >

door of the retort was quickly closed, and screwed up tight, and the furnace man immediately went to work on the fire and fan blast, so as to increase the heat. For some minutes nothing could be seen through the little peep-hole. All was dark as night in consequence of the steam created by the saturated winding sheet ; but after the steam had all passed away through the fire for the escape of gases, the body, wrapped in its winding sheet, could be distinctly seen, as also the evergreens at the feet. In the quarter of an hour, on placing my face close to the peep-hole, I could plainly detect the odor of burning flash, though it never became noticeable, and was afterward lost the more pungent odors of the aromatics.


..ing one glowing mass of a white light and the most intense heat. Indeed, taking observations became serious ; I was only too glad to avail myself of a large and very thick card-board box, with a hole in it the size of the eye, with which to protect my face from the blistering heat of the furnace, and then the unfortunate eye that I used got literally scorched. Still later the heat because intense that it was painful to the face, even through the thick card-board. At 11:12 o'clock Dr. Folsom, Secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Health, made careful examination, so far as possible, of the retort and its contents. His announcement, that “ Incineration is complete beyond all question," was received with universal gratification. The last vestige of the form of a body had disappeared in the general mass. The pelvis, which hitherto kept its shape, had fallen in, and nothing now remained but mass of incandescent ashes of irregular formation, at the bottom of the retort, though up to the last there were some indications of the twigs and of the winding-sheet. It decided, however, to keep the heat of the furnace for an hour longer, as to be absolutely certain of success, in what was, more or less, an experimental case, and thus to give the furnace the full force of the four hours originally allowed for the cremation. One very unpleasant contingency was avoided by the previous removal of all fluids from the body. Before cremation there was not the slightest approach to anything like disruption from the generation of steam in the body itself. Had this necessary part of embalmment not been carried out, there is no doubt that the body would have exploded soon sifter being placed in the retort ; thus the long delay in bringing about the cremation saved us one painful incident. The question of cremation is, however, still affected, by this, to loving relatives, objectionable feature.


At 12 o'clock the firemen commenced to draw the fires from the furnace. The vent-hole was closed up, and the furnace and the Baron de Palm were left to quietly cool off by themselves. This will take from twenty-four to thirty-six hours. The ashes will then be collected and placed in Col. Olcott’s: ancient Hindoo burial urn, and taken to New-York. That will be the last of the Baron, and may ejaculate very appropriately, “ peace to his ashes.” It may interest some to know that the direct outlay for the cremation was forty bushels of coke at four cents a bushel, and thirty-four hours labor, at sixteen cents an hour : total $7 04.

During the afternoon meeting of those interested in cremation was held at the Town Hall, and various addresses were delivered. Col. Olcott gave a short history of cremation ; Rev. Dr. Hays spoke on the non-committal side of the question ; Dr. King talked of the deleterious and poisonous effect of grave-yards; Mr, Crumsine on the legal aspects of cremation, and Dr. Lo Moyne on its scriptural and natural issues. To-morrow Washington will resume its very provincial garb.


Burning the Baron

Midnight Visit to the Remains – The Body in the Retort – Cremated

Washington, Pa., Dec. 6.—There was a reception at Dr. Le Moyne's residence on Maiden street last night, attended by most of the scientists in town. Plans of the crematory and explanations were given to the guests. Dr. Le Moyne told me that he at first proposed to the authorities of this township to build a crematory in the public burying ground, but there were popular prejudices in the way and the proposition fell through. He then determined to set up a private crematory on his own grounds. He has had letters from all parts of the country from persons interested in the subject, but while he is willing to allow crematory to be used by strangers in special cases, like this of the Baron, he does not intend to throw it open to all comers.

