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This young mom found fame on TikTok, by cleaning historic headstones

cleaning tombstone
Posted at 4:07 PM, Oct 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-22 16:07:32-04

The sun has just risen over the mountains surrounding Maple Hill Cemetery in Dorset, Vermont, giving the headstones here a kind of warmth that only comes in late fall.

Some of these graves date back to the 1700s, and many are worn and covered in moss, unreadable and unrecognizable to most people who come here to visit loved ones.

But amidst the quiet, the sounds of scrubbing can be heard. Caitlin Abrams has just gotten to work.

"There's no shortcuts to any of this," Abrams said as she pumped the small handheld pressure washer she used to keep the marble stones wet.

Abrams is on a mission to restore old headstones.

After she scrapes and scrubs, she then covers the headstone in a restorative solution used by conservationists at Arlington National Cemetery. The labors of her work often take time to appreciate, as the cleaning solution slowly brightens up over the course of weeks and months.

"I like cleaning the ones you can't read because it feels like you're giving that person their name back and a piece of their story back," she said.

But while she is often out in these cemeteries alone, Abrams has amassed a massive following on the internet.

This 35-year-old, who once mocked TikTok, now has 1.8 million followers on the platform. She's known as "Manic Pixie Mom," and her videos have been viewed around the world.

"The nature of the [TikTok] algorithm is that someone might come across my video without being a follower and might not be interested in gravestones and now they are," she added.

But for Abrams, this isn't just about cleaning up some old headstones. In each video, she narrates a story about the life of the person whose headstone she's cleaning, bringing them back to life for the first time in centuries.

Abrams, a mother of two young kids herself, is drawn toward the stories of headstones belonging to children.

"It puts into perspective the difficulty of 19th and 18th-century life, for a lot of families, one disease would wipe out all five children in a matter of days or weeks," Abrams said.

Abrams sees each TikTok video as an opportunity to teach younger generations about the past.

"I do feel like I'm giving them a side of history you don't get in school," she said.