An upstart company in New Athens, Ill., is offering customers the chance to send messages into the hereafter.
Created by Paul Kinsella, 31, the Internet-based Afterlife Telegrams relies on terminally ill volunteers to carry clients’ messages like ghostly carrier pigeons.
For $10 per word, the volunteers or “messengers” memorize short missives and promise to do their best to deliver them in the ethereal realm.
Yes, it’s legal. “Why wouldn’t it be?” Mr. Kinsella says.
He still had trouble licensing the company with the New Athens Town Hall. The business doesn’t fall into the standard government classifications, since nothing tangible is produced and the messengers aren’t laborers.
So far, Mr. Kinsella has enlisted only one messenger. To qualify, a volunteer must be diagnosed with terminal illness by a certified doctor and must have a survival prognosis of less than one year.
“I need more, but I have no plans to go asking anyone,” he says.
Mr. Kinsella plans to test his messengers’ memories regularly to maximize the chances of successful delivery. The service has been offered since October, but traffic at AfterlifeTelegrams.com is just starting to increase.
Mr. Kinsella’s motivations are simple: “bragging rights” and some spending money.
“Not too many people can say that they are responsible for starting an entire industry,” he says.
He also hopes his service will help his messengers, since half of the proceeds go to pay their medical bills or to charity.
His Web site includes links to grief counseling services, and Mr. Kinsella emphasizes that he doesn’t accept messages from those with recent losses.
The site lists numerous reasons why the service may not work, including the chance of reincarnation and an afterlife divided into heaven, hell and purgatory in which case the messenger and the recipient may not end up in the same place.
A poll on the Afterlife Web site, designed to gauge visitor reactions, shows a deadlock between those supporting the service and those who disapprove.
“I did my best not to offend, but there will always be some people who won’t read past the first paragraph before darning me to heck,” Mr. Kinsella says. “I was once told that the four most controversial subjects are sex, politics, death and religion. This site deals with the last two.”
The Better Business Bureau of Southern Illinois did not immediately return phone calls requesting comment.
When he is not sending messages to the dead, Mr. Kinsella draws cartoons. His creations have appeared in Boy’s Life, National Review and the Saturday Evening Post.
He is skeptical of those who claim knowledge of the afterlife.
“I’m not a fan of organized religion,” he says. “The only good thing to have come out of organized religion is the music.”
Has Mr. Kinsella tried to send a message of his own? “Not just yet, but I plan to.”
His site states bluntly and often that customers are paying for “delivery attempts” because there is no way to verify whether messages will be received. The site mentions several uses for the telegrams, including one to invite a soul to a seance.
“We sincerely doubt this will work,” the site says, “but it’s your money.”