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1832: Duffy's Cut - 57 Irish immigrant PA railroad workers murdered or dead from cholera

Discussion in 'Historical Cold Cases - Pre 1950' started by Akoya, Nov 4, 2017.

  1. Akoya

    Akoya Bronze Member


    Ghostly scene
    The bodies of the workers found in the railroad fill would have remained there had it not been for the foresight of the Watson’s maternal grandfather, Joseph Tripcian.

    Tripcian was the executive assistant to the president of the Pennsylvania railroad, a trusted man interested in history who was permitted to take archives from the company’s vault as he wished.

    When the railroad went bankrupt in 1970, Tripcian took a file whose title betrayed its grim contents: “History of Duffy’s Cut stone enclosure east of Malvern, Pennsylvania, which marks the burial place of 57 track laborers who were victims of the cholera epidemic of 1832.”

    The file had remained secret. Local newspapers of the time reported cholera deaths with the dry tone of a legislative summary, and reported that eight died along the tracks. Only a group of four nuns and one blacksmith nursed the men through their final hours, the newspaper reported.

    Tripcian’s grandsons, meanwhile, would both receive doctorates in history. Frank, older by 10 minutes, works as a Lutheran minister in Tom’s River, New Jersey. Bill is a professor of medieval history at Immaculata University, a Catholic college not three miles from the dig site, where he secured a professorship years before he was acquainted with Duffy’s Cut.

    It was at Immaculata that Bill Watson saw what is best described as will-o’-the-wisp outside his second story college office window – the group of neon lights hovered in a far corner of the college’s lawn, a phenomenon he didn’t understand but didn’t think of as suspicious. He would joke to a friend at the time that the lights were “somebody’s idea of art”.

    Watson thought little of the odd sighting until Frank inherited his grandfather’s file two years later. When Bill Watson read the file he was flabbergasted – contained in the file was a description from 1909 of the supernatural lore that many locals have retold about the site, including a strikingly accurate description of the lights that Watson had seen from his office window years earlier.

    The file describes a ghostly scene at “the fill”, where the tracks were built up by workers.

    A sign at Duffy’s Cut mass grave commemorates the deaths of Irish immigrant workers.
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    A sign at Duffy’s Cut mass grave commemorates the deaths of Irish immigrant workers. Photograph: Barney Quinn/PA
    “So I trudged up between the stone blocks untill [sic] I got on to the fill, and there I say [sic] with my own eyes the ghosts of the Irishmen who died with the cholera a month ago,” local historian Julian F Sachse quotes an “old man” as saying in his 1909 retelling, typed on Pennsylvania Railroad letterhead. “They looked as if they were a kind of green and blue fire, and there they were a hopping and bobbing on their graves.”

    As the years went on, the Watsons’ interest in finding the shanty site grew. Geologist Tim Bechtel used sophisticated tools to locate “anomalies”, and Schandelmeier built the findings into a map using complex software to pinpoint where the remains might be.

    The Watsons went to the site with little more than shovels, some earnest Immaculata students and a small budget for pizza.

    Now, after securing an analysis of the remains from University of Pennsylvania forensic anthropologist Janet Monge, the Watsons and their fellow researchers believe the seven men were killed when they attempted to flee the cholera-infected shanty.

    The men were “held or tied up”, said Frank Watson, and “buried by their unsuspecting colleagues in the fill”. Their bodies were returned to the shanty in wooden coffins, each sealed with upwards of 100 nails to conceal the “bloody mess” inside. The brothers also suspect that an organization headed by some of the area’s most prominent families and designed to deter horse theft, the East Whiteland Horse Company, may have had the means to perpetrate such an act.

    “Nobody gave a damn until we started finding stuff,” said Bill Watson, about digging up Barlow knives, the belly of a smoking pipe etched with “Derry”, and finally remains.

    At one point, to have a state historical marker placed nearby, Watson was required to prove the worthiness of the event. “I had to prove the statewide or national significance of the death of 57 Irish immigrants,” he said, his indignation evident.

    “Every single step of the way has been a battle.”

    Even airlines have been uncooperative – the Watsons said a “human remains” department at one stage declined to help them transport Burns’s body.

    The Watsons said they had to get a restraining order against one man when he insisted the researchers broke state grave laws. Eccentrics have claimed that maybe, perhaps, they are descended from families who came to Pennsylvania with the affluent quaker William Penn in 1682, but if there are any records of that grim day in 1832 they are certainly now destroyed.

    The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission refused to comment. A spokesman said the commission had no information about the incident. The Chester County Historical Society said it could draw no conclusions from the information it possessed.

    Bits of wood remains from the coffin that once held Catherine Burns. On the right are bits of her bones, which will be returned to County Tyrone, Northern Ireland.
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    Bits of wood remains from the coffin that once held Catherine Burns. On the right are bone fragments, which will be returned to Ireland. Photograph: Jessica Glenza for the Guardian
    “I certainly buy that these seven guys were murdered,” said Harvard sociologist Jason Kaufman, who studied vigilantism between the civil war and first world war. “It seems to be, like, a guess as to who did it.”

    Kaufman added: “Until well into the 20th century, the Irish are really second-class citizens, as are really Catholics … They were one tiny slice above blacks.”

    The Watsons believe there is another mass grave nearby in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, near railroad mile marker 48, and perhaps as many as 1,000 mass graves across the north-east where laborers of the industrial revolution were buried where they worked.

    After many years without digging, the Watsons, Schandelmeier and fellow researchers are on the verge of extracting core samples from beside the Amtrak tracks. They expect to find pieces of bone in the clay and dirt – evidence, they believe, of the remaining 50 men the secret file said died at the site.

    If the men do come upon another mass grave, it would be just feet from where the previous seven bodies were discovered, in a wooded area behind a trim housing development marked by a stone enclosure made of the Philadelphia-Columbia’s first railroad ties.

    Return home
    Catherine Burns was buried at St Patrick’s Church in Clonoe, County Tyrone, on Sunday after a wake with music and dance.

    “The people of the village have really connected with Catherine and there has been huge interest from parishioners in her story and the story of Irish emigrants,” parish priest Father Benny Fee told the BBC.
    Kimster likes this.
  2. Akoya

    Akoya Bronze Member


    March 10, 2014 / 11:10 AM / in 4 years
    Centuries-old mass grave of Irish laborers probed in Pennsylvania

    Daniel Kelley
    5 Min Read

    MALVERN, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - On a cold winter’s day, historian Bill Watson found himself standing in the snow, picking through the roots of an upturned stump near railroad tracks in a place now known as Duffy’s Cut.
    An exhibit at the museum of Duffy's Cut at Immaculata College in Malvern, Pennsylvania on March 8, 2014. REUTERS/Mark Makela
    The exposed roots once held in their grip buttons, human bones and old coffin nails - vital clues in a centuries-old unsolved mystery.

