Grandview Cemetery has been around since the 1880s and, at 239 acres, is one of the largest cemeteries in Pennsylvania.
Grandview is the final resting place for famous political figures, professional athletes, war heroes, businessmen, industrialists and just plain citizens.
The cemetery’s longevity and size alone would suggest that there may be some interesting stories associated with many of those interred there.
That suggestion would be correct.
The cemetery is loaded with interesting stories, all similar to those outlined here.
Seventeen of Johnstown’s 19 deceased mayors are buried here, including W. Horace Rose, the first mayor of the city, as is Hiram G. Andrews, former speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
There also are 10 former United States Congressmen interred in Grandview: Warren W. Bailey, Jacob M. Campbell, J. Irving Whalley, John P. Saylor, Anderson H. Walters, John M. Rose, Daniel Morrell, George M. Wertz and John P. Murtha. Murtha was the longest-serving member ever of the U.S. House of Representatives from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
It all began on April 28, 1887, with the death of Lucretia Hammond, a resident of Kernville.
Two days later, the remains of the 39-year-old wife of Calvin Hammond were transported by horse and buggy up the steep road from Kernville, around the switchback halfway up the hill, to the new cemetery that had been carved out of farmland owned by the Cambria Iron Company.
The horses struggled several times along the precipitous roadway, made muddy by recent rains and snowmelt, but the small band of mourners finally reached the top.
There, Lucretia was laid to rest in a section now known as Prospect 4. Her burial was the first and tens of thousands would follow.
Her resting place is marked by a small obelisk whose engraving has nearly been obliterated by time.
To aid visitors, a small marker has been placed flush with the ground in front of the obelisk with her name, birth and death dates and the information that Lucretia was the first interment.
The Unknown Plot
Other burials soon followed, and on May 31, 1889, the infamous flood struck. It had been just two years since Lucretia Hammond had been laid to rest.
The cemetery was still small, but growing.
Grandview’s elevation, some 700 feet above the downtown area, placed it safely out of the flood zone, and over the next several years, some 1,200 victims of the flood were buried there. They rest in various sections of the cemetery, interred in private plots. The dates of death on their headstones, May 31, 1889, provide mute testimony to their final day on earth.
However, hundreds more of their fellow victims were never identified.
Despite their anonymity, they still needed to be buried, but Union Cemetery was nearly full and only rarely used. Sandyvale was already showing signs of filling. Moreover, both cemeteries were situated along rivers and were, themselves, prone to flooding.
Local officials decided to open a new 20,000-square-foot section in the relatively new cemetery on the hill. That section would provide a final resting place for each of those unidentified victims of the flood, 751 of them in all.
Each grave was 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. That number, 777, became the accepted number of plots, and often caused some confusion by leading most accounts to conclude that there were 777 unidentified flood victims, rather than the actual 751.
This collection of graves would become known as the Plot of the Unknowns, or the Unknown Plot, for short.
A fund drive was undertaken to provide sufficient funds for the inclusion of a marker that would be placed at the front of the plot.
On May 31, 1892, on the anniversary of the deadly catastrophe, Pennsylvania Gov. Robert E. Pattison and Johnstown’s first mayor, Horace Rose, dedicated that large marker, which became known as the Monument of Tranquility.
A crowd of 10,000, many of them weeping, watched in respectful silence.
The monument still stands as a tangible memorial to those unidentified dead.
Then, a bewildering story began to unfold. For 129 years the accepted number of headstones remained at 777 until earlier this year, when Rob Koenigsberg, vice president of the Friends of Johnstown Flood National Memorial, and National Park Service Ranger Doug Bosley actually did what nobody else had thought to do: they counted the headstones. And thus began one of Grandview’s mystery stories, because the pair learned there were actually 816 markers; 16 rows of 51 stones. Where had the extra 39 come from? Had there actually been 777 flood victims buried there after all, with the 39 additional headstones added to achieve the symmetrical design?
That would have provided a plausible explanation, but Koenigsberg has a copy of a letter written by a man named J. C. Horton to the Fulton County News in McConnellsburg and published in the Sept. 4, 1902, edition.
The letter adds to the confusion.
In that letter, Horton refers to the Rolling Mill Mine explosion that took place in Johnstown just a few months earlier, killing 112 miners, most of them immigrants.
Horton notes that he had been present at 17 funerals for victims of that disaster, all on the same day, at Grandview. He goes on to write that there were “…46 unrecognized (bodies), which were added to the unknown plot at that place along with those of the great flood of 1889, which makes now a total of 962 in the unknown plot.”
If there were 962 bodies in the unknown plot after the addition of the unrecognized miners, that would mean there had already been 916 there from the flood.
