talking tombstone, vidstone, virtual memorial, talking gravestone, tombstone video, serenity panel
AP/Lynne Sladky
The founder of Vidstone LLC poses with the
serenity panel, a solar-powered LCD screen
installed in a tombstone that plays video of
the deceased.

Are Talking Tombstones a New Way to Mourn or an Annoyance?

May 18, 2009 07:30 AM
by Haley A. Lovett
Austrian mourners have complained that new talking tombstones are disruptive; but are they just the next postmortem fad as technology and memorials meet?

Inventor Says Talking Tombstones Popular in America

 Austrian comedian Wolfgang Heinzl wanted to leave something to entertain visitors to his grave after he passed away. He enlisted the help of his friend Wolfgang Gollner to create a video memorial that would display parts of his comedy routines, along with words from Heinzl on a video screen mounted on his tombstone, according to the Austrian Times. Heinzl is buried in the Barbara cemetery in Linz, Austria.

While the Austrian Times notes that mourners “have reportedly reacted positively,” others haven’t. Eva Langer was visiting her husband’s grave when she first encountered Heinzl’s video, “I saw a dead man’s face talking to me from the tomb next door,” she told The Sun.

Gollner responds to requests that the talking tombstones be banned by claiming that they are popular in America and will soon be popular in Europe as well, “people will have to get used to them,” he said.

But whether the talking tombstones are actually popular in the United States is still up for debate. In 2007 the Associated Press covered the new-ish serenity panels, a small LCD screen that fits on a tombstone and can play a video from or about the deceased. Those selling the serenity panels noted very slow (and in some cases nonexistent) sales.

Cheri Lucking, national sales director of the manufacturer, Vidstone LLC, didn’t name specific figures, but told AP at the time: “It is not a huge number at the moment.”

The panels are solar powered, have a jack for a headset, and are thought to last about 15 years. The sellers note that problems with solar charging, the relatively short lifetime of the product, the $2,000 price tag, along with its drastic move away from traditional headstones, might be the reason sales are so slow.

Lucking, however, feels that the product just needs time for people to get used to the idea.

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Background: Funeral webcasts, virtual memorials and social networking after death

Advances in technology are no doubt making their way into the memorial business. In the last couple of years it has become more common for mourners to be treated to a slideshow or film of the deceased during a funeral, but some far away relatives and friends are also now able to attend a funeral virtually, via a funeral webcast. Mourners for whom it is too expensive or too painful to attend the funeral service in person can now watch the service from the comfort of their computer chair.

“There has been a huge spike in interest since we started the business,” the president of one funeral webcasting software company told ABC News in a March, 2007 piece.

Some funeral homes are experiencing difficulty with the new trend due to networking limitations, but expected those problems would be fixed within the next few years.

And for those who would like a permanent online commemoration of their loved one, a virtual memorial space might be the solution. Sites such as allow users to purchase space for a virtual memorial where loved ones can leave messages, post pictures, and connect with each other during their time of grief. Sites such as these may also begin to offer packages available before death, so a person can plan their own memorial site.

The popularity of social networking sites has, in the past few years, presented the owners with the problem of what to do with someone’s profile page after they die. One such site, Facebook, leaves the user’s account in tact so that family and friends may leave comments in remembrance, a policy which has been met with mixed reviews.

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