The Cremation of Baron De Palm

Stephen Prothero

in Purified by Fire

Published by University of California Press

Published in print February 2001 | ISBN: 9780520208162
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520929746 | DOI:
The Cremation of Baron De Palm

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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

Chapter.  13034 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies

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