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In 1876, Francis Julius LeMoyne built and opened LeMoyne Crematory, the first crematory in the United States. He voiced concerns about the human body decomposition polluting groundwater, and thus purposed a healthier and safer alternative: cremation. Because of this, he took matters into his own hands by establishing the one-room crematory. Until its closing in 1901, 42 cremations were reportedly completed, including the body of LeMoyne himself.


  • A postcard of the LeMoyne Crematory estimated to be from the 1930s
  • The LeMoyne Crematory, winter 2019

Although historians have been able to trace the practice of cremation back to around 3000 B.C. in Europe and the Near East, the first crematory in United State’s history emerged here in Washington, Pennsylvania. LeMoyne, aged 70 at the time he built the crematory, expressed a great fear that traditionally-practiced burial methods infiltrated the ground and groundwater with toxins.  He also believed there to be a link between burial and outbreaks of disease among Washington locals. LeMoyne saw cremation as the solution for a healthier, more environmentally-friendly disposal of bodies.

LeMoyne’s original intentions for the crematory were solely for is personal use, but a man named Henry Steel Olcott, an estate executor, reached out to LeMoyne to discuss the requests of cremation of one of his deceased clients. After fulfilling his request, the LeMoyne Crematory became a public option of disposal.  However, this became a very controversial method; some saw the small, one-room building as controversial and inappropriate for such somber use.  LeMoyne, who passed away shortly after the crematory's opening, became the 3rd person cremated and left his family with instructions on running it.

Atlas Obscura. (2019). The man who built the first crematory in the United States was also the third person cremated there.. [online] Available at: https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/lemoyne-crematory [Accessed 17 Jan. 2019].

States, 2. (2019). First Crematory Built in the United States | aCremation. [online] Acremation.com. Available at: https://www.acremation.com/First_Crematory_Built_in_the_United_States [Accessed 17 Jan. 2019].