Flat Earth: Lost the plot

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The Independent Online
A NEW millennium bug has emerged. This time, however, the problem is not in computers but in cemeteries.

Headstones intended for a double plot - to be occupied some day by husband and wife - are often engraved in advance with the first two digits of the year the survivor is expected to die. It's more efficient and less expensive than having a stone mason sandblast the entire date once the marker is already in the ground.

From New England's stony churchyards to the mausoleums of New Orleans, to the lawns of Southern California marked with bronze plaques, an estimated 250,000 empty graves with the prefix "19" carved on their headstones are out there, waiting. With only 11 months to go to 2000 those with headstones already engraved will have to think about dying pretty sharpish.

Take 88-year-old Mildred Warner-Blake of Albany, Oregon, who cheerfully draws the obvious conclusion: "I have to die this year." In 1966, when her first husband died, she had a companion monument made for the double plot where she would some day join him. "I never thought about the year 2000," she said.

The simplest remedy is to fill the offending digits with a mixture of rock dust and epoxy and re-engrave the marker with the correct millennium, according to Mark James, an Oregon stone cutter. "God bless 'em if they live past 1999."