Mike and I finished paying our respects to fallen Officer Robert Probst before we made our way back to the vehicle and continued on our journey to the top of Highland Cemetery. Note: More about Robert Probst can be found here: Robert Probst.
Finally making our way to the far corner of the cemetery, we admired the large monuments that stand guard at the top of the hillside that overlooks Lock Haven and the West Branch of the Susquehanna. As we drove to the rear of the cemetery, I noted numerous family names who had an influence on the history of the community and wished I had the time to visit every grave on the historic hillside.
We paused in the shadow of the large Celtic cross belonging to the Peale family and stepped out of the vehicle. As we got out, I could see the marker for another officer who died in the line of duty, and Mike and I walked over to pay our respects to the fallen officer.
John Berry Ross was born near Chambersburg on August 23, 1892. He would begin his twenty-five-year career with the Pennsylvania Game Commission in 1916. That autumn, Ross took a position as a game refuge keeper of Game Refuge Number One in Clinton County. He would become the District Game Protector, which he held until 1918, when he went overseas to fight in World War One,
After serving a year, Ross returned and resumed a position as Deputy Game Protector in various districts until rising to a District Supervisor. On January 1, 1933, he was appointed to the position of Chief of the Bureau of Protection within the Pennsylvania Game Commission. He held that position for three years until returning to the position of District Supervisor on January 1, 1936.
June of 1942 saw severe flooding as storms struck the northern and western counties of Pennsylvania. Ross left Williamsport with three other men to help rescue those stranded by the rising waters of the Allegheny River in northern Pennsylvania. In Ross’s group were C.C. Cotner, a Williamsport Technical Institute instructor, and his son, William, along with Carl Bidelspacher, a Pennsylvania Fish Warden.
The group arrived at Roulette where they met up with a group of Lock Haven firemen who were also there to help rescue trapped survivors. After rescuing those trapped in the Roulette area, the group made their way down the swollen waters of the Allegheny River to Port Allegany to help the hard-hit community.
Around nine in the evening of June 18, as they were leaving Roulette, the boat Ross’s group was in experienced trouble. The group had traveled roughly half a mile down river when the boat propeller pin broke. The boat was at the mercy of the flooded river.
The boat struck a tree and dumped the men into the river. The four men managed to upright the boat and get back onboard. They were only on it a couple moments when the boat struck another tree and overturned again. This time, when the men were dumped into the raging waters of the Allegheny, Ross was swept away by the churning waters.
As the other men held onto the overturned boat, they watched helplessly as Ross managed to surface once and call out for help, before disappearing underwater. Sadly, neither Ross nor the others on his boat were wearing life jackets. The weight of Ross’s heavy coat and belt with flashlight and gun attached, pulled him under the flood waters.
The other three men clung to the overturned boat until it lodged against a tree. The trio remained there for almost six hours before they were rescued around three the following morning.
That same morning, a group of thirty-five members of the Pennsylvania Game Commission gathered to search for Ross. He was discovered in the river about half a mile downstream from the accident scene two days after his tragic death. Note: Ross was not the only person killed in the floods. Flooding across northcentral Pennsylvania claimed at least fourteen other lives.
Ross’s body was returned to Williamsport – where he had lived – before being taken to Lock Haven and buried in Highland Cemetery. Ross was survived by his wife and five children.
We finished paying our respects to the man who lost his life while trying to save those affected by the flood waters of the Allegheny River. We left John Ross to rest at the rear of Highland Cemetery, knowing his service in the Pennsylvania Game Commission had not been forgotten.