A person’s tombstone will far outlast their brief time on earth. Names, dates, thoughts – “They will last hundreds of years, easy,” says Justin Daniels of Salt Lake Monument. Located across from Salt Lake City Cemetery, the shop has been carving tombstones since 1890.
Justin has been a stone artisan for 20 years. Coincidentally, he met a girl in high school 21 years ago whose father, Mike Ellerbeck, happened to own Salt Lake Monument. “She asked me if I wanted to work there. I said yes and she said yes when I asked her to marry me, and I have been working there ever since,” says Justin.
Granite is the preferred stone for grave markers. Blanks weighing about 300 pounds arrive at the shop from quarries as distant as Georgia. Justin says that some intricate designs are still carved with mallet and chisel. But for most etchings a rubber mat is computer generated and laid on the gravestone face. The stone is then blasted with a pelletized aluminum compound forming grooves in the area not protected by the rubber. The process from initial design to polished finished tombstone takes between three and six months.
Throughout the years, different trends have appeared on markers. In the 19th century, iconic weeping willows and angels were popular. Many local requests are for the Mormon Temple. Epitaphs are also making a comeback. “A woman’s husband was a Star Trek fan, and she had engraved on his stone, ‘He’s dead, Jim,’” says Mike Ellerbeck.
Although everyone eventually dies, not everyone opts for a coffin and grave. “Cremations are on an upswing,” says Ellerbeck. “They are averaging about 30 to 35 percent. But there is a strong family culture here and people still want traditional burials.”
An important aspect of Justin’s work is on-site engraving where final dates are added to a pre-purchased stone. The dates are the coda on a life. But the person’s time on earth will be noted, for as Justin says, “I write in stone.”
Salt Lake Monument is located at 186 N