New headstone marks Grandview grave of Johnstown police officer killed in 1889 flood

Sep. 18—JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — The Grandview Cemetery grave of Johnstown Patrolman Samuel B. Eldridge, who died in the line of duty during the city's historic flood on May 31, 1889, has finally been marked with a headstone.

Eldridge, 35, left his home that day to assist people in need during serious flooding downtown. Shortly thereafter, a wall of water unleashed by the failure of South Fork Dam crashed into the valley. Eldridge and more than 2,200 other people were killed.

The police officer's remains were buried a few months later — but, for some unknown reason, there was no tombstone marking his grave.

So members of the Road Dawgs Motorcycle Club, the Cambria County Sheriff's Office and the Johnstown Police Department recently had a headstone purchased and installed at Eldridge's grave "In Honor of His Heroism," as engraved on the stone.

They learned about the lack of a marker at the grave from Tina Sepp, the sister of Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Joseph Sepp Jr., who was killed while on duty in 2002.

"I think everybody deserves a final resting place and deserves to be remembered," Cambria County Sheriff Don Robertson said. "Knowing that guy gave his life in the 1889 flood, I think it was a very moving thing for everybody to do for this guy that nobody met before, didn't know a whole lot about him. It's kind of a cool story to tell. But, at the same time, we didn't want him to be forgotten."

Chuck Mack, from the local Road Dawgs chapter, added: "To me, I just think the guy deserved it. He went out on his day off to help people, left his family at home. ... I just think this was a great thing that we put together, put a little bit of effort into getting this guy a headstone. I think he deserved it."

Eldridge's story is recorded in multiple sources. Pulitzer Prize-winning author "David McCullough described him as "one of the best-known policemen in town" in his book "The Johnstown Flood." There is a tribute to Eldridge at the online Officer Down Memorial Page.

Writer J.J. McLaurin provided a contemporaneous account of what happened in "The Story of Johnstown: Its Early Settlement, Rise and Progress, Industrial Growth, and Appalling Flood on May 31st, 1889."

"The flood caught him in the street and swept him to his death," McLaurin wrote. "Mrs. Eldridge and her children spent the night in the attic of their house, which was sheltered in some way and is still standing, though everything in it was destroyed. The children took the Bible with them to their place of refuge, and little Sarah, aged seven, prayed on it all night for her papa.

"When morning came and Mr. Eldridge did not appear, his wife knew he had been lost. His body was one of the first to be recovered."