The Ottumwa Courier

November 25, 2013

Would you put a code on your headstone?

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — It’s not here just yet, but there is a day not far off when taking your smart phone to the cemetery might be essential.

QR codes are small, square digitized codes. One of the most common uses is for online links or coupons. Smart phones can carry apps to let you read them, sending your phone’s browser to the appropriate page.

But the codes can link to just about anything online, including obituaries or memorial websites. They’re starting to show up on headstones as ways for families to memorialize their loved ones.

The earliest online mentions of the practice date back to in Japan about six years ago. They've been showing up in Europe and the United States more recently.

The idea is just now making it into southeast Iowa. Gene Rathje, who serves as Ottumwa’s cemeteries superintendent, said the idea hasn’t come up here yet. Is it something the city would allow?

“We don’t, but we also don’t have regulations on it,” he said. “Right now, none of us have ever heard of it before.”

He’s not alone. Susan Wemer of Bill Patterson Monument Co., was new to the idea as well.

“I haven’t heard any families ask about that yet,” she said.

Neither has Jack Fuller at Fuller Monument. But he had heard of the practice.

“I’ve been thinking about it, too, because there was one company that was offering something. I haven’t gotten into the details,” he said.

The codes on headstones vary. Some are laser etched into the stone itself. Others use a small plaque, usually porcelain or metal, which is adhered to the stone.

The codes do raise some concerns. Some focus on the codes themselves. What if the company hosting the linked content goes out of business? What if the code weathers and makes it unreadable?

Other concerns include how far the practice can go. Who should be allowed to put a code on a gravesite? Is it limited to families, or can people add the codes to the graves of noteworthy historical figures?

Rathje said the cemetery board may discuss whether to allow QR codes on gravesites and what regulations might be appropriate for their use. So, while the codes have not arrived in Ottumwa just yet, it seems like they may at some point in the future.

Fuller sees potential, if the codes are used respectfully.

“I think it’s going to be really interesting. You try to tell the story with the stone,” he said. “You could have much more information.”