ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Dying may be the second oldest human activity, but that doesn't mean there isn't room for innovation when it comes to departing this vale of tears.
In fact, a tour of the St. Paul Civic Center -- where the Minnesota Funeral Directors Association wrapped up a convention this week -- reveals some interesting novelties amid the usual displays of caskets, hearses, tombstones and other emblems of mortality.
Take, for example, the "Peace Light," the latest wrinkle in post-mortem illumination.
A company called Cemeteries Aglow, Inc. of Mitchell, S.D., has developed the light, which is in the form of a small cross powered by a solar battery.
Available in ruby red or clear Lucite plastic, the cross automatically turns on at dusk and then goes off in the morning.
"It's not a bright light, just a soft illumination to show that you care," says a company brochure.
Michele Sulsberger, the company's marketing director, says the light was invented by a South Dakota farm woman as a memorial for her daughter, who died suddenly at age 26.
And how much will it cost to keep glowing after death? Anywhere from $295 to $425, depending on the type of base chosen for the light.
Nearby is a display for the aptly titled "Data Digger," a computer program designed especially for funeral directors.
One of the troubles with dying, it seems, is that the paperwork can be murder, and that's where "Data Digger" enters the picture.
"There are about 15 different documents that have to be completed after a person dies," notes Jean Kinney, president of Microcomputer Business Solutions, a Mankato firm that sells "Data Digger."
Ms. Kinney says that the program can produce all of the required post-mortem forms and also offers a variety of other record-keeping and accounting aids.
Perhaps the most unusual item on display at the convention is something called the Extremities Positioner, a device that (there is no way to put this delicately) keeps the hands of large dead people in place.
The problem is that too much mortis can be terribly rigorous if lTC you're trying to dress a big body, according to the device's inventor, a Wisconsin mortician named Bernard A. Yonke.
"After encountering three remains in excess of 300 pounds in a two-week period, Mr. Yonke knew something of strength was needed to position the extremities," says a fact sheet.
Resembling a pair of touch-fastener handcuffs, the positioner promises to keep even the largest corpse's hands neatly folded, yet can be placed so as to be invisible beneath coat sleeves. The fact sheet also assures potential users that "the positioner cannot be pulled apart with the utmost effort."
Caskets, however, were the big-ticket item in the convention's exhibit hall. Scores of them were on display, ranging from no-frills wooden boxes to $6,000 bronze beauties.