Had enough of watching people clean houses? How about watching someone clean tombstones?
Talk about getting acquainted with history, a 35-year-old mother of two cleans historical tombstones of strangers in the US and tells their stories in the process.
Hanging out in a cemetery may sound like a Halloween antic to pull on Oct 31 but for one American woman, it’s something she does regularly to help her – get this – unwind.
If you enjoy the satisfaction of watching gross, greasy kitchen sinks and mouldy bathroom tiles being transformed (it is an actual YouTube genre dedicated to showing people cleaning), you’ll get a kick out of Caitlin Abrams’s tombstone-cleaning TikToks, which she also reposts on Instagram.
Armed with a scraper, brushes of various types, a biological cleaning solution and a garden spray (but never a pressure washer), the 35-year-old software content creator from Vermont cleans moss, lichen and literally the mark of time off old tombstones in the cemeteries near where she lives.
There is something soothing about the way the mother of two narrates the life story of the dead as she deftly scrapes dirt and plant material off stone surfaces. Or maybe it’s the sound of gentle brushing that provides a tingling ASMR soundtrack to her videos.
It is just as pleasing visually when she tops it off with a good spraying – and as the water cascades down, you can see inscriptions, carvings and other details almost magically emerging.
Abrams does it all voluntarily. Her reward? Helping the dead, particularly those who died between 1700 and the early 1900s (she’d need living family members’ permission to clean more recent graves), tell their stories.
"I think people enjoy hearing experiences they haven't heard before, of people that weren't prominent or noteworthy in their time but who still had a story to tell," she said in her posts.
Like the strange tale of Rachel Burton, who died of tuberculosis in 1790 at the age of 21. Or did she? Rachel was suspected to have returned as a vampire to haunt her husband’s second wife when she, too, contracted tuberculosis three years after Rachel’s death.
Her husband was so convinced that he, along with 500 townsfolk, exhumed Rachel’s grave (it was a chronicled event, no kidding). They took out what was left of her heart and liver, burned them and had the second wife inhale the ashes.
Or the sad story of Carrie Turner, one of the four children that the Turners lost between 1874 and the early 1900s. She was just nine years old when she died of “spotted fever”, which could mean a number of diseases such as typhus, measles or smallpox. Two of her siblings died of scarlet fever and one was lost to lung congestion as an infant.
How did Abrams know all these details? The self-proclaimed history and genealogy buff looks at the cemetery records as well as websites such as ancestry.com and familysearch.org to piece together her commentaries of the deceased.
In fact, that was how she started carrying tales for the dead initially. She had volunteered for Find A Grave, a website that connects people with their ancestors’ graves through the help of volunteers willing to scour cemeteries near where they live.
It suited Abrams to a T as she has always enjoyed spending time in the cemetery and actually grew up near one in New England.
The turning point for her was when she found a tombstone that was unreadable. After being asked to clean it, she looked up methods to safely do so without damaging the stone. That was last January and she hasn’t looked back. These days, Abrams volunteers with four cemeteries and cleans the historic stones of everyday people.
"Cleaning stones was something I could do myself to help preserve and protect these stones for others to learn about and enjoy,” she said in her posts.
“Where I live, most of the history and record-keeping is maintained by older, retired people, and I believe it's time for those of us in the younger generations to begin taking up that mantle."