    The stump, pulled up several years ago, stood over the final resting place of seven of 57 Irish laborers who perished at the railroad construction site in 1832, during an outbreak of cholera. Also found at the scene was a skull that had been pierced by a bullet and cleaved by a hatchet.

    “It’s not just cholera,” said Watson, who with his twin brother and fellow historian, Frank Watson, is leading the excavation project to piece together what may turn out to be a grisly tale of anti-immigration violence from the 1800s.

    For the last 10 years, the Watsons and their research team have struggled to find out what happened to the crew toiling under a boss named Philip Duffy, as they cut a swath through the heavily wooded terrain to lay train tracks about 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia.

    The brothers’ interest in the site began in 2002, when they discovered references to the immigrant laborers in a document file compiled nearly a century ago by Pennsylvania Railroad president Martin Clement and later kept by his personal assistant - the Watsons’ grandfather.

    Those documents indicated that all 57 laborers, hired right off the boat from Ireland, died of cholera within six weeks of arrival. The number was far more than the eight deaths listed in local news accounts at the time.

    While the cause appeared to be cholera, physical evidence uncovered at the scene also hinted at cruelty and murder, the Watson brothers said.

    “We have no idea what percentage of these guys were murdered,” said Bill Watson, who chairs the history department at nearby Immaculata University. “But if we have 57, it’s the worst mass murder in Pennsylvania history.”

    Ground-penetrating radar found what researchers believe is the grave site on land now owned by Amtrak. Excavating there could yield vital clues.

    But the project has stalled while awaiting permission from the rail company to dig near its tracks. The team has been quietly relying on a network of political backers to press Amtrak for the go-ahead. Negotiations are ongoing, but the historians and the railroad remain hopeful.

    Fragments of pottery are exhibited at the museum of Duffy's Cut at Immaculata College in Malvern, Pennsylvania on March 8, 2014. REUTERS/Mark Makela
    “We are optimistic that a plan can be devised allowing safe access to the location for the research team to continue their project while not interfering with railroad operations or compromising anyone’s safety,” Amtrak said in a statement.

    The team began digging in 2004, unearthing tobacco pipe shards and old forks. Those findings alone raised suspicions because, the Watsons said, poor laborers would not have discarded such useful, valuable items.

    Then, in 2009, the team found a human tibia, or shin bone.
  3. Akoya

    Akoya Bronze Member


    With Shovels and Science, a Grim Story Is Told

    Dan Barry

    THIS LAND MARCH 24, 2013

    MALVERN, Pa. — They laid his bones in a bed of Bubble Wrap, with a care beyond what is normally given to fragile things. They double-boxed those bones and carried them last month to the United Parcel Service office on Spruce Street in Philadelphia. Then they printed out the address and paid the fee.

    With that, the remains of a young man were soon soaring over the Atlantic Ocean he had crossed once in a three-masted ship. His name is believed to have been John Ruddy, and he was being returned to the Ireland he had left as a strapping teenage laborer. In 1832.

    His voyage home is the latest turn in the tale of Duffy’s Cut, a wooded patch that is little more than a sylvan blur to those aboard commuter trains rocketing past. It is a mass grave, in fact: the uneasy resting place for dozens of Irish immigrants who died during a cholera epidemic, just weeks after coming to America, as an old song says, to work upon the railway.

    For the last decade, a different kind of rail gang — professors and students, scientists and landscapers — has been digging away at the layers of soil, myth and silence to unearth the unlucky inhabitants of Duffy’s Cut and place them in both historical context and consecrated soil.

    “The first seven bodies were here,” said Bill Watson, 50, pointing to a brown-gray swath of muck as a downpour battered the dead leaves and another train whined past. A history professor at Immaculata University here in Malvern, he is also the de facto foreman of this erudite rail gang.

    “And this is the shanty,” Mr. Watson said, rainwater pouring off the brim of his baseball cap. “This is where the men lived.”

    It begins in late June 1832, when the John Stamp docked in Philadelphia, ending a two-month sail from Derry in northern Ireland. On board were dozens of young Irishmen eager to begin their American climb, bearing the names of Devine, and McIlheaney, and Skelton — and Ruddy, at 18 the youngest.
    Working for a contractor named Duffy, a crew of about 120 men was soon digging through clay and shale to fill the lows and level the highs for a train line. “A sturdy-looking band of the sons of Erin,” a local newspaper called them.

    But an outbreak of cholera caused a Philadelphia panic that hot summer. The disease struck the work site, probably by way of a contaminated creek running past the men’s crude living quarters — their shanty. The local community shunned the sick foreigners, leaving acts of kindness to a few courageous Sisters of Charity who ventured out from Philadelphia.

    When the epidemic subsided, the official account of the sad but unremarkable toll at Track Mile 59, also known as Duffy’s Cut, was eight dead, with the shanty burned down and buried by a humane blacksmith.

    Life continued along its track. Almost immediately, though, there came folkloric whispers of something not right. Glowing apparitions were said to have been seen dancing down at the cut.

    An Irish railroad worker eventually fenced off a spot in the general area, out of respect. Then, in 1909, a midlevel rail official named Martin Clement erected a granite-block enclosure. But his superiors said no to an explanatory plaque, a decision that left generations of hikers to encounter a memorial without context in the middle of the woods.

    Nearly a century passed before serendipity finally blessed Duffy’s Cut.

    Mr. Watson and his twin, Frank, a Lutheran minister, were sorting through family things in 2002 when they took a close look at an old file. It turned out that this Martin Clement, who later became president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, had kept an extensive file on Duffy’s Cut, and that his executive assistant — their grandfather! — had taken the file after the railroad vanished into a merger in the late 1960s.

    These internal records indicated that at least 57 people — not eight — had died at Duffy’s Cut. “Something was off,” Bill Watson said. “It made us dig deeper.”

    Working closely with a handful of passionate colleagues, the Watsons did extensive historical research before creating a rough grid of the site. On a hot August morning in 2004, they began their dig with the help of a few college students, all young men of the same age as those who had come with shovels to these woods nearly 170 years before.

    For months, nothing. Then a pot lid. Then, in November 2005, Bill Watson uncovered the bowl of a clay pipe — the requisite prop for a 19th-century Irish stereotype — adorned with shamrocks and a small harp. Symbols of Ireland.

    “That for us was the holy grail,” Mr. Watson said. “It meant this wasn’t just an urban myth.”

    The hunt-and-peck excavation intensified when the team enlisted the help of Tim Bechtel, a geophysicist. Using ground-penetrating radar and electrical imaging, he scanned the site the way a radiologist would a body, and directed the team to what he called the “anomalies.”

    In March 2009, two students found a tibia, then more. Before long, skull fragments and other remains were laid on a table in a conference room at Immaculata, beneath a crucifix, for an examination by Janet Monge, a physical anthropologist and the curator at the University of Pennsylvania Museum, and Dr. Matt Patterson, a local dentist with training in forensic odontology.