Of course, his total could easily be wrong, unofficial as it was.
If so, the 46 additional sets of remains added to the 777 presumed burials from the flood would make a total of 823, still too many, unless several were buried together.
A more logical explanation may be that Horton simply added his numbers wrong. The 816 headstones which we now know are there, thanks to an actual count, would have been constant and unchanged. Adding the 46 miners would bring the total to 862, just one digit off Horton’s total of 962.
So … could Horton simply have been bad at arithmetic? For now, one explanation is as good as another, so you can take your pick. The truth is, we may never know for sure, although we are certain of the actual number of markers, thanks to Koenigsberg and Bosley.
Ten years after Lucretia Hammond became the first to be interred in Grandview and with the 19th century drawing to a close, a movement began to honor those who had fought to preserve our nation from 1861 to 1865.
An organization known as the Grand Army of the Republic had been formed to lobby for veterans’ rights and foster patriotism. Better known as the GAR, the group had constructed a building along Central Park downtown as a local headquarters and from that base worked to obtain recognition for members. That building still stands, but is now privately owned.
With the life expectancy of males of that era hovering around 40, many Civil War veterans had already passed away in the 30-odd years since the end of the fighting.
A memorial to all those veterans, living and dead, was proposed. Hundreds of local citizens, many of them remembering how the members of the local GAR had organized supply lines to get badly needed items into the city when the flood waters receded, responded to the GAR’s plea for funds to be used to construct the memorial.
That memorial was erected in Grandview Cemetery on a circular plot that would become known as Soldiers’ Circle. Named the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial, it consists of a tall shaft with the statue of a Civil War soldier on top. The circle is bounded by the graves of 55 Civil War veterans.
Grandview Cemetery is the final resting place for literally thousands of veterans.
A visitor would be forgiven if he thought there must be graves of several Medal of Honor recipients here.
In reality, of the thousands of veteran graves, only one holds the remains of a veteran who was awarded our nation’s highest award for military valor.
George Reed was a corporal in Company E of the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.
What he did to earn the Medal of Honor showed amazing courage, but also illustrated how important is it to remain calm under fire and think things through.
But before we talk about what George did, some background information is in order.
During the Civil War, even the firing of just a few guns quickly produced a thick layer of gun smoke that obliterated the action on the battlefield, making it impossible to see any signals from an officer. Both the Union and the Confederacy depended on 10 flag bearers to indicate the center of each regiment’s battle line. Every soldier was trained to pay attention to where the flag was and where it was headed, so some semblance of order could be maintained.
Only the bravest were assigned the task of carrying the flag, and soldiers quickly learned that a regiment could be plunged into chaos if the color bearer was killed, or if the flag was captured. Because of the flag’s importance, it was always protected by a group of soldiers known as the color guard, a term that is still used today, although the role is mainly ceremonial rather than functional now.
Those who tried to capture a flag often paid with their lives, but occasionally it was accomplished. On Aug. 21, 1864, George Reed did exactly that.
While fighting in thick woods at the Battle of Weldon Railroad, in Virginia, he stumbled upon a group of Rebels from the 24th North Carolina Infantry, including their color bearer. Outnumbered, Reed was immediately taken prisoner. With fire in their eyes, his captors all trained their guns on him.
Reed knew that the odds of surviving a Confederate prison camp were not very high, but he also knew that escape was impossible.
Remaining calm, he pointed out that he knew the Southerners were lost and that they were about to walk into the Union lines, where they would probably be killed. He promised to escort them safely through the line if they surrendered to him. The Confederates huddled briefly, then agreed to surrender to the man they thought they had captured just a few moments earlier.
Taking their flag, Reed took his prisoners back to the Union side, where his actions were highly praised. A few weeks later, on Sept. 6, 1864, he was awarded the Medal of Honor for capturing the enemy flag.
Reed died on Dec. 21, 1906, and was buried in Grandview Cemetery.
However, the inscription on his headstone deprived him of the honor he so richly deserved. Not only did it not mention his Medal of Honor, it listed him as a Confederate soldier.
The error went uncorrected for nearly a century until descendants were able to get it fixed. On Nov. 11, 2006, Veterans Day, a new stone was dedicated in the presence of several spectators and Civil War Reenactors. The new stone properly credits him for his actions and his Medal of Honor.
It is often said that nothing is stronger than the love a mother has for a child. That was perfectly exemplified in a memorial to a young soldier who died in World War I.
Gerald Horner was born Dec. 27, 1895, to Nathaniel and Mary Horner.
The family resided in Dale, and when the United States entered World War I, Gerald joined Company I of the National Guard’s 111th Infantry, part of the 7th Division.
