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Y2K Bug Engraved in Tombstone By Kelly McCarthy, UNION TRIBUNE

May 18, 2000

Seaman-Poe Monument Co. will be dealing with what might be the last, and biggest, Y2K bug.

This Mount Hope-based company, which manages over 30 cemeteries, from South Bay to Escondido, is responsible for replacing the "19--" that some people had preemptively carved on their gravestones before the millennium passed (and before they died).

"I can' t even imagine how many people already have (the 19--) on their gravestone," said Peggy Haleen, office manager of Seaman-Poe.

Each month, Seaman-Poe employees, laden with sandblasting equipment, travel around the county to make needed changes to the gravestones of those who have died.

They not only add dates of death, but fix typos on markers. How many dates Seaman-Poe eventually will have to fix is still difficult to tell.

"There are (gravestones) that have been predated, no doubt, but no one has any way of knowing if it' s going to be a problem or not," said Greg Patzer, executive vice president of Monument Builders of North America.

But why would anyone predict their date of death in the first place?

Patzer said people placed the "19--" on their future gravestone so that the sandblaster would not have to tamper with it as much later. And since some monument companies charge per written character, people might have logically assumed that it was better to pay at the going rate than to foot a possibly higher bill later down the line.

"Though the (difference) in price is negligible, you never second-guess the customer," Patzer said.

Denise Webb of the Association for Gravestone Studies in Massachusetts has her own theories about why people predate.

"People had reasons of their own, or it was recommended by the manufacturer," she said. "They thought, ' I' ll certainly live, or I' ll certainly pass away (by 2000).' They just didn' t realize," she explained.

The process of replacing a date on a flat marker can cost a consumer anywhere from $85 to upwards of $300. Replacing a date on a vertical monument can cost even more. Haleen says she warned people not to put the "19--" onto their gravestones from the beginning. It hasn' t been standard practice in the industry, she said, since 1950.

"I talked and talked to people and told them they shouldn' t do it," Haleen said. "But if someone asked me to, I did."


-- (, May 18, 2000

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