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Unknown Plot.

Mass Grave of Johnstown's Unknown Dead

Field review by the editors.

Johnstown, Pennsylvania

The Johnstown Flood of May 31, 1889, left behind thousands of dead victims in only ten minutes of destruction. Epidemic disease and more death were real possibilities, so the corpses were buried hastily, leaving hundreds unidentified.

Monument to the Flood Victims.

Five months later, in the hope that some corpses might be recognized, all were dug up and reburied in a 20,000-square-foot plot of the city's new Grandview Cemetery. No word on how many were shaved off the total, but nearly 800 (accounts vary between 755 and 777) ended up under identical blank marble headstones in the "Plot of the Unknowns."

Three years later, on May 31, 1892, the "Monument to the Unknown Dead" was unveiled at the cemetery with much fanfare. Made of Vermont granite, weighing 35 tons, standing 21 feet tall, it's a sarcophagus surmounted by three larger-than-life allegorical women: Faith, Hope, and Charity. Hope points heavenward, suggesting the Unknowns' final destination.

A quick drive around Grandview Cemetery reveals many headstones with expiration dates of May 31, 1889, some of the nearly 500 "knowns" buried here as well.

Grandview is up on an impressive bluff overlooking the city. It occurred to us, in a feeble epiphany, that if any of these people had been visiting this cemetery instead of down in town when the flood arrived, they would not have died.

Mass Grave of Johnstown's Unknown Dead

Grandview Cemetery

801 Millcreek Rd, Johnstown, PA
Grandview Cemetery. From downtown Johnstown (Hwy 403/Napoleon St.) turn south onto Somerset St., pass under the freeway, and bear right onto Millcreek Rd. Follow it up the twisty hill for about a mile. You'll see the cemetery on the left. Once inside the gate, make an immediate right. You'll soon see the Unknown plot on the left.
Gates open M-F 8-4, Sa 8-1 Local health policies may affect hours and access.
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