Here are a few things that I wish everyone knew before choosing a memorial stone. Hopefully this knowledge can help you.
Modern memorials are not made to last forever.
I know... It is a natural assumption that a monument or headstone will last forever, but todays marketplace has made it almost impossible. I say almost because if you find the right monument company and are willing to pay the price, then your memorial really can last forever. My goal is to raise the quality standards in the monument industry by creating true memorials that actually will last forever.
Most monument manufacturers use all sorts of techniques and materials that virtually guarantee that a memorial stone will need maintenance and may perhaps even be totally ruined in a relatively short time. Let me explain.
We'll begin with the mother of all time savers in a monument company's arsenal....
Yep, that's right. It's called Lithichrome. This spray paint is used by nearly every modern monument company on nearly every stone, whether it's needed or not. Let's say that you wanted a gray stone. Gray stones have very little natural contrast so, in order to make a deep-cut letter show up from a distance the lettering is painted black. The area surrounding a deep-cut letter is called a panel. For this to show up it is spray painted white. The result is a black letter against a white background, which looks vivid and bright... for about 5 years or so. This photo should make it clear. Then the paint starts to come off, as you can see in this photo. Finally the paint is completely gone. Is that what you had in mind when you paid for your stone? I didn't think so.
Oh... by the way, even spray paint won't save some stones, like this one. Does this mean gray stones are bad? Absolutely not. Some of the finest granite in the world is gray. What it means is that a monument company should know the proper techniques for working with this type of stone. There are some great companies out there with real craftsmen, but you need to look for them.
By the way, if you want to know if a stone is spray painted, go to the cemetery when it's raining. Seriously. If the stone is natural the lettering and carving should dissapear almost completely when it's wet. If you see a wet monument and the lettering shows up nice and bright, it's painted.
If you have any questions about this, feel free to contact me. Now, on to another very important subject...
Vases and Saddles
So... do you want flower vases for your memorial? ...Are you sure?
If you really want flower vases then you need to know a couple of things. Personally, I feel that a vase should only be used if it adds to the beauty of the stone. If the stone looks nicer with a vase or two, great! but if not, then why spend the money? But that is just my opinion. For the sake of this topic I will assume that you want vases. The number one selling monument vase in the United States is made out of pot-metal dipped in plastic. Now, let me explain to you why this is a problem. Here is a photo of a brand new vase, ready to be installed. The vase looks fine when it is new, the problem comes from nature. The vase is essentially made of two materials, pot metal and plastic. These two materials are bonded together to form the finished vase. Cold and heat cause expansion and contraction. The two materials have different rates of expansion and so eventually the materials must separate. Look at this photo and you will see what I mean. Now, in all fairness I must tell you that the company guarantees these vases for life, but of course you have to remove them yourself, send in for a replacement and install the new ones. Try doing that when you're 75 or 80 years old.
Saddles are another story. They are essentially a flower arrangement that is strapped over the top of a monument. Bad news all around. They are usually made of aluminum. As the wind blows, the protective rubber wears away, exposing the aluminum. the wind keeps blowing, and the aluminum grinds against the stone. Aluminum is soft, stone is hard, and the metal grinds itself into the tiny pores of the stone. This has the appearance of a scratch, and it can only be removed by an industrial stone polisher.
Saddles also attract birds. They feed on the tiny seeds that are blown into the saddle and on the insects and spiders that live in and around the flower arrangement. If a bird eats, then it's gonna poop. Bring paper towels.
Finally we come to the easiest place to hide poor workmanship...
This is one of the most important components of your memorial. It is essentially a concrete pad or footing under your stone. Some companies use two feet of concrete, some don't use any at all. If a company sells a monument at a low price, they may ony put a small foundation under the stone to save money. They may figure that you won't be able to tell. Many times a company that normally puts in a three foot foundation is required by the cemetery to use no concrete at all, and install the stone on a layer of sand. Find out what your cemetery requires and you will be well served. All of my memorials are set on a four foot deep foundation unless the cemetery requires something different.