An after-life platform: gravesite QR codes

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DOYLESTOWN, Pa. -- As Gaylen Marzolf could see his own life drawing to a close last spring at the age of 51, the man who never gave his wife, Lynette, a choice but to love him asked her to carry out one final choice for him.

Marzolf, a "computer geek," wanted a QR -- Quick Response -- code affixed to his tombstone at Sunnyside Cemetery in Harvey, N.D., so friends and strangers with smartphones could scan the code and be taken to a digital memorial website for him. That way, those who visited his grave would not just learn his name and the dates that marked the beginning and end of his life, but they would also learn about how he lived his life in between.

"I said, 'They can really do that?' " Lynette Marzolf recalled. "I had no clue it existed."

In a search to fulfill one of her husband's last wishes, Ms. Marzolf and a friend found Digital Legacys. It's a company run by Bucks County couple Rick and Lorie Miller that provides QR codes and corresponding online memorial sites that can be personalized with stories, photos, music and videos.

"So many things get lost over time, photos get lost and the stories and videos are not always around anymore, but on the Web, it's always there, immortalized forever," Ms. Miller said.

The company, which the Millers founded in September, is a side business for the Doylestown couple. Rick Miller works in electrical contracting, and Lorie Miller owns Rainbow Ridge Farm, a horse farm in Pipersville. After experiencing several deaths in proximity and, later, a very special birth in their own family, the Millers were inspired to create Digital Legacys.

"We have a 5-year-old, our surprise child," Rick Miller said. "My father passed away in the late '90s, and she never knew him. This is a great way for somebody that's younger that hasn't had the opportunity to know one of their ancestors to learn about them and to learn about their life."

Ms. Miller had used QR codes -- small black-and-white pixilated squares -- in advertising her own business and thought they'd be ideal for memorials.

"The QR code is so instant, it doesn't take up a lot of room and it [takes] you directly to the Web page," she said.

And, yes, the Millers are aware that they misspelled "Legacys" in the company name. Digital Legacies -- spelled correctly -- was already taken by a photography studio.

Digital Legacys' customers may upload any content they wish to their loved one's website, which, for a one-time $149.99 fee, will be maintained forever.

Maria D'Alessandro's father, Carmine Carro, a one-time president of the Marine Park Civic Association in Brooklyn, died in 2005. This year, a building, the Carmine Carro Community Center in Marine Park, was named and dedicated in his honor. While many people in the neighborhood still remember her father, Ms. D'Alessandro knows that won't be the case forever. So she signed up with Digital Legacys to get a QR code for a plaque in the center's foyer so people can learn about the man the building was named for.

"I pass by millions of buildings with names on them, and I always say, 'Who is this man on this building?' " Ms. D'Alessandro said. "My dad wasn't famous, but at least they will know who he was by going to this QR code."

Both Ms. D'Alessandro and Ms. Marzolf said creating the sites for their loved ones was an easy process. When Mr. Marzolf's QR tag is scanned, it takes the scanner to his site, where the background is a photo of him, Ms. Marzolf and his prized yellow Mustang convertible. The video on his site, which his niece put together for his funeral, includes silly, warm and touching photos of Mr. and Ms. Marzolf and their family. It's accompanied by music found on Mr. Marzolf's laptop after his death.

Mr. Marzolf was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at birth and was not expected to live past age 12. When his wife met him many years later, she was nervous to fall in love with him. "But I didn't have a choice," she said.

Visitors to his Digital Legacys site learn that Mr. Marzolf grew up in rural North Dakota and started a fox farm as a young man. He was a churchgoing guy with a degree in computer science who volunteered with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation of North Dakota. Visitors learn that even in death, he continued to give as an organ donor, and now two people are able to see because of his gift.

Ms. Marzolf thinks her husband would be happy with the final product, and she hopes people will recognize and scan the QR code to learn more about the man she couldn't help but love.

"If people know what [the QR code] is, they can scan it and keep his memory alive and let people know what he did," she said.

And therein lies part of the problem the Millers face with getting their product on the market. Although most people, at this point, have seen a QR code somewhere, many older people are not aware of how it works.

"I think the QR technology has been out there for quite some time now, but it's more the younger generation that's tech-savvy, and I think it's [members of] the elder generation who are purchasing memorials and burying people," Mr. Miller said.

The Millers hope to expand their business to include historic cemeteries, the pet industry and monument companies. They've received inquiries from as far away as Iceland, Australia, France and England.

As the company grows, Ms. Miller said she hopes to see people get even more creative with the after-life platform. She imagines people filming a video of themselves before they die that will play when the QR tag is scanned at their gravesite.

"Wouldn't it be something if you scanned the tag and a video of the deceased popped up saying 'It's about time you come visit me!' or 'What did you do to your hair?' "



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