Bedford woman goes viral on TikTok for gravestone beautification

Published: Oct. 29, 2020 at 7:24 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - In Bedford, one woman has found time doesn’t always have the last word.

“Most of it’s over here,” said Alicia Williams, walking through rows of headstones in Bedford’s Longwood Cemetery.

Williams spends a lot of her time with the people for whom time ran out.

“There’s a vice president’s daughter buried right down the hill here," she declares.

Williams spends hours each week burying herself in local history.

“I find a way to use genealogy in every way possible. Like if I meet new people," she said, indicating to this reporter, "like I might research your family tree!”

And it’s under the trees of Bedford’s Longwood Cemetery that some of the town’s most fascinating stories come to life.

“It’s my hobby, it’s my passion, and the graves," she said.

The graves, dirtied and derelict, until Williams comes to scrub away at what only time remembered to bother.

The cemetery’s full time caretaker says Williams asked for permission before cleaning, joking that he welcomed the free labor. He estimates Williams has scrubbed clean nearly 150 headstones in this cemetery alone, using methods and cleaning solutions approved for historical preservation.

“Can’t quite make the name out yet," she said, furiously scrubbing at a small headstone, marking the death of a child in the late 1800s.

For three years, she has spent her free time there in a solitary reverie.

Until, that is, she took to TikTok.

“It’s just unbelievable, right?” she said, shaking her head.

Unbelievable, to her, that nearly 20 million have watched a video she posted of herself cleaning off a headstone, sped up to show the whole process in under a minute.

“So that’s Sue, she’s famous, Tik Tok famous now," she said, pointing to an 1800s-era headstone polished clean.

But it’s not the fame that’s left her in awe.

“Really the thing that’s hard is I didn’t do it for any recognition," she said. "I did it for myself.”

In a place filled with history, Williams has found a space to reconcile with a history of her own.

“I was going through a really awful time, a really high-conflict divorce, ugly custody battle," she said. "And felt like I was at war with the world.”

But hers was a war that eventually found peace, with a few brushes, a little time and a lot of love.

“Seeing that something can be so covered up and ugly with so much dirt and debris that somebody can come along and clean it up and make it shine again it is, it’s just symbolic, in a lot of different ways," she said, becoming emotional.

It’s a symbol neither time nor neglect can tarnish.

A reminder that it’s never too late to retell your story.

“I haven’t always left the best impression on people in my life and to know now that I am leaving a good impression, really means a lot to me.”

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