05 March 2021

SLC's First Cremation

Dr. Charles Winslow’s crematorium in downtown Salt Lake City, July 1877. From UDSH. 

The first non-indigenous cremation to take place in Utah was of Dr. Charles F Winslow (1811-1877) in downtown SLC.

Dr. Winslow moved to SLC from Boston after his wife died in 1874. In SLC he was a well-respected [Gentile] professional who was interested in the sciences. Dr. Winslow had decided that cremation was more sanitary than traditional burial and was the most sustainable option for a growing population.

Dr. Winslow died July 7, 1877. He had recently written his will and specified exactly how he would like his remains treated. He directed that 48 hours after his death (to make sure he was good and dead) his heart would be removed from his body and preserved in a glass jar with a specific formula of chemicals; his heart would then be sent to Nantucket to be buried with his mother. He also directed that his body would be cremated, and his ashes buried with his wife in Boston.

Only 2 other cremations had been recorded in American history- the 1st being Henry Laurens in 1792 and the 2nd being the Baron de Palm in 1876.

Morris and Evans, experts in fire brick, were called on to build the crematorium for Dr. Winslow. They secured permission from Brigham Young and built it in their back lot, behind the Utah Theatre at the SE corner of 100 S and State St (today, this is roughly where Regent St curves between 100 S and State St).

The crematorium was built of fire brick with a stone foundation. It measured 12 ft long, 4.5 ft wide, and 5 ft high with an iron door and a window of mica. Coal was brought in from Rock Springs to ensure a high temperature was reached. A quarter of beef and several beef bones were tested in the chamber with great success.

Dr. Winslow’s children objected to the cremation, instead preferring traditional embalming and burial. The cremation was delayed several weeks until his children consented. In the meantime, Dr. Winslow’s body was decomposing, and ice offered little protection in the July heat, so he was also embalmed until the dispute was settled.

Winslow’s funeral took place on July 31 1877; kind words were spoken by his friends but no prayers were offered in accordance with his wishes directed in his will. After 2.5 hours in the furnace his body was reduced to ash and calcined bone (which was then crushed in a mortar). His heart was sent to Nantucket and his cremains sent to Boston, per his wishes.

Reportedly, some relic-hunters gathered some of the remaining refuse from the furnace, placed it in pillboxes, and sold it at a rate of $0.25 a box; several going so far as England.

The entire funeral, including the cost to construct the crematorium, was about $1500 (~$37K today)

The crematorium was dismantled soon after its use.

Sources: SL Herald 1877-07-12; SL Herald 1877-07-13; SL Herald 1877-07-31; SL Trib 1899-08-06; Winslow probate file from Utah State Archives.

Charles F Winslow, 1876. From ancestry user curiositykeeper

1884 Sanborn Map 5, red star showing location of temporary crematorium

Grave marker for the heart of Dr. Winslow in Nantucket, from find-a-grave

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