NOVEMBER 2006 – NO. 10
Your options when contacting the dead.
Every culture has different beliefs about communicating with those in the afterlife. In ancient Roman myth, plucking a golden bough from a magical tree would allow you to travel to the land of the dead and back. During the 19th century, elaborate séances became the rage. Today, afterlife communication has gone high tech. Still, no technique is guaranteed to work any better than the golden-bough trick.
The Phone Angel
In 2005 German inventor Jürgen Bröther debuted the Phone Angel — basically a weatherproof cell phone designed to be buried in a grave, with an attached speaker pointing down at the coffin. Mourners can call from anywhere in the world, and the Phone Angel broadcasts their voices, via microphone, toward their loved one. Hopefully no one ever talks back, but imagine the terror a crossed line could cause.
Operating on the theory that the souls of dead people float in outer space, the Endless Echoes company uses a satellite dish antenna to blast messages into the heavens (for a price of $24.95 per minute). You phone the company and leave your message on its answering machine, and it takes care of the rest. Endless Echoes advertises its service as a way to get one final message to a loved one "when you never had a chance to say 'goodbye.'" I imagine messages like, "You left the oven on, idiot!"
Afterlife Telegram Service
The Afterlife Telegram service maintains a team of terminally ill patients who promise, for a fee of $5.00 per word, to memorize any message you want to send to someone in the great beyond, and to deliver it personally when they reach the other side. The service acknowledges that many things could go wrong and guarantees nothing — noting "Reincarnation could cause a problem," and also, "If the afterlife is segregated into heaven, hell and purgatory, it is possible that the messenger will not be sent to the same place as the addressee." Perhaps the company should specify whether each messenger is a sinner or a saint.
Text Message from Jesus
A Finnish phone company rolled out a service allowing customers to send a prayer to Jesus via text message. What made this interesting was that the company promised Jesus would respond. A Finnish newspaper sent a prayer for help, as a test. Jesus replied, "Unless you follow God's will much better than priests and pharaohs, you will not be allowed into the heavenly kingdom." Apparently Jesus was in a mood to be as cryptic as a fortune cookie. The phone company subsequently shut down the service after receiving numerous complaints.
Afterlife Bill Payment
Sometimes the reason for contacting the dead is financial, not personal. If someone dies without settling his debts, a company might still want to collect. What should it do? Sprint came up with an ingenious solution. The phone company sent an unpaid bill directly to the grave of its former customer — correctly listing not only the address of the cemetery, but also the section of the plot in which the debtor lay. (Spring denied any knowledge of how the cemetery plot address got into its records.) The total amount he owed? $3.95. The cemetery eventually passed the bill along to the town clerk, who warned that if the deceased customer didn't pay up, his lapse would affect his credit rating.
From Hippo Eats Dwarf: A Field Guide to Hoaxes and Other B.S., by Alex Boese, recently released in paperback by Harcourt Books. Copyright © 2006 by Alex Boese. All rights reserved.
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