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Setting memories in stone

By Ed Brock

Malcolm James doesn't make tombstones.

He makes monuments that marks graves, but they are really something to immortalize those who died.

"We give a memorial to their life," said 59-year-old James, manager of Atlanta Monument Company in Lake City. "We custom make these. Every one is completely different."

James began his career in the funeral business in 1969 in Douglasville, his hometown and current place of residence.

"I just was impressed by our hometown funeral director," James said.

He was an operations manager for H.M. Patterson & Sons Funeral Homes In Atlanta when 10 years ago the opportunity came up for him to come to work at Atlanta Monument. At the company's parlor on Forest Parkway they have what James called the largest indoor and outdoor display of granite, marble and bronze monuments and grave markers.

The epitaphs are actually sandblasted or hand carved onto the monuments at the company's factory in Marietta. What James does is try to help the family of the deceased find the words that will literally be etched in stone above their loved one's final resting place.

"We try to talk to them, try to find out what (the deceased's) favorite sports were, what their interests were," James said.

Lynn Everett, postmaster of Morrow, came to James and his staff when her brother died in June. The final result of her consultation with James was a beautiful stone.

"We showed them what we wanted and they helped us pick out some extra things," Everett said.

When asked to pick one monument that stands out for him, James said he couldn't.

"Everybody we deal with is somebody special to somebody," James said.

Some of the monuments are tributes to past glories. There was a man whose military service was a source of extreme pride.

"We listed all of the ships that he was commissioned on," James said.

Some of the monuments are humorous.

"One guy told me he wanted to put on his monument 'I told you I was sick,'" James said.

No, James didn't talk to that person via a séance. That customer was one of many who come to him looking for their own tombstone, to make a "pre-need" purchase.

"It's getting to be a bigger thing," James said. "That way it takes a lot of decision making off the family."

James' company will also install the stone so the buyer can see what they're grave will look like.

"A lot of people do it and they're in perfect health," James said, adding that most are a little older. "But we have 50 year old people who do this."

James said they also renovate and redecorate plots and they add death-dates to existing monuments.

"We do a rubbing of the monument so it looks like it was all done at one time," James said about the latter service.

Along with Georgia marble out of Tate and native gray granite from Elberton, Atlanta Monument offers markers in colored stone like Black Galaxy and Indian Red.

"They come from as far away as India and Africa," James said.

Not everything they do goes on a grave. Atlanta Monument also does signs and they did the paving stones for the "Sidewalk Hall of Fame" at the King Center in Atlanta.

That later project has a stone for King and other who advanced the cause of Civil Rights, said Xernona Clayton, creator of the project.

"He takes the real shoes of the people we select and uses them to make the shoe print (on the stone)," Clayton said.

But it's more than just James craftsmanship that makes dealing with James such a pleasure, Clayton said. He delivers what he says he will deliver.

"The main thing is his business ethic is very much in order," Clayton said.

The company even did the statues of NASCAR drivers Richard Petty at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Daryl Waldrip at the Kentucky Speedway.

Married with two children and a grandson, James said he, like everybody else, will someday have a use for the product he makes.

"We have a family plot and we have marble on ours," James said.