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Originally published July 31, 2011 at 7:02 PM | Page modified August 1, 2011 at 12:00 PM

'Living headstones' use technology to honor the dead

A Seattle monument maker offers "living headstones," where quick-response codes provide an online link to a person's life history.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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LIVING HEADSTONES: http://www.monuments.com/livingheadstone

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Wave a smartphone over the bench-style headstone of Edouard Garneau at Holyrood Cemetery in Shoreline and you'll learn he was a collision-repair specialist and successful businessman who loved to barbecue, fly his airplane and travel.

You'll see pictures of Garneau and the life he shared with his wife, Faye, and of him with his airplane and riding on an elephant.

"They'll learn he was a genuinely nice guy and what he did with his life, what made him successful," said Faye Garneau. "It's for the family, for generations to come."

This is all thanks to a QR — quick-response — code affixed to Garneau's grave. It's a tiny square code, about the size of a postage stamp, that gives you a link to a password-protected website that has volumes of information about Garneau's life.

These QR codes are similar to the bar codes found on most products. The digital patterns, when scanned by a smartphone or an iPad with the proper application, connect the user to a website with the person's written history, photos and videos. The information on the site is provided by the family, and the service is part of the headstone purchase.

The code on Garneau's headstone was added by Seattle's Quiring Monuments, which began offering what it calls "living headstones" several months ago and has sold about three dozen so far.

Last month, it put QR codes on the headstones of six Medal of Honor recipients and two Silver Star recipients at Seattle's Evergreen Washelli Cemetery.

"What it means to me, it opens up the world to virtually anyone who is in our cemetery," said Washelli general manager Scott Sheehan. "Before, you might stand on a gravesite and read [the tombstone] and wonder what that person was about. Now you can read their life story. Every life has a story. That's our tagline."

Dave Quiring, 68, president of the third-generation company, has affixed QR codes to the gravestones of his parents. When his father died, he said, the family found a scrap of paper in his wallet, the often quoted line from the Robert Frost poem: The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.

That is now on his father's QR code and it gives Quiring peace when he reads it.

"For many funerals, there are few young people," Quiring said. "This technology brings them back into the fold. This marriage of technology with history seems a way to make preserving memories more important to people."

At first, Quiring considered not just affixing the QR code but carving it into the headstone, but he didn't want it so permanent. Not only can the codes be placed on tombstones, but also to mausoleums, a bench in the garden, a sundial and even a cremation urn.

Those who have passwords can go to the website for the person who has died and add even more information, including pictures and videos.

If you want to put a QR code on an existing headstone, it costs $65, Quiring said.

Sheehan, with Evergreen Washelli, sees the service expanding. The cemetery offers arborists tours of its trees; maybe a QR code could be affixed to a Washington elm giving a history of the tree. He sees it as an important part of a self-guided tour of the cemetery, perhaps affixing the codes to the historical monuments in the cemetery.

As for Quiring, he's already planning to use a QR code on his own grave marker. The site would have to include video of his beloved 1967 Austin Healey and the 57-pound king salmon he caught in Alaska.

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or sgilmore@seattletimes.com

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