    A muscular man in his late teens, they concluded, who had never developed an upper right first molar — a dental variance that Dr. Patterson called “exceptionally rare.” The skull also had evidence of blunt-force trauma, Dr. Monge said. “He got wonked on the head.”

    The discovery prompted more research and more digging. Over the next two years, six more sets of remains were located, although one had been reduced by the acidic Pennsylvania soil to little more than a stain. Here, for example, was a man beneath a tulip poplar. Another man, nicknamed “the tall guy.” And a woman, who had probably been hired on as a laundress and cook.

    The team also uncovered iron forks and pottery shards, handmade glass buttons and pieces of other clay pipes — and coffin nails. Here was evidence of a shanty community and the burial of caskets, far from any church cemetery.

    Dr. Monge found signs of blunt head trauma in three more sets of remains, as well as a bullet hole in another. For the researchers, these forensic clues, coupled with contemporaneous news accounts, conjure a possible sequence of events in which a few workers escaped from an enforced quarantine, were subdued and killed, then returned in coffins to Duffy’s Cut, where the rest soon died of disease. Then all were buried in an anonymous grave.

    “I actually think it was a massacre,” Dr. Monge said.

    A year ago this month, the remains of four Irishmen and one Irishwoman, 180 years dead, were buried beneath a limestone Celtic cross in a cemetery just outside Philadelphia. The search for their shantytown comrades continues; Mr. Bechtel has already found a “very concentrated anomaly,” 30 feet deep, that the team hopes to excavate sometime this year.

    Meanwhile, research by Dr. Patterson and Dr. Monge found that some Ruddys in County Donegal are known to have a certain dental variance: the absence of an upper right first molar. That fact, coupled with the passenger list from the John Stamp, prompted the decision by the research team to ship back to Ireland the remains of the first victim they had found.

    Three weeks ago, the Watson brothers joined a small crowd gathered in a church cemetery in the small Donegal town of Ardara. They prayed and sang under a limestone sky, as a young laborer, late of Duffy’s Cut, received his delayed but proper burial.

  4. Akoya

    Akoya Bronze Member


    Duffy's Cut: New searches for remains of Irish immigrants
    New searches are under way in the US to try to find the remains of 51 Irish railroad workers who died - or were murdered - in 1832.

    Fifty-seven workers were hired to build a stretch of railway in Pennsylvania known as Duffy's Cut.

    However, within weeks all of them were dead.

    It is thought some died from cholera, while others were murdered by local people who believed the immigrants were spreading the disease.

    They all hailed from counties Tyrone, Donegal and Londonderry.

    Six sets of remains have previously been uncovered and the new searches that are taking place are at what is believed to be the site of a mass grave containing the remaining 51.

    In July, a funeral mass and burial took place at St Patrick's Church in Clonoe, near Coalisland, County Tyrone, for one of the migrants - 29-year-old Catherine Burns.

    Injuries to her skull indicated she had been murdered.

    The new search site is about 50 yards from where the other remains were found.

    Duffy's Cut and its story have been brought to light over the past 12 years by brothers Frank and William Watson, a Lutheran minister and a historian at Immaculata University.

    Dr Frank Watson said the site currently being searched is close to the modern railway line.

    They had to negotiate with Amtrak, the national railroad in the United States, to carry out the dig.

    "What we are conducting now are core samples at the site of what we believe is the mass grave of the remaining 51 labourers at Duffy's Cut," he said.

    "We have core samples being taken between 20 and 30 feet along an area underground that our geophysicist indicated looks like the mass burial place.

    "If we find human remains in these core samples, our intent is to excavate the remains and re-inter them in the United States and Ireland as we have already done with the first six bodies who were buried at the base of the 1832 railroad tracks."

    The new searches are close to a stone memorial wall that was built for the migrants in 1909.

    "That wall replaced an earlier 1872 wooden fence put in place by Irish-American railroaders who wanted to remember those who died at Duffy's Cut," Dr Watson said.

    "Anti-Irish and anti-Catholic sentiment combined with fear of a worldwide cholera pandemic that hit Chester County, Pennsylvania in the summer of 1832, led to the vigilante violence at Duffy's Cut."
  5. Akoya

    Akoya Bronze Member


    Duffy's Cut: Woman murdered in Philadelphia in 1832 reburied in NI
    By Audrey WatsonBBC News NI

    A wake is being held in County Tyrone for a 29-year-old woman who was buried in an unmarked grave in America 183 years ago.

    Catherine Burns, a widow from the village of Clonoe near Coalisland, was murdered in 1832 after arriving in Philadelphia to start a new life.

    Her remains have been returned to Northern Ireland and she will be buried in her native County Tyrone on Sunday.

    The wake in the Washingbay Centre in Clonoe, welcomes Catherine back with music, dance and song.

    "The people of the village have really connected with Catherine and there has been huge interest from parishioners in her story and the story of Irish emigrants," said parish priest, Fr Benny Fee.

    He added that during the wake, historian Damian Woods would speak about that period in Irish history and the background to Catherine and other emigrants' stories.

    "There will be Irish dancing and local singer Oliver Robinson will perform the Christy Moore song Duffy's Cut which was written about the railroad workers.

    "There will be a Requiem Mass for Catherine on 19 July at 12:30 BST at St Patrick's Church in Clonoe and everyone is welcome to attend," added Fr Fee.

    Along with 56 other immigrants from counties Donegal, Tyrone, and Londonderry, Catherine had been hired by fellow Irishman Philip Duffy to build a stretch of railway between Philadelphia and Columbia.

    The stretch, which was part of America's pioneering Pennsylvania railroad, is now known as Duffy's Cut.

    Within six weeks of arriving in Philadelphia, all 57 workers were dead.

    Most were buried anonymously in a mass grave near the shanty town where they lived and worked, but Catherine was among several workers buried separately.

    Officials with the Philadelphia and Columbia railroad never notified the immigrants' families of their deaths.

    It is thought some died from cholera, while others were murdered by local people who believed the immigrants were spreading the disease.

    The story of Catherine Burns highlights the plight of many Irish emigrants who sailed to America. Some were able to make a new life for themselves and their families, but not everyone found that the streets were paved with gold.

    After the death of her husband, Catherine, her father-in-law John Burns, and 68 other people from County Tyrone left Ireland on board the ship John Stamp, all hoping for a better life in the new world.

    "Catherine's story of hopes dashed and dreams shattered is not unique," said Fr Fee.

    "In honouring her homecoming, we are honouring countless other exiles who sailed out of Ireland in the hope of a new life, but who did not find the streets paved with gold."

    This is the second repatriation of remains found at Duffy's Cut, now a wooded area behind suburban homes in the borough of Malvern, about 20 miles west of Philadelphia.

    In 2013, 18-year-old John Ruddy was reburied at Ardara, County Donegal.

