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    This Woman Tells The Stories Of People Who Died 100–300 Years Ago, And The Internet Can't Get Enough

    "These parents lost three children to three separate diseases within the span of about a decade."

    Silas Reed was 11 weeks old when he died and, at the time, the only words 19th century medicine had to describe his cause of death was "lung fever," which, in hindsight, is assumed to be a name for pneumonia. Unlike Silas, his older brother Freddie lived to be 8 years old before he died from typhoid fever a year later.

    TikTok: @manicpixiemom / Via tiktok.com

    Now, nearly 150 years later, over 25 million viewers tuned in to watch volunteer Caitlin Abrams clean the brothers' gravestones and tell their stories. "These are my favorite graves to clean," Caitlin said. "The ones that are pretty much unreadable. It feels really good to give this person their name back and know that someone is mentioning their name 150 odd years after they died."

    @manicpixiemom

    Will definitely provide updates on Silas’s stone 🥰 #gravetok #gravestonecleaning #medicalhistory

    ♬ original sound - Manic Pixie Mom

    Caitlin, who volunteers with four cemeteries and cleans the historic stones of everyday people who died between 1700 and the early 1900s, started sharing the stories of the dead on May 28, 2021. About two and a half months later, her TikTok account has skyrocketed to host 984,100 followers.

    TikTok: @manicpixiemom / Via tiktok.com

    With the use of records housed by the cemetery, as well as ancestry.com, familysearch.org, newspapers.com, and fultonhistory.org, Caitlin has a knack for piecing together the lives of those who were here before us. Sometimes, she's able to find their images or connect them with family buried nearby. Other times, she simply has their name and cause of death. Either way, watching as she scrubs away accumulated dirt and moss — revealing a name underneath that was once etched for grieving families to remember — it's hard not be fascinated.

    TikTok: @manicpixiemom / Via tiktok.com, TikTok: @manicpixiemom/ findagrave.com / Via tiktok.com

    When considering the most interesting stories behind stones she's cleaned, Caitlin shared: "I cleaned stones for two brothers, both named David James. They never met. The older David died at age 12 of rheumatic fever, and shortly after he died, his parents had another child that they named David James. They lost him young to diphtheria, and then lost the boys' sister, Sarah, shortly afterward to typhoid fever. Her stone reads: 'Our happy hopes are buried here.'"

    "These parents lost three children to three separate diseases within the span of about a decade, and their mother went on to live another 30 years. It's something that is unimaginable to many of us today, but was more or less daily life for these people."

    Caitlin further reflected on why so many people are drawn to her videos, saying: "Over the last few decades especially, death moved from something that everyone experienced on a daily basis in their own home to something that happens primarily to the elderly and far away in a hospital or nursing home. Of course it is absolutely incredible, the progress that modern medicine has made, and we should all be thankful for it, but it does mean that we, especially younger generations, keep death at something of a distance."

    TikTok: @manicpixiemom / Via tiktok.com

    "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 continued. "And I think putting a name and 'face' to these people helps others connect with history in a way that can't always be done in a traditional setting."

    Being a self-proclaimed history and genealogy buff was what led the 35-year-old to her first cleaning. Previously working with FindaGrave — a website that connects those searching for images of their loved ones' graves with volunteers who live near the desired cemetery and are willing to take and send a photo of the stone — Caitlin was tasked with finding a stone that ended up being unreadable. So, after being asked, she learned how to safely clean it.

    TikTok: @manicpixiemom / Via tiktok.com

    "I read multiple sources, saw videos online, spoke to my local cemetery association for ideas and advice, and assembled my cleaning kit," Caitlin said. "I started with another stone in May, and then turned to the requested stone once I felt confident."

    TikTok: @manicpixiemom / Via tiktok.com

    "I developed an interest in gravestone iconography and what graves can and can't tell us," she continued. "Cleaning stones was something I could do myself to help preserve and protect these stones for others to learn about and enjoy. 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."

    Her ever-growing audience appreciates the new life Caitlin breathes into the stones, preserving not only the rock, but the stories of lives once lived — which makes them lives worth remembering.

    One person said "they say we die twice, once when we take our last breath and again the last time our name is mentioned"
    TikTok: @manicpixiemom / Via tiktok.com

    And others praise her efforts beyond the grace it grants the dead, but also for what her actions would mean to their families.

    Another said "the ghosts must love you"
    TikTok: @manicpixiemom / Via tiktok.com

    For those interested in grave cleaning, Caitlin suggests building a kit. Hers features D/2 Biological Solution, natural fiber and acrylic fiber brushes, wooden paint sticks, plastic putty knives, lots of water, and a garden sprayer — never a power-washer for old stones.

    From there, volunteers should learn the best cleaning practices and seek permission from local cemeteries. 

    If you're interested in keeping up with Caitlin's personal cleanings, and the stories of lives remembered, you can follow her on TikTok.

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