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Funeral Webcasts Offer Unique Opportunity to Pay Last Respects

A Syracuse funeral home has proven that the Internet doesn’t stop for death. Since February 2002, Fergerson Funeral Home has offered broadcasting of its services over the Internet free of charge.

“It was slow to start but now we’ve done about 30 broadcasts and just a few ‘targetcasts,'” said Fred Fergerson, the funeral home’s director, president and owner.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
With targetcasts, families have the option of limiting access to designated friends and family members by requiring a password for viewing.
 
When the father of a high school friend died and the friend was unable to attend the funeral, Fergerson decided to take advantage of Web camera technology. “With today’s technology, there is no reason why a person should not be able to witness final respects,” he told EthicsDaily.com.
 
He purchased and mounted a camera across the street from the funeral home, then wrote and modified the necessary software.
 
“[The cost was] just my time and $49, because I had a gift certificate from my brother-in-law for the camera,” Fergerson said. “I’ve seen other set-ups like mine that start at $10,000. Since it only cost me my time, I don’t charge anything to have it used.”
             
All public funeral processions at the home are broadcast live, although the only faces that can be seen are those of Fergerson’s staff. In addition to the mounted camera, which operates 24 hours a day, families can elect to have the entire service, including calling hours, carried on the Web.
 
Viewers of the webcasts need only an Internet connection; no special software is required.
 
Fergerson has seen an increase in business since offering the funeral webcasts. “Even my competition’s families have asked me to broadcast their services,” he said.
 
With a personal motto of “Significantly advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” Fergerson has forayed into Internet technology before. He claims the funeral home is the first in central <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />New York to have established a Web presence with a site that debuted in 1985.
 
The site contains information about the funeral home’s services, a pictorial tour, and a list of frequently asked questions and links helpful to any family planning a service. The site also details the historic nature of the home: The Fergerson family has occupied the same land in North Syracuse for six generations. Fred Fergerson and his wife, Pat, are second-generation owners of the funeral business, begun by Fred’s father in 1948.
 
Fergerson uses the family ties to the community as a selling point. In the midst of “the growing trend of impersonal corporate take-overs and consolidations in funeral service,” Fergerson’s is the only family-owned funeral home in North Syracuse.
 
Fergerson’s decision to follow in his father’s footsteps was a willing one. “I was studying to become a physician, then one day I decided that I didn’t want to see sick people day in and day out,” he said.
 
Meaghan Minnick is a freelance writer and senior at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.