Technology Brings Digital Memories To Grave Sites A Seattle company is adding "quick-read" codes to gravestones, allowing cemetery visitors to connect with the dead's life stories. Using their smartphones, passers-by can scan the QR code and access a website that shows photos and other information about the deceased.

Technology Brings Digital Memories To Grave Sites

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From member station KPLU in Seattle, Bellamy Pailthorp explains all it takes is a smartphone and a free app.

BELLAMY PAILTHORP: Death and the human desire for remembrance are the constants that have kept Dave Quiring's company, Quiring Monuments, going for three generations now. He's part grief counselor, part artisan, part editor.

DAVE QUIRING: My job is to help people tell a story in stone, generally.

PAILTHORP: You may have seen QR codes in magazine ads. They're a little larger than a postage stamp and look a bit like a combination of a bar code and a Rorschach blot. You scan them with a free smartphone app and they bring up a website. Quiring pulls one from his shirt pocket.


PAILTHORP: That was my iPhone beeping, and we're slowly checking information into my phone.

QUIRING: Yup. Yup, you can see it.

PAILTHORP: A few seconds later, my smartphone brings up a sepia picture of a man in a double-breasted suit looking out at us.

QUIRING: There's my dad, quite the dapper guy back in 1930.

PAILTHORP: The monument seller beams at the sight of this picture and the slideshow that follows. There's the obit that was in the newspaper after his dad died, and a scan of part of a Robert Frost poem that his wife found in his wallet. It became David Sr.'s epitaph.


PAILTHORP: We head to the veterans cemetery less than a mile up the road from the shop, so we can take a look at family's plot. From the car, Quiring - who himself served during Vietnam - looks past some blooming cherry trees. Rows and rows of uniform white markers cover the hillside. His shop has a federal contract to make them. He'd love to see his black-and-white QR code stickers added to each and every one.

QUIRING: And then you could make a tour through there and it would be more than just a bunch of white monuments. It would be distinct lives of people who really deserve to have their story told.

PAILTHORP: It's an idea that's catching on and not just with QR codes. A company in Phoenix has started selling tombstones with RFID tags for digital storytelling. That's a technology used for tracking things like library books and clothing in retail sales.

HARRY COLES: Oh, yeah.

PAILTHORP: Also in this cemetery is 80-year-old Harry Coles. He's an Army veteran visiting both his brother's and his mother's graves. He doesn't own a cell phone, much less a smart one. But he likes my demonstration of how the QR codes work at the Quiring family's graves.


PAILTHORP: Requires a bit of a steady hand, but it's not as hard as typing.

COLES: I'll be darned. Now that's something new.

PAILTHORP: Coles says he's old-fashioned, so he wouldn't want anyone to buy one for him. But he thinks having one could mean a lot.

COLES: For some people, it brings back happy memories and probably some bad memories, sorrowful memories. But mostly, I would think, it's out of love. That's the basis for the whole thing.

PAILTHORP: For NPR News, I'm Bellamy Pailthorp in Seattle.

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