To some, a columbarium, a building that houses cremated remains, may appear to be a morbid place full of sadness and grief, but really, the places we leave our dead are often full of beautiful art and wonderful stories of loved ones. This is especially true at the U.S. Columbarium Company at Fresh Pond Crematory in Middle Village, Queens, one of the oldest crematories in the United States, built in 1884. The crematory and columbarium is the final resting place for 40,000 souls. Many occupants have been at Fresh Pond for over one hundred years, and it is an still active crematory and columbarium. Throughout the site, which has been added to over the centuries, there are beautiful examples of Tiffany-style stained glass windows that date to the 19th-century, and architecture that reflects the styles of the period in which each addition was built. If you are an Untapped Cities Insider, you can join us for a tour inside the historic columbarium to see the many rooms of historic niches, classical architecture, and stunning stained and painted glass windows. Not an Insider yet? Become a member today to gain access to free behind-the-scenes tours and special events all year long!
This unique tour on November 2nd will be led by J. P. DiTroia, the President of the U.S. Columbarium Company at Fresh Pond Crematory. DiTroia, who runs the site with his wife Tina, is carrying on the family business. He started working at the crematory, previously run by his uncle, when he was just seventeen years old. DiTroia has worked at Fresh Pond since 1967 and his passion for the history of the site and cremation services, as well as the families he serves, is evident in his knowledge and enthusiasm about those subjects.
Inside the Gothic Room, added in the 1920s
U.S. Columbarium Company at Fresh Pond Crematory was founded in 1884 when cremation services were new to the Untied States. At first, the only building on the site was the crematory. In 1894, the columbarium was built to house cremated remains. The latin root of the word columbarium is “columba,” which translates to dove. The niches, where urns are housed, are like niches where the peaceful birds build their nests. In 1889, more niches were added and an entirely new building was built in 1904. The site got a new chapel in 1910 and in 1929, the original 19th-century building was encased by a new structure. The buildings today have an impressive Neo-classical style.
Each phase of the columbarium has its own distinctive character. There are the Gothic Rooms from the 1920s with pointed arch niches, dark wood furniture and views of the Manhattan skyline, the open and airy Marble Columbarium with a giant stained glass window at the end of its long hallway, and the cozy and solemn sanctuary room with round couches to rest on. Filling each space are rows and rows of enclosed niches filled with urns and personal artifacts that represent the person within. It is fascinating to see the niches of those who passed away more than 100 years ago. Many of the older niches are adorned with photographs, Masonic symbols and fanciful urns. The newer niches are just as interesting, with laser etched portraits, colorful urns, and memorabilia. DiTroia is always looking to the future and for ways to improve the columbarium’s services, even researching ways to incorporate virtual reality and a digital program that will allow visitors to scan a code and pull up a digital scrapbook of a person’s life.
Besides the 16,000 niches, the columbarium boasts a striking collection of stained and painted glass windows. Most of the windows date back to the 19th-century and were donated by families who have loved ones housed in the columbarium. These windows are unique in that they have secular themes. The columbarium has always been non-denominational. Many contain symbolism that references cremation, such as an urn with flames and smoke billowing from the top. The windows employ complicated glass making techniques that were used by the Tiffany Studio at the time including, drapery, herringbone glass, and opalescent glass. These colorful and intricately crafted windows can be found throughout the columbarium in the chapel, among the niches and even in the ceiling. Friends of Fresh Pond has been working to restore the stained glass windows with conservator Patrick J. Clark and donations from the community.
The crematory and columbarium offer a special place for people to memorialize lost loved ones in a historic setting run by a family who deeply cares about the services they offer. If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation to help restore the stained glass windows and maintain the historic structure, you can send a check made out to “Friends of Fresh Pond” to: Friends of Fresh Pond P.O. Box 790044 Middle Village, New York, 11379
Join Untapped Cities for a tour of Fresh Pond Crematory and Columbarium on November 2nd led by President J.P. DiTroia where we will see the various sections of the columbarium, learn about the history of the site and cremation services in the United States, see the stunning stained glass windows and meet Gina, the columbarium’s bereavement dog!
REGISTRATION: Opens Friday, October 18th at 12PM EST