    Researchers identified Ruddy from railroad archives, his small bone size and a congenital missing molar that relatives said runs in the family.

    The remaining bones that were exhumed, including Burns' (whose remains were discovered five years ago, but could not be fully identified), were interred at West Laurel Hill cemetery in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, in 2012.

    However, the discovery of further bones, and the fact that Catherine was one of the few female passengers on the John Stamp, led to a positive identification and subsequent repatriation.

    Investigation into what happened to the 57 Irish workers began in 2002, when Malvern's Immaculata University professor Bill Watson, his twin brother Frank, a Lutheran minister, and fellow Immaculata professor Earl Schandelmeier, began the Duffy's Cut archival and research project.

    Bill, Frank and Earl accompanied Catherine on her journey home to County Tyrone and will attend the wake and the funeral in Clonoe.

    It is their mission, he said, "to make the recovery of the rest of the Irish labourers buried there possible, and to tell the full story of those who lost their lives helping to build America".

    Writing on the Duffy's Cut website, Bill Watson said: "We believe Catherine was murdered in an attempt to contain the cholera epidemic, which locals believed was being spread by the immigrant railroad workers.

    "Her skull shows massive perimortem violence by means of a sharp implement which would have caused her death."

    He added: "The workers were a convenient scapegoat for the community, which did not understand the cause of the disease.

    "All of the bodies we have excavated were healthy and showed no sign of defensive wounds which indicates that they may have been bound.

    "One man died from being shot in the head after being struck by with an axe."

    He also said the coffins were sealed with a large number of nails - averaging more than 100 - to prevent them from being opened.

    In the Clonoe parish bulletin, Fr Fee wrote: "Les Miserables is a great musical and my favourite song in it is, Bring Him Home.

    "These days I find myself humming that tune because the parish is not bringing him home, they are bringing her, Catherine, home."
    spike likes this.
  6. Akoya

    Akoya Bronze Member


    Grandfather's ghost story leads to mysterious mass grave

    By Meghan Rafferty, CNN
    August 24, 2010 5:28 p.m. EDT

    • Former railroad worker told ghost story every Thanksgiving
    • He left a box of documents to one of his grandsons
    • Brothers followed clues, discovered mass grave in Philadelphia suburb
    • Experts are checking remains for signs of foul play

    Malvern, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- "This is a mass grave," Bill Watson said as he led the way through the thick Pennsylvania woods in a suburb about 30 miles from Philadelphia.

    "Duffy's Cut," as it's now called, is a short walk from a suburban cul-de-sac in Malvern, an affluent town off the fabled Main Line. Twin brothers Bill and Frank Watson believe 57 Irish immigrants met violent deaths there after a cholera epidemic struck in 1832.

    They suspect foul play.

    "This is a murder mystery from 178 years ago, and it's finally coming to the light of day," Frank Watson said.

    The brothers first heard about Duffy's Cut from their grandfather, a railroad worker, who told the ghost story to his family every Thanksgiving. According to local legend, memorialized in a file kept by the Pennsylvania Railroad, a man walking home from a tavern reported seeing blue and green ghosts dancing in the mist on a warm September night in 1909.

    "I saw with my own eyes, the ghosts of the Irishmen who died with the cholera a month ago, a-dancing around the big trench where they were buried; it's true, mister, it was awful," the documents quote the unnamed man as saying. "Why, they looked as if they were a kind of green and blue fire and they were a-hopping and bobbing on their graves... I had heard the Irishmen were haunting the place because they were buried without the benefit of clergy."

    When Frank inherited the file of his grandfather's old railroad papers, the brothers began to believe the ghost stories were real. They suspected that the files contained clues to the location of a mass grave.

    "One of the pieces of correspondence in this file told us 'X marks the spot,'" said Frank. He added that the document suggested that the men "were buried where they were making the fill, which is the original railroad bridge."

    In 2002, the brothers began digging and searching. They found forks and remnants of a shanty and, in 2005, what Bill Watson calls the "Holy Grail" -- a pipe with an Irish flag on it.

    They knew they were close, but Bill said they knew they needed "hard science" to get them to the next step.

    The science came from Tim Bechtel, a geophysicist, who learned about the project from a colleague at the University of Pennsylvania who had heard the Watson brothers speak. The friend knew Bechtel could provide the missing link in the brothers' excavation efforts.

    Bechtel's work included earth scans, which can help detect what's underground without digging or drilling.

    By shooting electrical current through the slope, Bechtel said he learned there were "oddball areas" or places where the current wouldn't pass through. "We saw areas in the slope that were very electrically resistant," Bechtel recalled.

    This was an initial indicator something might lie beneath the surface. After further digging, Bechtel and the Watsons detected "air bubbles above the coffins," he said.

    Bechtel helped pinpoint key areas to dig and on March 20, 2009, Bill Watson said the team made a startling discovery.

    "One of my students came running over at about 2 in the afternoon with something that was a clearly discernable human bone," Bechtel said.

    It was just the beginning of the many puzzle pieces to surface at Duffy's Cut. The pieces led them to suspect that something other than cholera was responsible for the deaths.

    A teeny weenie little fragment like that is so chock full of information," said Janet Monge, holding up a jawbone and teeth found at the Duffy's Cut site. She believes the teeth, because of their irregularities, could someday be linked through DNA to living descendents of the men unearthed at the dig site.

    Monge, an anthropologist at the University of Pennsylvania, joined the forensics team when Bechtel looked her up in the campus directory and asked for help separating the human bones from any animal bones.

    Since then, Monge has collected bones from seven skeletons unearthed at Duffy's Cut, including four skulls. The trays and containers of bones occupy a long, wide table in the back of a lecture room at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia.

    Poring over the bones with her green spectacles sitting low on her nose, Monge said she has focused her attention on the skulls, adding that they have provided crucial clues to what might have killed the Irishmen at Duffy's Cut.

    "This skull has a little divot on what would have been the side bone of the skull," she said, holding it up. "That little divot is something that didn't happen when they excavated it out of the ground."

    With just one divot on one skull, she was reluctant to jump to conclusions. But as more skulls surfaced, a pattern started to form. Holding the second skull, Monge said with confidence: "This person was clunked on the head at around the time of death."

    Two weeks ago, a new piece of evidence came up from the ground at Duffy's Cut: A skull with a perforation that could be a bullet hole. "In fact, we can see some nice cracked edges that do look very much like a bullet hole," Monge observed.

    Monge and the team will soon test the skull for the presence of lead. The source could be a bullet or an ax. Either way, she said, "If they had cholera, it didn't kill them. I would say something else killed them, but they might have had cholera, too."

    Why is the mystery so important to the team?

    "It could have been us," Bill Watson said. "These guys came over here with nothing, looking for the American dream like countless people have done. They thought they were going to make it and within six weeks of arrival they're literally buried in the fill here."

    Although they have unearthed seven individual's remains, the Duffy's Cut team labors on to find the 50 more they believe are still underneath the surface.

