Griffith Disaster Burial Ground (Kennedy Farm)


When the steamship G.P. Griffith burned off the shore of Willoughby on June 17, 1850, most of the immigrant bodies washed up in Willowick and never were identified.

The Willowick City Internet web site has several articles about the disaster and the cemetery.

Lake County Historical Society published a history by Dwight Boyer in The Historical Society Quarterly in February 1969:

Residents of the adjacent shore side areas, because the weather turned out to be extremely hot for the month of June, were confronted with the problem of what to do with the bodies. A self-constituted committee of the most prominent citizens decided that burial on the spot was the sensible answer. Consequently, on a knoll then some distance from the shore, a mass grave was dug. Before they began to shovel back the earth a clergyman preached solemnly of the uncertainties of life, “as dramatized by the poor souls we see here today.” In the grave were the bodies of 24 women, 47 men and 25 children. No accurate total of those lost was possible because several Cleveland-based vessels that had hurried to the scene took many victims back to that city. Various published death tolls vary from 212 to as high as 300. In any event it was Lake Erie’s worst disaster….

The site of the mass grave, once well back from the angry rollers, was gradually destroyed by the yearly erosion of the shoreline. The site was apparently unmarked and later the property became the home of an amusement park, thriving for years. Known as Willoughbeach Park, it was a popular place for family picnics and a busy stop on the interurban line. Few if any of the fun seekers knew that some of the park’s picnic tables were immediately over the grave where lay the remains of nearly 100 Lake Erie victims. The location is almost directly opposite what is now the Shoregate Shopping Center. Streets of neat homes have long since taken over the park site and the lake’s yearly battering of the shoreline has long since claimed the grave itself.

This was located in Willowick, on Lake Shore Boulevard, across from Bayridge Road, between the fire station and the house to the east of it. There is a small park there now.

The City of Cleveland purchased the mass grave cemetery from Levi Mosher for $5.00 (Vol. H pg 461). The deed description lists this property as a part of Lot No. 1, in the Hart Tract, “and in the north-west corner of said tract, and being a piece of land taken from the north part of the lot and described as follows: being the piece of land where the dead bodies who were recovered from the Steamboat Griffith, said piece of land being four rods wide, and extending so far north in equal width as to contain one quarter of an acre of land, and no more: the south line of said piece being one rod distant south from the south grave, the west line being a small gully and also the priviledge [sic] of going to and returning from said piece of land through my land, of which the aforesaid piece is a part provided no crops be injured thereby. Said piece of land to be used as a burying ground, and for no other purposes, but subject to all legal highways.” Signed and sealed 5th day of September 1850 by Levi Mosher and his wife Silvia.