Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Cannon Fodder of the Industrial Revolution: Death on the Pennsylvania Railroad

Over 180 years ago, in 1832, from the port of Derry in Northwest Ireland, tens of thousands of Irish fled the famine, disease, and violence of their homeland in pursuit of the American Dream. Railroad contractor, Philip Duffy, hired 57 of these Irish immigrants to lay railroad tracks between Malvern and Frazer, Pennsylvania: Mile 59, in what would become the Philadelphia to Pittsburgh Mainline, a site that would become known as Duffy’s Cut. But, less than two months after their arrival, all 57 were dead, their bodies buried in an unmarked mass grave, their disappearance covered up by powerful forces. Did they all die -- as was widely believed -- due to a cholera pandemic? Or, were some of them murdered?

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.
Using a combination of modern forensics and old-fashioned detective work, twin brothers, Immaculata University Professor Bill and Rev. Frank Watson exposed the truth behind the deaths of these 57 Irish railroad workers.

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