    The brothers said their goal is to preserve the memory of the Irish workers and to put the story in textbooks, to be remembered for years to come.

    "It's a story that transcends nations, transcends history in a sense. It's the story you hear of workers that were exploited anywhere in the world," Frank Watson said.

    "How do we treat our employees? How do we treat people who immigrate for a new life? Every human being deserves to be remembered."
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  7. Akoya

    Akoya Bronze Member


    Nearby is the mass grave of fifty-seven Irish immigrant workers who died in August, 1832, of cholera. They had recently arrived in the United States and were employed by a construction contractor, named Duffy, for the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad. Prejudice against Irish Catholics contributed to the denial of care to the workers. Their illness and death typified the hazards faced by many 19th century immigrant industrial workers. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission © 2004

    Duffy's Cut is the name given to a stretch of railroad tracks about 30 miles west of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania originally built for the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad, which later became part of the Pennsylvania Railroad's Main Line. In June, 1832, a contractor and fellow Irishman named Philip Duffy hired a group of 57 Irish immigrants to lay this line through the area's densely wooded hills and ravines.


    The workers came to Philadelphia from the Ulster counties of Donegal, Tyrone, and Derry to work in Pennsylvania's developing railroad industry. Less than two months after their arrival, all 57 are believed to have died during the second cholera pandemic. While most died of the disease, forensic evidence suggest that some may have been murdered, perhaps due to fear of cholera in the area and surrounding counties. They were buried anonymously in a ditch outside of Malvern.

    The Duffy’s Cut Project began undergoing archaeological excavation in August of 2004 by a research team headed by Dr. William Watson from Immaculata University, Rev. Dr. Frank Watson, Earl Schandelmeier and John Ahtes (who passed away in 2010). The team took on the momentous task of archival and archaeological search into the life and death of the forgotten men of Duffy's Cut. Seeking to provide insight into early 19th Century attitudes about industry, immigration, and disease in Pennsylvania. On March 20, 2009, the first human bones were unearthed, consisting of two skulls, six teeth and eighty other bones.

    With the help of the Chester County Emerald Society, we obtained an official State Historical Marker for the site in March, 2004, thereby putting Duffy’s Cut on the map of history. The marker was dedicated on June 18, 2004, and was placed by us at the intersection of King Road and Sugartown Road in Malvern.

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    John Ruddy killed while building Pennsylvania railroad in 1832 ...

    Daily Mail
    Life: The men lived in a shantytown by the rails in current-day Malvern


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    36 Sugar Ridge Ln, Malvern, PA 19355
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    36 Sugar Ridge Ln, Malvern, PA

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    Smithsonian Magazine
    In the 19th century, thousands of immigrants labored to build the infrastructure of the nation in poor conditions.

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    Skull with hole found at Duffy's Cut site


    Funeral for five of the exploited "Duffy's Cut" railroad laborers

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    Blood on the tracks: Were 50 Irish immigrants murdered in Philadelphia in 1832?

    Saturday, May 10, 2014
    By Bette Browne
    More than 50 Irish immigrants may have been murdered in 1832 in Philadelphia. Bette Browne reports on the excavation of a mass grave to find out what happened in the forgotten massacre

    On a stretch of US railroad near Philadelphia lies a dark secret from America’s past, entombed with the remains of over 50 Irish immigrants.

    It hints at cruelty, betrayal and unspeakable violence but now a breakthrough could mean the long search for answers may be reaching the endgame and the chilling conclusion that many of the immigrants were killed in a massacre.

    The breakthrough will allow excavation to resume at the mass grave near tracks now belonging to Amtrak, the US rail company. The company’s safety concerns had stalled the project for the last two years after the excavation of the remains of seven bodies.

    But now permission will be given for the excavation project to resume its search later this year for the remaining 50 bodies.

    “This is something that we have been working on for two years and now — touch on wood — it’s going ahead,” one of the leaders of the project, historian Bill Watson, said in a telephone interview from Pennsylvania’s Immaculata University, which is just a few miles from the site of the tragedy at Duffy’s Cut near the town of Malvern.

    “We’re looking at 57 altogether and if there are signs of violence on all of the remains it would be the worst mass murder in Pennsylvania history and perhaps even in American history,” said Watson, who began the project 12 year ago.

    The seven bodies already excavated have been examined by Dr Janet Monge, a forensic anthropologist and the curator at the University Of Pennsylvania Museum, who has worked on the investigation for over a decade and has come to a shocking conclusion.

    “I would have to say that it was actually a massacre,” she said in a telephone interview from the university.

    “Seven were excavated but in various stages of preservation. Of the five we were really able to examine, they all showed signs essentially of wounds. The preponderance of evidence is that they met a violent death. We have evidence of blunt force trauma, evidence of sharp force trauma and we even have evidence of bullet holes.”

    She explained her conclusion like this: “So many things can happen to bones from the time a person dies to the time they’re retrieved that you can definitely misconstrue parts of the damage to the bone. So if we had a situation where we had just one skeleton, I would be inclined to very hesitantly say it’s possible that these people died under these circumstances, but as we pulled out more of the bones it became more and more clear that all of these individuals had died under similar circumstances.

    “The probability of this happening randomly to every single skeleton that was extracted is probably nil. So it’s not just that a single bone showed evidence of violence, it’s all of them that came from the excavation showed it and that makes me draw the conclusion that something happened there that was worth covering up and I would have to say it was actually a massacre.”

    The story of this tragedy began 182 years ago when 57 young Irish immigrants set out from Derry on board the British ship John Stamp, bound for Philadelphia and the promise of a better life.

    Most of them had come from Donegal, Derry and Tyrone. The passenger manifest lists young men like William Devine, aged 21, George Quigley, aged 22, and 18-year-old John Ruddy. There were some women on board too, among them Eliza Byrnes, aged 22, and 20-year-old Eliza Diven (spelling from manifest).

    That April morning as they set sail, the heartbreak of the young group of immigrants may have been tempered by a degree of adventure, fuelled by stories of the money to be made building railroads in the New World.

    And sure enough, two months later, on 23 June 1832, when the John Stamp docked in Philadelphia one of their own, an Irish contractor named Philip Duffy, was waiting for the immigrants and as they came ashore he offered them jobs.

    Duffy had been contracted by the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad to build a section of track called Mile 59, which later became known as Duffy’s Cut. The job offers must have seemed like manna from heaven after the gruelling two-month journey across the Atlantic.

    But what awaited these young immigrants on the Pennsylvania railroad that summer of 1832 turned out to be a gruesome kind of hell. Within six weeks all of them were dead.

    It was said they had all died when cholera swept through their shanty town, but over time darker stories began to surface that many had been murdered by local vigilantes who feared either the spread of the disease or the foreigners themselves.

    For Bill Watson and the other members of the excavation project, forensic evidence suggest a series of events in which a few workers escaped from an enforced quarantine, were caught and killed and then buried near Duffy’s Cut.

