In 1885, a group of approximately 50 community leaders gathered to discuss an anticipated problem, a shortage of cemetery space. The old Union Cemetery on Napoleon Street was, for all practical purposes, no longer in use, and Sandyvale Cemetery was showing signs of nearing its capacity. Other cemeteries in the area were small and nearly full, or were owned and on the property of churches. Some were restricted to a specific ethnic group, such as the ‘Irish Cemetery’ and the ‘German Catholic Cemetery.’ After extensive discussion on how to best establish a new cemetery, the Citizens Cemetery Association was formed.
The site chosen for the new cemetery was on a hill overlooking the city, and because of its vantage point, the name chosen for the cemetery was Grandview. The chosen location was mostly farmland, and like much of the area, the farmland was owned by the Cambria Iron Company. The company used it to grow feed for the mules used in the company’s mines, produce to be sold in the company store, and even timber to produce steam for the locomotives that hauled both ore and finished steel.
Charles R. Miller, an architect from Philadelphia and one of the top landscape designers of his time, was hired to design the new facility. Just a few years earlier, Miller had designed Philadelphia’s Centennial Grounds to celebrate America’s independence. His design for Grandview was accepted, and in April 1887 Lucretia Hammond became the first burial. Her grave sits in the Prospect 4 section and is Stop 6 on the cemetery’s popular Walking/Driving Tour. The gravesite is marked by a small square of brickwork, behind which sits a small obelisk. Together, the two mark her final resting place.
Not long after Lucretia Hammond’s burial, the Grand Army of The Republic Memorial was erected. The memorial consists of a collection of graves of Civil War veterans encircling a tall column with a figure of a Civil War veteran on top. The memorial was made possible by a fund drive that was supported by hundreds of local citizens. It sits in Prospect 4 and is Stop 3 on the Walking/Driving Tour.
Just two years after the first burial, on May 31, 1889, the infamous flood struck. Grandview, sitting 700 feet above the downtown area, was spared. Of the 2,209 lives lost, more than 1,200 were eventually buried in Grandview, some of them several years after their deaths. However, there were hundreds of bodies that would never be identified. Five months after the flood waters receded, a new 20,000 square foot section of Grandview Cemetery was opened. That section would be the final resting place for each of those unidentified victims of the flood, 751 of them in all. Each grave would be marked by an identical blank marble headstone, all placed in even rows.
When the 751 victims had been laid to rest, 26 more identical headstones were added to give perfect geometrical symmetry to the plot. Those 26 extra headstones occasionally cause confusion, because most stories about the plot refer to the 777 unidentified dead, not recognizing that 26 are not actually graves.
This collection of graves would become known as the Plot of the Unknowns, or the Unknown Plot, for short.
Three years later, on the anniversary of the deadly catastrophe, a large monument was dedicated with much fanfare. A crowd estimated at 10,000 watched in solemn silence as Governor Robert E. Pattison and Johnstown’s first mayor, Horace Rose, conducted the official ceremonies.
Placed in front of the 777 headstones, the 35-ton monument, made of Vermont granite, continues to stand vigil today. That monument houses no remains, and is known as the Monument of Tranquility. The inscription on the front panel of the monument reads “In Memory of the Unidentified Dead From the Flood, May 31, 1889.”
Standing 21 feet tall, the marker is topped by three figures depicting Faith, Hope, and Charity. The figure representing Hope has her right arm raised, pointing upward. Some say it is to signify that the unknown dead have ascended into Heaven.
The Plot of the Unknowns and the Monument of Tranquility are at Stop 4 on the cemetery’s Walking/Driving Tour.