In preparation for the war, the 7th Division was redesignated the 28th Division, the famed Keystone Division, under the command of Maj. Gen. Charles H. Muir.
On May 5, 1918, young Horner found himself on his way to Europe, and in early July the Keystone Division fought for the first time. That battle would become known as the Battle of Fismes and Fismette.
The Keystone Division by then was part of the American Third Corps under Maj. Gen. Robert Bullard. However, there was still no independent American army in France, so they fought under the general command of Maj. Gen. Jean Degoutte’s French Sixth Army.
On Aug. 4, after weeks of intense fighting, the Pennsylvanians captured Fismes, a small town on the Vesle River. Not content with holding Fismes, Degoutte ordered the Keystone Division to cross the river, capture the village of Fismette and hold it as a bridgehead. Because of enemy positions in the surrounding hills the American generals protested that the village could not be held and that it was a suicide mission, but military protocol dictated that they obey their orders.
Over the next several days, Allied and German forces attacked and counterattacked. On the night of Aug. 9, 1918, Horner and his comrades were met by heavy machine gun fire as they worked their way from house to house through the town of Fismette. A captured German prisoner told the Americans that German reinforcements had arrived and an attack was imminent.
The prisoner had told the truth. Before long, the attack unfolded, the Germans advancing behind a line of flamethrowers.
By daybreak, most of the Americans were dead or wounded, including Gerald Horner. He had been struck by a 6-inch shell and had died a short time later, along with several of his comrades. His death was officially listed as Aug. 9, 1918. He was buried in a cemetery in France.
Back home in Johnstown, Horner’s mother had nothing to remember her son except for a photo he had sent her showing him in his uniform.
In 1921, arrangements were made for American remains to be brought home, and Horner was among them. Mrs. Horner sent a copy of her son’s photo to a sculptor in Italy, who sculpted a life-sized likeness of the young soldier which his mother arranged to be placed over his grave when he was buried in Grandview Cemetery. The unusual grave marker stands to this day in the Highland 1 section.
Those who knew Gerald Horner proclaimed that the statue is an exact likeness.
Arguably the best known veteran buried in Grandview is Boyd D. “Buzz” Wagner.
Wagner enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1938. Initially part of the 27th Pursuit Squadron, he eventually transferred to the 17th Squadron, where he was soon promoted to 1st Lieutenant and command of his squadron.
Along the way he acquired the nickname Buzz, reportedly because he was such a good pilot that he could buzz the camouflage off a hangar roof. In late 1940, his unit was sent to the Philippines.
On Dec. 8, 1941, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese invaded the Philippines, destroying much of the United States air power there.
During the attack, Wagner led a series of counterattacks against the Japanese. Four days later he left on a solo reconnaissance mission over the Aparri Airfield, on the northern tip of Luzon. When five Japanese fighter planes known as Nates took off to intercept him, Wagner, flying a P-40E Warhawk, quickly shot down two of them. He then strafed the airfield as more planes, Mitsubishi fighters referred to as Zeros, joined the pursuit.
Wagner shot down two of them before his faster plane outdistanced his pursuers, allowing him to return safely to his base at Clark Field, north of Manila.
On Dec. 17, 1941, Wagner, flying with two other planes, attacked 25 enemy planes parked on an airstrip near Vigan. Flying at low altitude, Wagner and one of the other planes launched an attack while the third plane provided cover. When the plane flying with Wagner on the attack was shot down by enemy fire, Wagner continued his attack, destroying nine parked enemy planes and damaging seven more.
He then shot down another Japanese Nate before departing the area.
This confirmed kill gave him a total of five, making him the first Ace of World War II.
He would shoot down three more Zeros before returning to the United States, giving him eight for his career. His actions earned him the Distinguished Service Cross. He was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Purple Heart, the latter for injuries to his face and eyes on Dec. 22, 1941, when his plane was struck by enemy fire.
In early 1942, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-colonel.
On Nov. 29, 1942, Buzz Wagner was killed when his plane crashed while on a routine training flight near Eglin Field in Florida. It was six weeks before his body was located.
He was buried in Grandview Cemetery in the Cambria 2 section in January 1943, with an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 mourners in attendance. Both Time and Life magazines covered the event. In 2008, additional remains were located at the crash site which eventually were determined to be Wagner’s. These additional remains were buried in Wagner’s original grave with full military honors, including a U.S. Air Force flyover.
Wagner High School at Clark Air Base in the Philippines was named in his honor, and in 2016 a replica of Wagner’s plane was dedicated at the Johnstown airport. It is permanently mounted at the northwest corner of the airport parking area.
