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Technology speaks from the grave

A new device that can be affixed to headstones offers music, words, color pictures and videos. Or even the deceased's last message.

December 09, 2007|Robert Imrie | Associated Press

WAUSAU, WIS. — No one would set a scrapbook filled with pictures and memories on the tombstone of a loved one. But what about a high-tech, weatherproof version, with digital images powered by a solar cell?

That innovation is available now -- but finding takers hasn't been easy.

"I haven't sold any," said Doug Ellis of Riverview Monuments in Wausau, who has been offering the so-called serenity panel system for about $2,000 since February.

Many customers say, " 'That is not for me,' " he said. "I think the Wausau area is a little more conservative yet."

The panel mounts on the front of the gravestone and pays tribute to the deceased in color pictures, words, music and even videos. It's all from a small memory chip inside a device that opens like the cover of a book. Vidstone, a company with offices in Florida and Colorado, developed the serenity panel about two years ago.

Cheri Lucking, Vidstone's national sales director in Aurora, Colo., said the company had about 100 dealers nationwide.

"We don't release our sales figures," she said. "It is not a huge number at the moment."

Maria Schlitzberger, office manager of Schlitzberger & Daughters Monument Co. in Houston, said her company had sold one serenity panel in a year.

"That is a big step, putting electronics on your headstone," she said. "People are used to sandblasted granite and marble and things like that."

Lucking likened the concept of putting a digital video scrapbook on a tombstone to when cellphones first came out and people said they would never own one. "We all have one now," she said.

Ways of honoring the dead are changing because of technology, Lucking said. More funeral homes use state-of-the-art visuals and put LCD screens in their chapels to do multimedia presentations, she said. "Five or six years ago, they weren't even doing video tributes."

Four hours of sun provides enough juice to play the video with up to a 10-minute tribute on a 7-inch LCD screen about six times. There are headphone jacks to listen to the audio.

Chuck Summers, retail sales manager for Moore Monument & Granite Co. in Sterling, Ill., has had the device for about three months and awaits his first sale.

"We range from $5,000 to $8,000 on a typical stone. When you tack on another $2,000 for the Vidstone, it gets pricey for the people in the area," he said.

Because the player is solar-powered, which way the tombstone will face is a concern.

There's all kinds of options for tributes -- even letting the deceased speak from the grave.

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