Middle Village, Queens is not known for tourist attractions, but if you make it to the Metropolitan Avenue stop on the M train, bypass the insipid Metro Mall and take a right on Mt. Olivet Crescent. You will be surprised to see a magnificently preserved neoclassical structure surrounded by Belgian brick walkways at the top of the hill. You might think it’s a Gilded Age mansion until you notice the chimney that rises from the center. Founded in 1884 as the first crematorium in New York, U.S. Columbarium at Fresh Pond Crematory retains its impressive architecture inside and out, with Tiffany-style stained glass windows and skylights, Terrazzo flooring, and hushed Gothic halls that currently house over 32,000 remains in 16,000 niches.
The four chambers in the Cremation Hall have been in service for members of every faith, and an eclectic group of luminaries such as J.P. Morgan, Lou Gehrig and Biggie Smalls have been cremated there. It is the final resting place of Ring Lardner, and can be seen in an episode of Boardwalk Empire, where characters gather for a funeral in the Beaux-Arts chapel and family viewing room. The niches of those who have chosen to be interred read like a walk though time; filled with symbols and objects of meaning to the occupant, such as dolls, Masonic symbols, photographs and medals. There is a Hall of Serenity and Innocence for infants as well as a memorial to those lost in the World Trade Center.
J.P. DiTroia is president of the Crematory, a non-profit association. For over 40 years he has worked to educate the public regarding cremation through special services, events and tours. It is well worth a visit.
Linda Fisher is a licensed tour guide and fiction writer in New York City.