In the Line of Duty: Peter Griffin

St. Mary’s Cemetery, Lock Haven

“Is there anybody else in this cemetery you want to visit before we leave?” Mike asked as we finished paying our respects to brothers Jerry and Tom Donovan, two baseball players from Lock Haven. Note: More about the brothers can be found here: The Donovans.

“There is another notable person buried in this cemetery,” I spoke.

“Oh?”

“Peter Griffin,” I replied. “He was a police officer who died in the line of duty.”

“There’s a Griffin over there,” Mike pointed at a large monument near the place where the Donovan brothers eternally slumbered.

“Unfortunately, that’s not for him,” I replied. “Oddly, there is another Peter Griffin buried in this cemetery, but as far as I can tell, they are not related.” I paused for a moment to reflect and gather my thoughts. “This Peter Griffin has been mostly forgotten and though he died in the line of duty, he lies in an unmarked grave.”

Peter J. Griffin was born in Elmira, New York to Patrick Griffin and Nora Sexton – it is not clear when or why the family moved to Lock Haven. Note: Peter’s birth year is listed in a number of places as July 1854, which would make him fifty-three at the time of his death. However, the Lock Haven Express states he was forty-seven at the time of his passing, which means he would have been born in 1860.

At the beginning of January 1900, Peter Griffin was appointed as a temporary police officer to cover another officer who was on leave due to illness. The temporary position would be the start of Griffin’s career with the Lock Haven Police Department.

It was July 4, 1907 and Lock Haven – like the rest of the United States – was celebrating Independence Day. That evening, Officer Griffin had been alerted to a fight that was happening near the Central Hotel, which was located at the intersection of East Main and North Grove Streets. One of those involved in the public disturbance was Harry Glenn. Officer Griffin arrested Glenn and managed to get him as far as the livery stable at the rear of the hotel when Glenn started to struggle to escape.

Officer Griffin called to a man standing nearby – O. R. McKibben who was visiting town from Linesville – for assistance with taking Glenn to jail. After a struggle, the two men managed to get Glenn to the county lock-up. The trio arrived and Glenn was turned over to Turnkey Harry Ammerman to be locked away for the night. Note: A Turnkey is the person in charge of the prison keys. His job was to lock and unlock the jail cells and made rounds to make sure the prison doors were properly locked at all times.

As Glenn was being turned over to Turnkey Ammerman, Griffin threw out his hands and called out to Mr. McKibben. Griffin managed his final words – “Come to me” – before slumping to the floor in the jail corridor. By the time Dr. W. N. Armstrong arrived at the jail, Griffin had passed. The cause of death was listed as heart failure. Griffin’s body was removed to his home on South Jones Street and prepared for burial.

Griffin was described as a well-liked and respected member of the community and a valued member of the police force. He was interred July 8 in the sacred grounds of St. Mary’s Cemetery. Peter was survived by three brothers, Frank, Timothy, and James. Note: Newspapers of the time only list Frank and James as Peter’s surviving brothers. I’m not sure why Timothy was not mentioned. When Timothy died in September 1907, it is mentioned he had lived in Lock Haven for years and was brother of the late Peter J. Griffin, who was the officer for Lock Haven.

In the aftermath of Griffin’s death, Glenn was brought before Mayor Stevenson on the morning of July 5. Glenn was severely reprimanded, fined twenty dollars for his public disturbance and released.

“Peter’s death has mostly been forgotten,” I spoke softly. “With his grave never being marked, Griffin’s death and duty had disappeared into the mists of time.

“Even sadder is none of his branch of Griffins was ever marked. His brother Frank, who had also served as a police officer for Lock Haven, his brother Thomas, along with their parents all rest in unmarked graves within this sacred piece of land.”

We finished remembering the service of Patrolman Peter Griffin before we silently left the sacred grounds. Though his place of burial may be lost, his service was not forgotten.

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