Photos: An inside look at the Fresh Pond Crematory

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HED: Inside the Crematorium High on a hill overlooking Middle Village on one side and Maspeth on the other, the Fresh Pond Crematory — the first crematorium in the United States — is a place most people visit only once.
Built in the 1880s, the crematory is the final resting place for nearly 40,000 people. Large parts of the columbarium — the section where the ashes are kept — have gone mostly unchanged since the Guilded Age. The likes of J.P. Morgan, Lou Gehrig and rapper Notorious B.I.G. have been cremated here.
One of the standout niches is this Art Noveau-era grate commissioned for a husband and wife more than a century ago.
Every niche is something of a time capsule, including an ornate urn, or two, for the ashes, framed photos of the departed, and sometimes a keepsake like silk flowers or tiny figurines.
The American way of death has shifted fundementally since 1980 when, according to the National Cremation Association, only five percent of deaths were handled with cremation. Now, the number is about 50 percent.
Stained glass windows cover the walls in the crematorium’s two buildings.
A small observation area across the cremation units allows families a final moment before the process begins. Reducing a body to ashes takes about two hours.

The idea of burning the deceased rather than burying them is catching on.

For some, it is a matter of expense. Cremation is much less expensive than full, traditional funerals complete with headstones and cemetery plots.

The changing demographics of Queens has also given cremation a boost. Burial is not part of Hindu or Buddhist traditions. And as those populations grow in the borough, the Fresh Pond Crematory in Middle Village — the first one in America and by far the busiest in Queens — has seen a big bump in business.

The crematorium has loomed over the neighborhood since the 1880s. But few have ever been inside the place where JP Morgan and Lou Gehrig made their last stops before the cemetery.

Here’s an inside look at the stunning, quiet interiors at Fresh Pond that have hardly changed since the Gilded Age.

Posted 12:00 am, May 8, 2018
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