Forget the basic facts, families want video tombstones

Nate Legue

What do you want on your tombstone?

How about a television?

If just carving a name and dates in granite isn’t enough to tell the story of your life, a Rockford-area funeral home will let you use a short video, too.

Olson Funeral and Cremation Services Ltd. will sell the Vidstone Serenity Panel, a solar-powered video player installed onto a graveyard monument. The funeral home debuted the 10.5-inch-wide LCD screen Thursday at the Lifescape Senior Expo. The player can play seven to 10 minutes of video clips, photo montages and music.

Before you roll your eyes in disbelief, figure this: When Olson started making video tributes for visitations a few years ago, funeral directors had doubts whether video photo montages would catch on, said Scott Olson, a fifth-generation director.

But now most families want a television playing a photo slide show DVD, and sometimes the presentations are incorporated into the services.

While a few wiseacres might record themselves on the tombstone video and speak from beyond the grave, Olson said he thinks most people will opt for the kind of tasteful photo montages that have become so popular.

“The cemetery can be kind of a lonely place,” Olson said. “This is a nice option for people.”

The device costs $1,499, but with a five-year warranty and a vandalism protection policy, it costs $2,392. The unit is supposed to last 15 years in normal weather conditions. It can be mounted onto most vertical or slanted monuments, but it works best on one with southern exposure. It can’t be used on flat headstones or grave markers.

The idea of playing images on a monument-mounted video player has been around for at least a decade, but it’s catching on after video screens have popped up nearly everywhere: on cell phones, on iPods, in minivans, even above bathroom urinals.

At Fitzgerald Funeral Home and Crematory in Rockford, the majority of families making arrangements for deceased relatives want to make a video tribute, said Melinda Hagerman, funeral director. Because of that, Hagerman said there could be a market for the gravestone videos.

“I think that each family needs something different at different points in the grief journey, and some people would be comforted by that, but others wouldn’t like it,” Hagerman said.

Rockford Register Star staff writer Nate Legue may be reached at 815-987-1346 or nlegue@rrstar.com.