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Meet the TikToker who makes recipes etched on gravestones

If you’ve ever thought about how you’d like to be remembered after you die, Rosie Grant has an idea for you.

Grant is an archivist and digital creator whose TikTok, @ghostlyarchives, has gone viral for highlighting the recipes of the deceased — ones they've had etched on their gravestones. 

Not only does Grant find gravestones all over the country of people who have literally taken their recipes to the grave, she also researches the lives of the people who have done this, makes the recipes and, often, brings the finished dishes to their grave sites to enjoy together. 

The Show spoke with her more about it.

Full interview

ROSIE GRANT: Well, I was studying to be a librarian and part of the program, I was interning at a cemetery in their digital archives. And so I was researching just different ways people chose to be memorialized. And that's how I heard about there was a woman named Naomi who has a spritz cookie recipe on her gravestone in New York. And when I learned more about her, it was, there's a few news sites and blog posts about her on the internet and then, you know, continuing to Google search, I learned about several others and just kind of, the rest is history.

So, tell me a little bit about your own family's food history. Like, did this come up at any point in your research or learning about this idea?

GRANT: Yeah. I mean, I think it all comes down to family food history. Like, you know, we all have that one recipe that everyone knows. Either your mom or grandparent or aunt or uncle made it for like every holiday or birthdays are associated with it. Like my own family has this yellow cake with chocolate icing that we had at every birthday party. And so a lot of these recipes, it was exactly that, they were first, they love the idea of like, took it to the grave, like they brought recipe, but we put it on their gravestone.

But yeah, these were recipes that were really precious to the family that, you know, the grandkids or great-grandkids now are still making them. There's just like a lot of like, food tradition that was really wrapped up in these particular recipes.

That's really cool. OK. So you started this, like in grad school, right? Like as a, as a, as a social media project. How did you sort of find the gravestones to feature?

GRANT: Yeah. So in the beginning it was, I basically, it was exactly that, it was a grad class that was like how social media works. So we had to create a niche account and pick a topic. And so since I was at the cemetery, I was like, well, I'll make it about cemeteries. This was a new industry to me. Like, I was kind of just like learning about how memorials work in the modern day cemetery. And I mean, as far as digital cemeteries, there's so much information online now.

There are full blogs, Facebook groups, so many, there's social media accounts, there's other cemetery TikTokers and Instagrammers who do either preservation work or just history telling. And so a lot of the research is just already there on the internet. And a lot of it for me was just learning the stories of these people who have really interesting markers.

So tell us one or two of those stories. What are some of your favorites that you've done over the years?

GRANT: Oh, my goodness. I mean of the gravestone recipes, there are so many just amazing characters. Like there's a woman named Annabelle who's buried in California and she has a snickerdoodle cookie recipe on her gravestone. It's a wonderful recipe and her daughter talks about, they basically Annabelle was a volunteer firefighter with her husband, and they, like she remembers being a kid and all of these volunteers coming into their house to fight forest fires in northern California. And she would just make food and feed everyone just to like, get them, like, ready to go out and fight these forest fires and made these cookies included in that. And makes a million cookies.

So truly like feeding these people going to like, save their town. And then even later on in life and, you know, less exciting times she would still make these cookies and share them with like the mailman or the handy man or anytime she had a visitor just because it made so many.

That's really great. What are some of your favorite cookie recipes or other recipes that you've, that you've made? Like, did they, what are, what are the ones that taste the best?

GRANT: I mean, objectively, they're all really wonderful recipes. It's definitely a lot of desserts. So it's mostly women and mostly desserts who decided to do this for that particular reason.

I really love the very few savory ones. There's a woman named Deb Nelson who has a cheese dip recipe on her gravestone in Iowa, and her daughter reached out recently and I actually flew to go meet the daughter. We visited Deb and met several people in town. She was like a local radio host and like mini celebrity. Everyone had a Deb Nelson story, and this cheese dip recipe in particular, it's so good. And she, she basically, she worked at this restaurant where her husband would come in as just like in the clientele. And he would always ask for this cheese dip, and she would serve it to him and it was more meant to be like, oh, I'll get this waitress to come and chat with her, and they started dating afterwards and got married and had kids. And so it was just such an important recipe to their family.

That's awesome. That's awesome. So, as part of this, like, you make the recipes from these gravestones, but then you often, like, bring the finished product to the grave sites themselves and, and enjoy them there. Sort of with quote unquote the people who put the recipes on their graves. Why do you do that? Why bring them back to the graves?

GRANT: Yeah. I mean, in the project, it really was very nonlinear. I mean, again, this kind of, this started out as just like this random grad project that kind of keeps expanding on itself. But I was researching all these people and like reading their obituaries and I started interviewing their families. And at one point so for Naomi Odes and Miller Dawson, the first one that I had learned about, I was already visiting New York anyways. And I was like, well, while I'm there, I should pay my respects to her. She very easily accessible.

She was in Greenwood Cemetery, which is this beautiful cemetery. And her gravestone is kind of like this like open cookbook. And I was like, well, you know, people bring flowers or coins or sometimes they'll place a stone on top of someone's grave to say like, you know, I, I visited you, I remembered you. And I was like, why not bring their dish and, you know, cookies travel very easily. So I did it for Naomi.

And while I was there, Connie, another woman buried about an hour north of there. I was like, well, I should visit Connie, too. So I did this same thing and then, and that kind of just got this whole thing started of just like I'm spending all of this time learning about these people cooking their food if I have the ability to go and visit them, you know, cemetery is the idea of this public memorial to someone in their memory.

So of the 30 that I know about, I have visited seven so far and some have been easier than others. Like, cookies travel easily. Naomi was very easy to get to. Some were a little bit more like why? Well, this, you know, probably wasn't what they intended when they made this recipe.

Fair enough, fair enough. OK, so talk a little bit about the reaction you've gotten to this account and to this project, like as a whole, you have got it on TikTok and Instagram, like, and it's like millions of people have seen this now, right?

GRANT: Yeah, I mean, I've been very pleasantly surprised. I think the, the biggest reaction that I've been like, really, like touched by is the number of people who have reached out with their own food stories. And just thinking about food and legacy in your own personal family. You name the game of people just being like, oh my gosh, my family has this recipe. We make this every year and like, you know, we're going to cook it more often and write it down. So we preserve our family recipe or, you know, my mom made this or my dad made this like, you know, they passed away two years ago. I still make it all the time and it just, it brings them back to me and like their memory are closer with this did.

And so yeah, like the importance of food with both like a family history. But then also when we're just like grieving and met someone, food brings that person back in a way that like, obviously storytelling is so powerful, but like food is equally powerful. It brings all of your senses into the memory of that person.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.