John G. McCrory
While it may sound as if Grandview Cemetery has nothing but remains of war heroes, there are many other well-known personages interred in the cemetery who were not affiliated with the military.
Space limitations prevent discussions of each of them, so John G. McCrory has been selected to represent all the famous civilians who rest in Grandview.
John Graham McCrory was born in 1860 in East Wheatfield Township, moved to Mechanicsburg as a child, and returned to Johnstown at age 18, taking jobs in local retail stores.
His last name was originally spelled McCrorey, but he got rid of the ‘E’ when he founded his own store chain. It is said that he did it when he realized that his signs would be cheaper if his name had one less letter.
The original spelling can be seen on the entrance to the family mausoleum in Grandview Cemetery.
He opened his first McCrory store in Indiana County in 1882 and opened a Johnstown store shortly after the 1889 flood, placing it on Main Street, across from Central Park.
By the company’s 100th anniversary it had more than 1,000 stores, having bought out such other retail chains as G.C. Murphy and J.J. Newberry. It seemed as if every town in America had a McCrory’s ‘five-and-dime’ store.
In 1897, McCrory joined with one of the salesmen who called on the McCrory stores, Sebastian S. Kresge, to open five-and-ten-cent stores in Memphis and Detroit. Kresge bought McCrory’s share of the company two years later and began his own chain of stores under the name S.S. Kresge’s. That chain would eventually become K-Mart.
McCrory focused on his own chain until his retirement in 1933. By 1990, however, without McCrory’s leadership, the company found itself in financial trouble and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, allowing the company to restructure. The reorganization was unsuccessful, however, and by 1997, John McCrory’s once-proud chain of 1,000 stores was down to 161. Those remaining stores were sold to a former chairman of McCrory’s, who promised to keep the Johnstown store open.
He kept his word as store after store within the chain closed. By late 2001, however, it was apparent that the chain was about to fail completely. The Johnstown store was one of the last to go. In September 2001, the store was down to only six employees and it finally closed its doors. Less than six months later the entire company went out of business.
John McCrory did not live to see his namesake company fail, however. He died in 1943 at age 83 and is buried in the family mausoleum in Grandview Cemetery’s Highland 5 section.
The Jewish Community
Johnstown’s history is entwined with the arrival of immigrants from all parts of the world. These ethnic groups are a part of the community’s very fabric, and Grandview Cemetery closely reflects that.
Mark Duray, president and chief operating officer of the cemetery, proudly points this out, referring to the cemetery as a melting pot. He notes that the cemetery has had 72,522 burials or internments (as of Nov. 12, 2021) with more being added nearly every day, and they include every race, religion and country of origin imaginable.
No attempt was ever made to isolate any particular group, with one notable exception: those of the Jewish faith can be buried in any of four specific areas of the cemetery, if they so choose.
The first of these areas dates back to 1888, when the cemetery was formed. At that time, the cemetery invited the 17 German Jewish families living in Johnstown to establish their presence in the first portion of the cemetery. That parcel, part of the Prospect 3 section, is marked by a small ground-level marker dated Dec. 16, 1888, and is located immediately adjacent to the Plot of the Unknowns. Johnstown’s first rabbi, Hyman Kaminsky, is among those interred here.
A second, much larger section, was offered by the cemetery in 1929 out of respect for the work done for the cemetery by Attorney Elvin Teitelbaum, according to Barry Rudel, president of the Jewish Cemetery and Burial Association, of which Johnstown’s Jewish cemeteries are a member.
That parcel became a part of the cemetery’s Edgewood 5 section and is referred to as the Israel Isaiah Beneficial Society section. It is also marked by a small ground-level marker.
The section honors Mr. and Mrs. W. L. Glosser, well-known early Johnstowners whose graves sit at the center of the section.
Adjacent to this parcel, also in Edgewood 5, is a third area representing Johnstown’s Reform congregation. Known as Beth Zion 1, it was established in the 1940s and includes such familiar Johnstown names as Dr. Meyer Bloom, former president of the Conemaugh Hospital Medical Society, and Sam Rappaport, owner of Penn Furniture.
A fourth Jewish section, known as Beth Zion 2, consists of only a few rows of graves in the Cambria 4 section, near the Harris Temple of Love monument. Beth Zion 2 is the final resting place of highly decorated World War II nurse Leah Rodstein Miller, as well as Louis Goldhaber, one of seven Johnstown Jews killed in World War II action.
In discussing these four sections, Rudel noted that Grandview Cemetery is an extremely important partner of the Johnstown Jewish community.
Many of the burials associated with those stories, including the sites mentioned in this article, are included on the cemetery’s Walking/Driving Tour. A map of the tour is available at the cemetery’s administration building.