App turns cemeteries into living history lessons

May 7, 2013 8:43:03 PM PDT
A Montgomery County cemetery has teamed up with a website to make sure our lives are not limited to what fits on a headstone and the results are remarkable.

WebCemeteries.com is a local company behind the effort to make sure the stories of those buried aren't buried with them.

"It really changes the experience at the cemetery. It brings the history to life in a way that wasn't possible before," Nick Timpe of WebCemeteries.com said.

With the cooperation of families and, in some instances, from the deceased themselves before they pass, every headstone sprawled out over West Laurel Hill Cemetery's 200 acres in Bala Cynwyd comes with a kind of chronicle of their lives.

Each is told through an app designed specifically for this cemetery.

"So now we can see in pictures and in video what the family wants to share about that individual," Timpe said.

"We wanted our families to have a digitized memorial; it's kind of like a living memorial," Deborah Cassidy of West Laurel Hill said.

At the cemetery's request, every grave has also been GPS plotted, giving smart phone toting visitors a map of who is buried where. From there, people can take a guided tour or go it alone, learning about these lives, the legacies of these people, at their own pace.

That's a good thing, as some of the stories will stop you.

Like Charlotte Martinez Cardeza's, a survivor aboard the Titanic.

"Cardeza occupied the largest cabin on the Titanic and was the largest insurance claim, travelling with 14 steamer trunks, including 70 dresses and 14 fur coats," the app says of Cardeza.

Then there is Anna Jarvis, the official founder of Mother's Day, who's also buried here.

"Whose favorite flower, the carnation, became the symbol for Mother's Day," the app said.

But this effort isn't limited to just this cemetery or just the lives of luminaries; more than anything, it's about making sure no one's story is forgotten.

For some, an app like this may seem morbid, but to those at West Laurel Hill, this is not at all a program focused on death, but rather on life, and adding to it even after death.

"They can add to their stories, add photos, even personal writings from the family, love letters can be all added. It's digital and it's permanent," Cassidy said.

Each cemetery has to buy the app for it to be used there, and as of now, it's only being used in about 100 cemeteries nationwide.

But where it is being used, we're told, people who are buying plots for themselves are pre-recording videos that will be saved and eventually posted as part of their own memorial.


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