    “The mile of track where this work was taking place was where a local vigilante group, the East Whiteland Horse company, operated,” Bill Watson explains.

    “We suspect when cholera hit that quarantine was set up around the valley and was enforced by the vigilantes around the camp at Duffy’s Cut. The most likely scenario is that the workers had been isolated because of the cholera outbreak but some of them broke quarantine and were killed.”

    Their bodies were dumped in a mass grave near the stretch of railroad where they had so briefly worked. The railroad company that had hired them never informed their families of what had happened and their mass grave remained unmarked.

    Some years later an Irish railroad worker, who had heard fragments of the story, fenced off a spot in the general area of the grave as a mark of respect for his dead compatriots.

    The fenced-off spot remained thus for over 70 years until 1909 when a rail official named Martin Clement, who later became president of the then Pennsylvania Railroad, was assigned by the company to investigate the case.

    Whatever Clement discovered, however, remained secret. He did erect a granite-block enclosure, but no explanatory plaque was placed at the spot.

    The secret would remain untold until another century dawned and the first rays of light began to be cast on the case in 2002 after the death of Clement’s assistant, a man named Joseph Tripican.

    Tripican was also the grandfather of Bill Watson and his brother Frank, a Lutheran minister, and one morning in 2002 when the Watsons were going through their grandfather’s papers they made a dramatic discovery.

    Among the papers, they found the file on Clement’s 1909 investigation that their grandfather had taken home with him after the company went bankrupt in 1970.These company records indicated that at least 57 people — not eight — had died at Duffy’s Cut.

    “The file included press clippings from 1832 which said that while cholera hit hard in many areas in Philadelphia in July and hit Duffy’s Cut in August there had been only eight or nine deaths there. Newspapers were very accurate in recording cholera deaths to help contain epidemics. But Clement’s investigation put the number of dead at 57,” says Bill Watson.

    The Watsons suspected a possible cover-up and decided to investigate the case themselves.

    Two years later, on June 18, 2004, the brothers attended the dedication of first plaque erected at the site. The text of the Pennsylvania state historical marker reads, “Nearby is the mass grave of 57 Irish immigrant workers who died in August, 1832, of cholera. They had recently arrived in the United States and were employed by a construction contractor, named Duffy, for the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad. Prejudice against Irish Catholics contributed to the denial of care to the workers. Their illness and death typified the hazards faced by many 19th century immigrant industrial workers.”

    But the Watsons remained convinced that cholera was only part of the story and intensified their investigation. Soon their determination began to pay off.

    In 2005, the brothers found what Bill Watson called the holy grail. “I found an Erin go Bragh pipe stem at the site in November 2005. Frank found pieces of a bowl that has shamrocks and harps on it and we found the stem of a pipe that has Derry stamped on it, the port of departure of the ship.”

    They suspected they must be close to the bodies but they also knew they needed scientific expertise, so geophysicist Tim Bechtel agreed to join the project. That would become a turning point.

    Using ground-penetrating radar and electrical imaging, Bechtel helped to pinpoint key areas to dig for the bodies and on March 20, 2009, the team made a discovery that stunned them — they found a human shin bone.

    More discoveries followed. Fragments of skulls and more bones were found and over the next two years they would find the remains of six men and one woman.

    “No one had told me to anticipate finding the remains of a woman at the site. It made me feel good when I discovered this new information,” says Dr Monge. “We found six bodies. One was just a stain with the outline of a human being.”

    Bill Watson said the work camps usually had a washerwoman and a cook and the body of the woman is possibly Eliza Byrnes [listed as passenger 42 on the manifest] or Eliza Diven [listed as passenger 34].
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    Bill Watson said the work camps usually had a washerwoman and a cook and the body of the woman is possibly Eliza Byrnes [listed as passenger 42 on the manifest] or Eliza Diven [listed as passenger 34].

    On March 9, 2012, at a moving ceremony at West Laurel Hill cemetery in Bala Cynwyd, near Philadelphia, five small pine coffins with the remains of four men and one woman found at Duffy’s Cut were laid to rest beneath a 10-foot high Celtic cross. Each had a rose on top — yellow for the men, white for thewoman.

    One year later, on March 2, 2013, the sixth body unearthed at the site was taken to Ireland for burial in Ardara, Co Donegal. It was that of 18-year-old John Ruddy, who had ultimately been identified through ship records and a dental anomaly — a missing upper molar that runs in the family.

    Ruddys in Ireland contacted Bill Watson after reading about the discovery and a family member donated DNA for tests to be conducted. Subsequently, Ruddy’s remains were the first-found set of remains from Duffy’s Cut in 2009 which were positively identified.

    And now, the search for the final 50 bodies of these Irish immigrants resumes with the go-ahead for excavation. “If we can find these remains, we’ll know whether this was a huge mass murder or just part of the crew that was killed,” Bill Watson says.

    “Janet [Dr Monge] will be doing a lot of the forensic analysis and that will take some time. We also hope to have DNA done so we can find living descendants. So there’s a lot of work still to be done.”

    Dr Monge is not certain what new stories she will find. “Would looking at the remaining 50 be more convincing versus looking at the sub sample? Do we need 50-plus of them showing evidence of trauma in order to convince us that this [a massacre] was the case.

    “I’m interested in immigrant experience in the US. This is a particular case of an Irish tragedy, an Irish immigration tragedy, but these tragedies play out across all immigrant populations in the US in different forms and it’s a story which needs to be told. All of these people were instrumental in building this country. We decided that it would be worth it for our own understanding of the site.”

    For Bill Watson, understanding and empathy are the main motivators that have driven the research team.

    “It could have been us,” he said. “These guys came over here with nothing, looking for the American dream like countless people have done. They thought they were going to make it and within six weeks of arrival they were dead.

    “The cholera outbreak had already started before the Irish arrived.

    “The disease struck the work site probably because of water from a contaminated creek running past the camp site. The Irish couldn’t have brought the cholera with them but they were all blamed for it in the anti-immigrant ‘Nativist’ spirit of the times.

    “It would also have been bad for Duffy if the word got out of what had happened because he couldn’t recruit more people back in Ireland to come and work for him. So everyone kept it quiet.”

    Certainly there is no evidence that Duffy’s career suffered. Philip Duffy died in Philadelphia in 1871 at the age of 88, after a long career with the railroad.

    Bill Watson believes there may be other similar stories of violence that happened in Pennsylvania during the cholera epidemic of 1832.

    “This is the springboard for a lot of activity we are going to be undertaking over the next couple of years. I don’t think this is a unique story, unfortunately. I think it’s one of those rare stories than can be recovered.

    “We know of two other mass graves that we intend to explore when we’re done with Duffy’s Cut, also with Irish workers in them. There’s no obfuscation or hiding of records or anything like we had with the story of Duffy’s Cut in those cases.

