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Ordering a headstone through the internet could be a grave mistake.

Ordering a headstone through the internet could be a grave mistake.

 Photo of a blank headstone with a carving and a panel, ready for names and dates to be sandblasted on to it.

Photo of a blank headstone with a carving and a panel, ready for names and dates to be sandblasted on to it.

She found the headstone on the internet. The company was located in Massachusetts. They told her getting it set at the cemetery in Pennsylvania wasn't going to be a problem, but this was not reality.

I know of this story because I was there when the call came in at a local memorial dealer.

Her first mistake was ordering and paying for an internet-sourced headstone without consulting a local memorial dealer.

Local memorial dealers have local knowledge of the specific requirements, restrictions, and rules and regulations of the cemeteries in their area. It can get detailed and tricky. And if a stone does not adhere to a cemetery's requirements, it is very possible that stone will not be allowed in the cemetery.

Her second mistake was ordering the headstone before arranging a proper shipping destination.

For example, if you intend to order a headstone through the internet, and if you intend to have it shipped to your home, how will you get this stone off the truck? Do you have a loading dock? Do you have a forklift? Do you have crane? How 'bout a 4 wheel hand-truck built to handle the weight of a granite headstone?

Her third mistake was not consulting with the cemetery about what was allowed. 

  • Some cemeteries only allow granite flat markers.

  • Some allow upright headstones, but the base can be no longer than 24 inches wide.

  • Or they might require that all dies be 10 inches wide.

  • Some cemeteries require stones to have a religious element, such as a cross or praying hands carved into the stone.

  • Some cemeteries have different sections where only certain kinds of headstones are allowed in each area. Like, one area might be solely for bronze markers. Another area might be just for slant headstones. And then another area might only allow large die and base headstones.

  • Or a cemetery might only allow hickey markers. These are like slightly elevated flat markers with the back being angled higher than the front.

  • Some cemeteries require grave location numbers to be sandblasted into a certain corner of the stone.

There really is a lot to get right.

Some cemeteries require a permit to set a headstone. This can involve filling out a specific cemetery form which might also need to be notarized. One example: the Archdiocese of Philadelphia requires a 4 page green form to be filled out and notarized.

  • And they want to see a draft of the stone's design.

  • They want to know who fabricated the stone.

  • And they want to know which quarry the granite came from.

In addition, they want to know who the memorial dealer is, and the memorial dealer must sign this document and agree to certain conditions.

As a part of filling out the form, the "original certificate holder" must be identified. This is the person who originally bought the lot. It is a requirement to detail how the applicant is related to the original certificate holder and how they are related to the deceased. And heirs having any claim to the lot must also be listed.  

Here is an example of the strictness involved with the Catholic Cemeteries Association of the Diocese of Cleveland. This document is titled: 

GRANITE MEMORIAL DELIVERY and INSTALLATION AGREEMENT

And here are their 51 pages of rules & regulations.

Most cemeteries also charge a foundation fee. 

They are not going to allow somebody to just plop a granite headstone on to the ground. It needs to be supported by concrete so that it doesn't lean. This involves identifying the correct grave, staking it out, digging a foundation hole, filling it with concrete, and verifying that the foundation is level. In the Philadelphia area, the minimum foundation fee ranges from $200 to $500. That would be for a headstone with a 2 foot by one foot base.

Who installs the foundation?

Does the cemetery do it? Or is only one certain outside contractor allowed to do it? Smaller cemeteries are more likely to allow outside contractors to dig the hole for the grave, and to make the foundations. To earn some money in the deal, though, a cemetery might charge $50 or $100 to stake out where the foundation must go. This helps to ensure that a headstone is not placed on to the wrong grave (which can happen).

 Photo of a foundation at a grave. The headstone rests on top of this.  (The wood is temporary. It is part of a stone-setter's "tricks-of-the trade.")

Photo of a foundation at a grave. The headstone rests on top of this. (The wood is temporary. It is part of a stone-setter's "tricks-of-the trade.")

Do you plan on installing the foundation? That could be a problem, since most cemeteries require that work activities in the cemetery by outside parties be insured. Do you have a stone setter's insurance policy that will cover damage to other grave plots and their headstones?

You need to have insurance, whether you are making the foundation or setting a stone.

Plus, setting a headstone is not easy. Even if you were permitted to set the stone, keep in mind that you're dealing with a very heavy object. And because you are new at this, you have elevated chances of getting seriously hurt.

For example, if you get your fingers pinched between a die and a base, you will probably loose those fingers. (They will be crushed beyond repair. I know someone who just had a femur broken after an upright fell on her leg.) 

Returning to the story of the woman who ordered an internet tombstone...

When she called this memorial dealer for help, he was willing to consider offering assistance. But he never said yes. Without him knowing, she arranged for the trucking company to bring her internet headstone to his shop. The trucking company called him to confirm details about the shipment. Being taken by surprise with this news, the monument dealer refused to have anything further to do with this. He had a lot of concerns:

  • What if the stone was damaged in shipment? Would he be held responsible for it after he accepted the delivery?

  • What if something was wrong with the stone? Wrong color. Wrong size. Misspelled names. Incorrect dates. He didn't want to get involved in that, since it wasn't a stone he sold.

  • What if the stone got damaged by his stone setter as a part of taking it to the cemetery? Would he be financially liable? Probably. He'd make some money on the installation. But there wasn't any money being made in the stone sale, since his internet competitor sold it. The potential for financial loss was unattractive.

    In adding it all up, the potential reward for the risk and hassle involved was not worth it to this memorial dealer. And the customer had already done something dishonest. So that made his decision easy. He was done with her.

If you are going to purchase a headstone through the internet, you have to do your homework. You have to "get your ducks lined up."

And if you ARE NOT willing to put effort into researching everything, then it probably is wiser to just seek-out a local memorial dealer who is known to have a good reputation.  

I actually came across a cemetery in New Jersey that does not allow internet headstones at all. 

Inscription: The ABCs of adding names and dates to an existing headstone.

Inscription: The ABCs of adding names and dates to an existing headstone.

Extensive vandal damage discovered at Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia

Extensive vandal damage discovered at Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia