A New England Woman Says Cleaning Headstones Is a ‘Therapeutic’ Outlet

  • Caitlin Abrams, 35, cleans gravestones near her home in Vermont during her spare time.
  • A self-identifying taphophile, Abrams loves cemeteries and tracing genealogical records of the dead.
  • Her gravestone-cleaning TikTok, telling stories of those buried, has over 1.3 million followers.

Spooky season is starting early this year with TikTok’s latest obsession: gravestone cleaning.

For Caitlin Abrams, a software developer in Vermont who volunteers to clean gravestones in her spare time, working alongside the dead is a “therapeutic” escape.

“The other day I was super hyped up and anxious about something and for my lunch break from work I was like, ‘Going to go clean a grave’ and I did because it’s very meditative,” she told Insider.

Abrams, who goes by @manicpixiemom on TikTok, has over 1.3 million followers tuning into her gravestone-cleaning videos where she tells stories about the people buried beneath. Her most popular TikTok, delving into the life of an 11-week-old baby called Silas Reed who died from “lung fever,” has over 30 million views at the time of writing.

Abrams, who identifies as a taphophile, a person who enjoys spending time in cemeteries, told Insider she uses Ancestry.com and the Find A Grave website to trace the life of the person’s gravestone she cleans, including how they died and whether or not they left behind families.

“What I like most about it is putting as much as I can of a human face onto these people,” the 35-year-old mom of two said. “They were living these incredibly complex lives just like we do now and they were losing people constantly.”

Abrams says preserving history is her passion

Abrams, who was born in Maine but now lives in Vermont, said she started researching gravestone cleaning in January 2020. A member of the Vermont Old Cemetery Association, she’s had a passion for cemeteries ever since growing up living next to one in New England.

Now a gravestone cleaning veteran, she said she comes fully equipped with a variety of tools, including D2 cleaning solution, water, garden sprayers, and various brushes.

Abrams told Insider the people whose gravestones she cleans and investigates are those who lived between the 1700s and early 20th century, as those who died more recently would require her to get permission from living family members.

One of her favorite tales on TikTok, which she said she came across in a town’s online cemetery records, is that of Mary Saunders, a 22-year-old woman whose cause of death was listed as “suicide by poisoning.”

According to an article dating back to 1910 that Abrams said she later found on newspapers.com, Saunders was “an inmate in a house of questionable reputation,” which Abrams took to mean a sex worker. Abrams said the town’s cemetery records show she’s buried without a headstone, in someone else’s plot.

“Who is this person?” Abrams said. “But just we don’t know, aside from this news article that treats her like a sideshow.”

While she said some people on TikTok criticize her love for cemeteries and say they are “a waste,” Abrams disagrees.

“Preserving history, even just for a little bit more time, so that someone can learn something about their family or another family is a good thing,” she said.

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