A former colleague of mine died unexpectedly last week in Fort Wayne. He was a great guy and I remember him fondly. If I were still in Indiana, of course I would have attended his funeral and most likely a newspaper wake, where we would gather at a bar somewhere and tell stories about him.
But I wasn’t, so I made do with reading the online guestbook at Legacy.com linked to his obit on the paper’s website.
I considered leaving an entry and decided not to, but in poking around, I came across this disclaimer near the “sign this guest book” button: Entries are free and are posted after being reviewed for appropriate content.
My first thought was, spambots have probably infested Legacy, but the NYT informs me no, it’s worse than that:
Dissing the dead, as these screeners call it, has become a costly and complicated problem for Legacy and other Web sites where people gather to mourn online. Legacy, which is now eight years old, carries a death notice or obituary for virtually all the roughly 2.4 million people who die each year, but few foresaw how nasty some of the postings to its guest books would be.
Some of the snubs are blunt. “Everyone gets their due,�? a former client writes of an embezzling accountant. Or, “I sincerely hope the Lord has more mercy on him than he had on me during my years reporting to him at the Welfare Department.�?
Others are subtler: “She never took the time to meet me, but I understand she was a wonderful grandmother to her other grandchildren.�?
“Reading the obit, he sounds like he was a great father,�? says another, which is signed, “His son Peter.�?
The company employs 45 screeners to read the entries before they’re posted to the online guest books.
Amazing. A great Sunday read.
By the way, in e-mailing the news about my ex-colleague, Joe Sheibley, some people shared their own stories. Here’s one of the best:
I remember the time Ed Treon set his desk on fire with his loose match habits while lighting up his pipe. Joe calmly looked up from blue-penciling copy to say: “Ed, your desk is on fire” and then went back to editing.
You see why he was management material.
Danny said on November 5, 2006 at 10:18 am
Nancy, sorry to hear about the passing of your friend. The stuff you write about legacy reminds me of a few things.
First, the quote from the son, Peter, reminds me a bit of the foreword that Julian Lennon wrote to his mother Cynthia’s book, “John.”
Dad was a great talent whose music and ideals are an inspiration to millions. Yet I have always had very mixed feelings about Dad. He was the father I loved who let me down in so many ways…
And then there was this quote I remembered from a spoken word album, American Prayer, of Jim Morrison’s that was published posthumously: “Death makes angels of us all and gives us wings where we once had raven’s claws.” There are actually a few good ones from that album of poetry that have stuck with me through the years. But I digress.
About death and remembrance, or as Proust might put it, remembrance of things past, I sometimes wonder how any of us will be remembered. The smaller and less kindly one’s sphere of influence, probably the less time one is remembered. Keats wrote something to the effect that it was as if his name was writ on water. One psalmnist wrote, a man’s life is as a hand breadth, speaking to the truly ephemeral nature of our existence here.
Don’t know where I am going with these melancholly musings. Hopefully we all can spread enough love in our lifetimes to leave some of those around us with cherished memories. At least enough so that the editors at legacy dot com can say, “Wow, he/she must have been a pretty good egg, I barely had to retract any profanity laden diatribes from that asshole’s obituary guest books.”
Jim said on November 5, 2006 at 12:49 pm
Ah, the days when people blue-pencilled copy … do they still sell “sterile” (non-reproducing) blue pencils? Or has it gone the way of carbon paper?
Dorothy said on November 5, 2006 at 4:55 pm
Danny, what you wrote was very sweet. Not too overly melancholy, for what it’s worth. Just as an aside (sort of), my godfather, Bob Brunner, died about 2 weeks ago in Pittsburgh. He was a huge baseball fan, knew the Pirates inside and out, a very knowledgable man about all things having to do with the Buccos. My mom tells me that on the way out of church, instead of a religious song, they played “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” I would have loved to have been there to experience that!
nancy said on November 5, 2006 at 6:30 pm
I haven’t seen a blue pencil in ages, but we did use light blue felt-tip pens to mark proofs in my time on the desk. Given that invisibility is no longer a concern, I think it was more for tradition’s sake than anything else.
It was distinctive, though.
John said on November 6, 2006 at 8:55 am
I visit Legacy.com daily. Obituaries are one on the few places that there are public acknowledgements of close family members (by name), which is important in making connections with genealogy. I have noticed some interesting guestbook entries most often seen in the famous and near-famous in order to be hidden among the grieving public. The vast majority of common folk may just get one or two entries. I am guessing that our beloved Nancy, no doubt, would fill a couple of pages of mourners’ platitudes.
Adrianne said on November 6, 2006 at 11:30 am
Very sad to hear about Joe Sheibley, whom I really enjoyed working with. I remember he was in charge of our booze money for the annual bacchanal in Indianapolis for the state AP. He was always exceedingly generous, but warned me never to give cash to certain reporters (like Brian Smith!) and to keep a tight grip on the money.