    “One grave is in Downingtown, [about 30 miles west of Philadelphia], and one is in a place called Spring City, [about 30 miles north of Philadelphia].

    “Then there is the site of Mile 48 of the railroad [Duffy’s cut is Mile 59]. There was an Irish contractor there named Peter Connor and his entire crew died as well in the epidemic of 1832 and we suspect the violence we found on those at Duffy’s cut is not going to be unique.

    “These guys were highly expendable. They cost a quarter a day [25 US cents]. They could be worked literally to death and no one would care.

    “Everyone involved in this knows it could have been us but for time and circumstances. My paternal grandmother’s side was Irish named Donnelly, so it could have been me. It could have been my son.”


    April 1832: The John Stamp sails from Derry with the immigrant group of 57, plus 103 other passengers

    June 1832: Ship docks at Philadelphia

    July/August 1832: Cholera outbreak near Philadelphia. 57 Irish immigrant workers die

    Circa 1840: Mass grave fenced off by Irish rail worker

    1909: Deaths investigated by Martin Clement

    Granite block enclosure erected around mass grave but no explanatory plaque

    2002: Clement’s investigation file discovered by Watson brothers

    2004: Pennsylvania state historical marker dedicated near the site

    2005: Irish artefacts found at site

    2009: Human shin bone found, then other remains

    2009-2011: Six sets of human remains and one human stain found

    Forensic analysis shows signs of violent death. Evidence of bullet holes

    2012: Remains of six bodies buried in West Laurel Hill cemetery, Pennsylvania

    2013: John Ruddy’s remains repatriated and buried in Ardara, Co Donegal

    2014: Final phase of search for remaining 50 bodies gets go-ahead to resume


    Partial list of 16 of the 57 passengers who sailed from Derry on board the John Stamp in April 1832 and landed in Philadelphia in June 1832. They and 41 others, as yet unidentified, died at Duffy’s Cut, near Philadelphia, six weeks later in a suspected massacre:


    George Doherty, age 28 from Donegal

    John Ruddy, age 18 from Donegal

    William Putetill, age 20 from Donegal

    William Devine, age 21 from Donegal (transcribed as Miriam in the original manifest; this is possibly William)

    James Deveney, age 26 from Tyrone

    Daniel McCahill, age 25 from Donegal

    Bernie McGarty, age 20 from Donegal

    David Patchill, age 20 from Donegal

    Robert Skelton, age 20 from Donegal

    Patrick McAnamy, age 20 from Tyrone

    Bernard McIlheaney, age 23 from Donegal

    George Quigly, age 22 from Donegal

    Samuel Forbes, age 23 from Tyrone

    John McClone, age 25 from Derry

    John McClanon, age 24 from Derry

    Female identified as possibly

    Catherine/Eliza Byrnes, age 22 from Tyrone


    Elizabeth/Eliza Diven, age 20 from Donegal

    Based on passenger manifest from John Stamp, transcribed by the Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild, and information from historian Bill Watson

    © Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved
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    An Echo Through Time: The Lost Irishmen of Duffy’s Cut
    Posted By Lori Lander Murphy on Aug 20, 2010


    A hole in the back of this skull is being carefully examined.

    On April 13, 1832, the John Stamp set sail from Ireland bound for Philadelphia. Among the passengers were a group of young laborers, men between the ages of 18 and 30, set to work upon a track of railroad known as mile 59 in what is now Malvern, PA. Within two months of their June 23rd arrival, they would all be dead, buried anonymously and without ceremony, in a mass grave in Duffy’s Cut.

    For over 170 years, these men, 57 in all, were lost to history.

    Local archeologists Frank and Bill Watson, along with their dedicated team, have found them.

    It’s a still unfolding tale ready-made for “History’s Mysteries:” Irish immigrants, prejudice, cholera, murder, cover-ups, secret files, ghosts and 21st century technology.

    My visit to the Duffy’s Cut site came just a little over a month after the discovery of two more bodies, identified as Skeleton #6 and Skeleton #7. This is exciting stuff, with #6 almost in its entirety, only the right arm and ribs lost to decay. They know the man was very tall for his day, about 5’8, and around 30 years of age. His wisdom tooth, which was intact, will be sent off for DNA testing.

    Skeleton #7, on the other hand, was a much shorter man, around 5’2. But his skull tells a very big story: the crack shows he was hit on the head, and there’s a hole in the back that is being examined very carefully by Janet Monge, Adjunct Associate Professor in the University of Pennsylvania’s Archeology Department. It’s presumed to be a bullet hole.

    What has become increasingly clear is that these Irish immigrants did not all die from the cholera that attacked them; at least some of them were murdered because of fears they would spread the disease, and because they were considered dispensable.

    Cholera in the 1830’s was a source of mass hysteria in communities. Its cause was unknown then, but it would have been communicated by contaminated drinking water. It killed about 30-40% of its victims, so the 100% mortality rate at Duffy’s Cut has always been suspect.

    The surrounding community would have been afraid of the outbreak spreading from the railroad workers to the general population, and the men would have been quarantined to their site. They would have been turned away from any homes they approached for help.

    However, it’s known that they did receive care from a local blacksmith, tentatively identified as MalachI Harris, and four nuns from The Sisters of Charity.

    Seven men attempted to escape from the site, but were hunted down by The East Whiteland Horse Company, a group of farmers acting as local vigilantes whose mission was “to track down horse thieves and other breakers of the law.” Those seven men are the only ones to have been provided coffins before their burials; coffins that have mostly disintegrated due to time and the particular composition of the local soil.

    “When we first started the dig at the site, there was no sign of life here. Nothing. And now, living creatures are coming back,” Frank Watson, who has a Ph.D. in historical theology, said as we watched a beautiful blue butterfly hovering for several minutes, flitting from one place to another almost as a guide to what discovery will be made next.

    It was the file that Frank inherited from his grandfather, Joseph F. Tripician, that was the key to discovering these men. “Our grandfather was the personal assistant to four different presidents at what was The Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad. He was an immigrant from Sicily, who worked his way up.“

    Since the 1830’s folktales and ghost stories had circulated locally about the deaths of the railroad workers. One tale, recorded in an area newspaper in the 1880’s, told of a man walking by Duffy’s Cut in the fall of 1832 (on the way home from the pub), who saw Irishmen dancing on graves. In 1909, there was a railroad marker placed there, but without details.

    In other words, an urban legend with no corroborating evidence.

    Except for the detailed documents that were hidden away in the secret file kept by each of the presidents of the P&C Railroad, amassed and passed down over a period of 100 plus years. The file began with information from the time of Philip Duffy, the man who was charged with the building of the railroad, and the man who was cited in an 1829 issue of the “American Republic” as “prosecuting his Herculean task with a sturdy looking band of the sons of Erin.”

    These documents revealed beyond a shadow of a doubt the existence of a mass unmarked grave along mile 59.