I went up to the crematory last night at 11 o’clock and stayed until 1 this morning. It was bright moonlight, and all the snow-clad hills glistened in the beams. Inside the crematory, the heat in the furnace room was although unbearable. The two men charged with the care of the fires were streaming with perspiration. In the reception room, the body of the Baron, wrapped in a winding sheet, lay stark and cold. A small lamp threw a ghastly gleam around the apartment. There have been stories of spirit forms not only seen flitting around the body, but actually photographed. If such impalpable essences have really been in attendance, they had other business on hand last night. I was there all through the canonical hours for ghost walking, and I saw nothing uncanny.

At 7 o’clock this morning, Col. Alcott[2], Mr. Newton, and a few reporters drove over to the crematory. Everything was found in fair order for the experiment. There was a crowd of about one hundred persons around the crematory, but no one was admitted without a ticket signed by Dr. Le Moyne himself. The body of the Baron had suffered no change. Col. Olcott placed about it a quantity of embalming spices—myrrh, frankincense, cassia, cloves, and other odorous drugs—he then saturated the winding sheet with a solution of alum.

After the arrival of Dr. Le Mayne, the body was strewn with palms, immortelles, and pale winter flowers, and everything was then ready for the cremation. The iron shutter of the furnace having been removed, and a second (cold) shutter having been duly prepared with luting clay, the body was borne into the crematory room by Col. Olcott, Henry S. Newton, Dr. F. Julius, Dr. Le Moyne, and Dr. Asdale of the Pittsburgh Board.

The scene was a solemn and impressive one as the body was lifted into the intensely heated retort. The hair and the palms strewed around the head took fire instantly, and formed a crown of roaring flames around the head. In a moment the shutter was clapped over the orifice and the bars tightly secured. The cremation began at precisely 8:30, Pittsburgh time. After a few minutes the fire-man opened the valve and I had a chance of viewing the body as it lay in the furnace. The winding sheet, though already carbonized, retained its form and fold around the body, thanks to the alum. The palm boughs also stood up as naturally as though they were living portions of a tree. The sight was one of the most curious and remarkable that could be imagined.

About half an hour after the body had been placed in the retort, Dr. Lo Moyne gave orders for the admission of the outsiders to view the body through the valve ; an opportunity which they eagerly embraced. It was evident that the igneous decomposition was, in this case, a very slow process. At about 10 o’clock the vertabræ of the neck had become disintegrated and the head had fallen aside. All the drapery and lighter materials had disappeared and the ribs stood out sharply in the ruddy glow like the frame-work of some wrecked ship under a lurid sunset.

An inspection at about 12 o'clock showed that the body was thoroughly calcined. Col. Olcott talks of placing the funeral vase containing the ashes in the Museum of Science and Art.

The citizens of Washington and township met in the Town Hall this afternoon, and listened to addresses on the subject of cremation. Col. Olcott gave an elaborate historical summary, and brief speeches were made by Dr. James King of Pittsburgh, President Haves of the Washington and Jefferson College, Dr. Le Moyne, and others.

New York Daily Tribune.

Cremation and Burial

The incineration of the remains of the Baron de Palm yesterday at Washington, Penn., will renew the discussion of the comparative advantages of burning and of burial. As a chemical experiment before an audience consisting largely of newspaper reporters, the affair was a success. As a great social innovation, destined to change the civilized world's customs, it was not impressive although no expense had been spared with such intent. A few hours after the process was finished, the gentlemen who had had it in charge made speeches about its merits, at a meeting in the Town Hall. The event will lend special interest to that portion of the Sixth Annual Report of the Massachusetts State Board of Health which examines the relative advantages of these two methods of disposing of the dead. This part of the Report is written by Dr. J. F. A, Adams of Pittsfield, Mass. It contains a Bibliography of Cremation, which shows by its extent and variety the great interest which <... continues on page 4-31 >

Editor's notes

  1. Burning the Baron by unknown author, Sun, The, Thursday, December 7, 1876.
  2. So in text; should be: Olcott.
  3. Cremation and Burial by unknown author, New York Daily Tribune, Thursday, December 7, 1876