According to Immaculata University’s website (which sponsored the Duffy’s Cut project):
“In 1832, a group of 57 Irish immigrants from Donegal, Tyrone, and Derry arrived in Philadelphia. They were brought to Chester County by a fellow Irishman named Philip Duffy as laborers for the construction of the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad, Pennsylvania’s pioneering railroad. Within six weeks, all were dead of cholera and possibly violence, and were buried anonymously in a ditch outside of Malvern.”
Malvern, a western suburb of Philadelphia (in East Whiteland township, as indicated on the memorial), has very hilly terrain and at the time was densely wooded. Immigrant workers were brought in since the work was very dangerous. There was extreme prejudice against any kind of immigrants and so these people were treated as expendable resources by the railroad companies. Some of the 57 workers died of cholera (they would have received no medical care from their employer, the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad) and some were murdered. Phillip Duffy’s blacksmith buried all 57 workers in a shallow ditch beside the railroad bed.
According to the article “The Deaths at Duffy's Cut: Cholera or Cover-up?” (crimelibrary.com), “Between the summer of 1832 and the spring of 1833 a cholera epidemic ravaged the east coast of the U.S. At its worst, the disease killed as many as 80 people a day in Philadelphia…” Some have hypothesized “that local vigilantes, spurred by a blend of anti-Irish, anti-Catholic bigotry and fear of a deadly epidemic, may have murdered many of the Irish workers.” Locals have claimed to have seen the workers’ ghosts dancing on their own mass grave and paranormal investigations have even occurred. As far back as 1909 newspapers reported people seeing specters “as if they were a kind of green and blue fire and they were a-hopping and bobbing on their graves...” (ref.)
Official records of the deaths at Duffy’s Cut remained locked in the vaults of the Pennsylvania Railroad, the company which evolved from the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad. The records were found by accident by Reverend Dr. Frank Watson when the company went bankrupt in 1970. Watson’s brother William was a Professor of History at Immaculata University (which is located near Malvern, PA). Their grandfather had actually worked for the railroad and would tell them stories of the ghosts of Irishmen who danced on the graves alongside the railroad tracks in Malvern. After the grandfather’s death, the Watsons found the original records. Then they went digging – literally.
|William Watson at the Duffy's Cut site in Malvern, PA (ref.)|
Laid to Rest in West Laurel Hill Cemetery
|Funeral for five of the exploited "Duffy's Cut" railroad laborers|
Click here to watch the YouTube video of the memorial ceremony at West Laurel Hill Cemetery: Duffy's Cut viewing, memorial service and burial in West Laurel Hill Cemetery.Wikipedia:
“On March 9, 2012, the remains of five men and one woman from those who died at Duffy's Cut Shanty Town were laid to rest in a respectable church burial at West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania. The men and woman were unearthed by researchers from Immaculata University at the location of the Shanty Town near an Amtrak railroad line in Pennsylvania. A sixth body was recovered and identified as John Ruddy from Inishowen, County Donegal; his remains were returned to Ireland for reburial there. Excavation of the deep burial site was halted when Amtrak, which owns the land, would not issue permits for additional digging because of the site's proximity to the railroad tracks."
|Monument at West Laurel Hill, shortly after dedication|
|Buy from Amazon.com|
References and Further Reading:
For the most comprehensive account of the Duffy’s Cut deaths: The Deaths at Duffy's Cut: Cholera or Cover-up?
Images from the PBS documentary, "Death on the Railroad"
The Duffy's Cut Project on the Immaculata University website
The Ghosts of Duffy’s cut YouTube video (RTE documentary)
New York Times article: With Shovels and Science, a Grim Story Is Told
West Laurel Hill Cemetery website
West Laurel Hill Cemetery Honors Irish Railroad Workers of Duffy’s Cut with One Year Memorial Service
Long-forgotten dead of Duffy's Cut get proper rites