FORT WAYNE — Archie Arnold of Hicksville, Ohio, was not only a prankster in life, but he also managed to carry out his final practical joke after his death in 1982.
Arnold’s grave in Scipio Cemetery in Harlan has two parking meters that say “expired” on either side of the headstone.
Arnold’s joke still stands, but humor is not always expressed or allowed in cemeteries.
At a Cincinnati cemetery, two 7-foot-tall monuments sculpted in the likeness of SpongeBob SquarePants were recently taken down.
The Nickelodeon cartoon character was wearing an Army uniform in honor of Kimberly Walker, 28, an Iraqi war veteran who was found dead – beaten and strangled – on Valentine’s Day. The headstones were specially designed for Walker and her still-living twin sister.
Walker’s monument was erected at Spring Grove Cemetery on Oct. 10 and her family was notified the next day that it would have to come down.
In Allen County, most cemeteries have strict guidelines and regulations concerning monuments, said Dave McComb, co-owner of D.O. McComb & Sons Funeral Home and Riverview Cemetery on Carroll Road.
Those regulations prohibit offensive or abusive words or inscriptions, and monuments must be approved before placement, McComb said.
Rural cemeteries like Riverview tend to be more liberal when it comes to monuments, flower placement and maintenance, he said.
“We have a lot of latitude at Riverview, but many Allen County cemeteries do not,” he said.
It all comes down to a judgment call.
“What some may think is OK, others may find offensive,” McComb said.
McComb cited Arnold’s monument in Scipio Cemetery as the most unusual in Allen County.
According to the FindAGrave.com website, where several photos of Arnold’s grave have been posted, the Hicksville native arranged before his death to have his grave marked on either side by the antique parking meters, with the dials set to “expired.”
Arnold knew he was dying from a liver disease when he accidentally backed over two parking meters in Hicksville. After paying for replacements, he asked the sheriff if he could have the damaged meters, according to the website.
Arnold added new poles, welded the coin slots shut and modified his will – stating that upon his death, one was to be placed on each end of his monument, according to the website.
In other northeast Indiana cemeteries, height restrictions would not have allowed the 7-foot SpongeBob sculptures to pass muster to begin with, said Ron Stanley, owner of R&T Monuments in Kendallville.
“Most cemeteries limit monuments to a height of six feet or less,” Stanley said.
Stanley’s company has designed a SpongeBob monument for a family who lost their child.
“It was a normal-size monument, and we etched and colored the likeness of SpongeBob on the stone because it was the child’s favorite cartoon character,” Stanley said.
While cemeteries are able to regulate and control the size and design of monuments, they have no control over the newest technology for the dead.
Stanley is an authorized dealer for Rosetta Stone memory discs – small computer chips affixed to tombstones that will allow anyone to access information about the deceased, including photos, family history, even video and audio. The information can be accessed with a smartphone or by typing in an access code and URL on a computer.
When someone buys a memory chip, Stanley cautions the buyer not to reveal the password.
Anyone with the password could access and edit or delete the information or add something offensive, Stanley said.
The most unusual tombstone in his area is a solar- powered, 6-foot tall monument in an Auburn cemetery, Stanley said. Using the energy of the sun, the tombstone is illuminated at night.
“That type of monument would cost between $14,000 and $17,000,” he said.
When it comes to strange monument requests, Regina Ley, owner of John Ley Monument Sales Inc. in Avilla, said she once received a request for a fully sculpted, cloaked head.
“Technically, it was not the grim reaper, but I thought it would be very scary for small children,” she said.
Luckily, she never had to make a final decision – the client changed his mind, she said.
People tend to go to great lengths when it comes to a memorial for their children – no matter the child’s age, Ley said.
Her company once created a sculptured horse for a 7-year-old girl who loved horses. Even though the horse was lying down, it still took up the entire width of the gravesite, she said.
The family wanted a lot of symbolic features on the horse, including seven braids in the mane, seven hearts, a poem written by their daughter and etched in her handwriting and a photo of the girl, Ley said.
“People put a lot more thought, time and energy in their children’s memorials than in their own,” she said.