    The last president that Tripician worked for was Martin W. Clement, who died in 1966. It was Clement who had the 1909 marker erected at the site, and who actively worked to acquire a lot of the information stored in the file. In 1968, when the railroad was bought out two years after Clement‘s death, Tripician ended up with the file. And after his death, his grandson Frank Watson inherited it.

    In 2002, Frank and his brother Bill, who is Professor and Chair of History at Immaculata College, were finally sorting through their grandfather’s papers, and Frank pulled out the file. Reading through it, they were struck by what they found there, including the account of the dancing Irish ghosts; two years before, Bill and his piping buddy Thomas Conner had experienced the same phenomenon on the campus of Immaculata College. The college is located about one mile west of Duffy’s Cut.

    That was the start of The Project. They began assembling a team that now includes geophysicist Timothy Bechtel and forensic dentist Dr. Matt Patterson. Dr. Janet Monge and Samantha Cox from The University of Pennsylvania are key to “cracking the whip in terms of archeology.” Immaculata College has supported them, even providing the insurance and a grant this summer that has paid for new tools and food for the volunteer crew. Norman Goodman, a former deputy coroner from Chester County, has pledged to help obtain death certificates for the men. East Whiteland Township, as well as the residents of the development surrounding Duffy’s Cut, have all been cooperative. Former students like Robert Frank, Patrick Barry (Frank and Barry found the first bone) and Earl Schandelmier have stayed with the project beyond graduation from Immaculata.

    As the momentum has built over the past few years, following the initial discovery of artifacts like a Derry pipe stem and a bowl marked with a harp flag and the words “Flag of Ireland,” the story has garnered international attention. Tile Films in Dublin began filming the dig, and when the documentary aired on RTE in 2007, it was one of the highest rated programs in Irish history. They sold the rights to the Smithsonian for broadcast in the U.S., and continue to film as the story unfolds. They were onsite when Skeletons #6 & #7 were uncovered.

    “The story of Duffy’s Cut has gathered a huge amount of interest in Ireland,“ Frank explained. “We’ve done a lot of radio interviews. “

    In fact, it was because of one of the radio interviews that the body of John Ruddy was able to be positively identified. He was the first man discovered, in March of 2009, and with a very distinctive dental characteristic: he was missing his right front molar. Missing in the sense that he never had one. After hearing about the genetic quirk on the radio, members of the Ruddy family still living in County Donegal (where the ship’s manifesto revealed John had been from) contacted the Watsons and told them that many members of their family are also missing their right front molar. And, they offered to pay for their DNA testing in order to provide a definitive match.

    The fascination that Duffy’s Cut holds is in large part due to the sense of a great injustice finally being righted. According to information revealed in the file, the extreme lengths that the railroad company went to in suppressing the story continued for well over a century. In 1927, local reporter Royal Shunk sent a letter to a clerk at the railroad thanking him for the loan of a file in conjunction with an article Shunk was writing for a local paper. The story never appeared, most likely suppressed when higher-ups got wind of it.

    A diary kept by the daughter of local militiaman and 1832 local cholera victim, Lt. William Ogden, was noted in the file as having information pertaining to the death of the men. The diary disappeared sometime after the death of the last sister in 1913.

    As recently as four years ago, an unofficial and unauthorized visitor to the site tried to convince the Watsons that they didn’t have the proper authorization to continue with their excavation. Completely untrue, as the brothers have gone to extraordinary lengths to insure that every i is dotted, and every t is crossed.

    So, when Christy Moore recorded the song “Duffy’s Cut” written by Wally Page and Tony Boylan, on his 2009 album, “Listen,” Frank Watson sent him a message telling him how much the song meant.

    The men, who were once victims of the kind of injustice that history is peppered with, are now the stuff of legend. It’s been a long time coming, but it’s an amends that could never have been made without the advances in technology available today, as well as the unique set of circumstances that put The Duffy’s Cut file in the hands of the Watson Brothers.

    As Bill Watson said, “It’s like an echo through time. There was something so right about removing those men. They weren’t meant to die here.”
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    Remains of Irish woman mysteriously killed in U.S. in 1832 headed home

    PHILADELPHIA -- Bone fragments from an Irish woman mysteriously killed while working for a Pennsylvania railroad in 1832 will be reburied in her native land this summer, historians said Tuesday.

    Skeletal remains of the immigrant believed to be Catherine Burns were unearthed six years ago near train tracks outside Philadelphia. She was among 57 Irish laborers who died while building a section of railway known as Duffy's Cut.

    Most are in a mass grave, but Burns was among several buried apart from it. Her bones were reinterred at a nearby cemetery in 2012, but the recent discovery of two more fragments led researchers to plan a funeral in Burns' native County Tyrone in Northern Ireland.

    The Rev. Benny Fee, who will lead the service July 19 at St. Patrick's Church in Clonoe, said he was touched by Burns' story. Historians believe the 29-year-old widow left Ireland in search of a better life, only to be killed six weeks after arriving in the United States.

    "She came from a poorer Ireland and time than we enjoy today, so let us who have so much now, let us be generous to her even in death," Fee wrote in an email Tuesday.

    It's the second repatriation of remains found at Duffy's Cut, now a woodsy area behind suburban homes in Malvern, about 20 miles west of Philadelphia.

    For more than a decade, Immaculata University professor Bill Watson and his twin brother, Frank Watson, have led a volunteer team trying to uncover what happened to the workers from Donegal, Tyrone and Derry. Officials with the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad never notified the immigrants' families of their deaths.

    The Watsons believe many died of cholera and were dumped in a mass grave at the shantytown where they lived and worked.

    But they also theorized - based on mortality statistics, newspaper accounts and internal railroad company documents - that some were killed by local vigilantes because of ethnic hatred or fear of the disease. A CBS Philadelphia report in 2011 revealed investigators unearthed new evidence indicating that some of the immigrants were murdered. Seven bodies showed signs of being shot or having their skulls shattered by blunt objects.

    Those immigrants, including Burns and a man believed to be 18-year-old John Ruddy, were found buried separately.

    Researchers tentatively identified Ruddy partly based on railroad archives, his small bone size and a congenital missing molar that relatives said runs in the family. In 2013, team members traveled to Donegal to rebury him. DNA tests are pending.

    The remaining bones exhumed at Duffy's Cut, including Burns', were interred at West Laurel Hill cemetery in Bala Cynwyd in 2012. The team was not confident of Burns' identity at the time, but William Watson said they have been convinced by further study.

    In the fall, researchers reopened the box containing items found at Burns' original gravesite - such as coffin shards and nails - and noticed two bone fragments about the size of fingernails. Now in a vial on Watson's desk, the remains are being treated like a reliquary, he said.

    They haven't been able to find relatives because they don't know Burns' maiden name. Still, repatriation seemed like the right thing to do.

    "It's the symbolism of it," he said. "We would want someone to do that for us."

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