Here lies John Doe
To hear his tale
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Haven't you ever seen a gravestone and wondered what the guy was really like?" asks John Dilks III. Of course his friends laughed when he explained his idea for the world's first "talking tombstone." "Why not?" wondered Dilks, a computer technician with Western Electric in New Jersey. He set to work with two assistants and came up with imitations of immortality—a solar-powered headstone containing a recording device (for epitaph or words of admonition) and a video display screen on which can be beamed a bio-graphical account, a genealogy and a computerized photograph. What's more, Dilks' Creative Tombstone, Inc. could add such options as sensors to tell when a visitor approaches or the grass needs watering, a nozzle to spray incense and a mechanized arm that emerges to trim the grass. The price is $39,500 for a vandalproof headstone covered by bulletproof glass. The cost may limit customers to those who, even if they can't take it with them, want to say something about how it's spent. Yet there have already been 50 inquiries.

Dilks, 35, has been dead serious about computers and genealogy for years. He began tinkering with computers after high school and last year organized the first national conference of computer hobbyists. As an amateur genealogist, he traced his mother's family to the first English settlers near his home in English Creek, N.J. Computerized tombstones, Dilks hopes, will become "a family project so that additional information can be added. They could supplant the family Bible."

Dilks is already making sure no man will write his epitaph. He is designing a headstone with info about his wife, Sherry, and their four kids and some advice "for my great-great-great-grandchildren." It may not be worth waiting that long. The message is, "Do what's right, come what may."