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Purified by FireA History of Cremation in America$
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Stephen Prothero

Print publication date: 2001

Print ISBN-13: 9780520208162

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520208162.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CALIFORNIA SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.california.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of California Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CALSO for personal use.date: 29 June 2022

The Cremation of Baron De Palm

The Cremation of Baron De Palm

(p.15) 1 The Cremation of Baron De Palm
Purified by Fire

Stephen Prothero

University of California Press

The corpse of Baron Joseph Henry Louis Charles De Palm went up in flames in an event billed as the first cremation in modern America. Opponents denounced it as Satan's errand. Cremation was superior to burial on sanitary, economic, social, aesthetic, and religious grounds. It is claimed that burial polluted while cremation purified. De Palm's idiosyncratic funeral brought notoriety to Olcott and his Theosophical Society, but complicated De Palm's cremation. As ritual, the cremation was, in anthropological parlance, undercooked—far too quotidian to count as a proper funerary rite. While a scientific success, the De Palm cremation was a ritual failure. Witnesses to De Palm's cremation clearly linked the practice with the “heathen,” but exactly which “heathen” isn't clear. De Palm's death rites proved dechristianization without secularization. The cremations of De Palm, Benjamin Pitman, Charles Winslow, and Francis Julius LeMoyne strayed from the standard ritual formula of Gilded Age Americans.

Keywords:   cremation, Baron De Palm, modern America, burial, Benjamin Pitman, Charles Winslow, Francis Julius LeMoyne

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