Someone was kind enough to gift me old photos. These are Immaculata views 1970s.
Someone was kind enough to gift me old photos. These are Immaculata views 1970s.
As I said in 2013 when I first wrote about Duffy’s Cut, given the clouds of mystery and intrigue still surrounding Duffy’s Cut, I think the foggy afternoon I photographed the historical marker was perfect. You can never truly move forward into the future if you can’t honor the past, or that is just my opinion as a mere mortal and female.
I have written before about Duffy’s Cut and thanks to my friend Dr. Bill Watson at Immaculata, I have been blessed to have been to see Duffy’s Cut twice. And no, you can’t just go, you need permission. There is private property of homeowners and AMTRAK involved, and those who show callous disregard for either put the project at risk. So please, don’t just go exploring. Dr. Watson and his brother Rev. Watson and their team have worked so hard.
My last Duffy’s Cut adventure was about a year ago. I was invited to accompany them on a brief dig last summer. I was with the Duffy’s Cut team and teachers attending the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Duffy’s Cut Teachers Institute. Everyone was so warm and welcoming to a non-educator. It was an experience I will never, ever forget.
Earlier this year, a new film on Duffy’s Cut was released. “The Cut” by Irish American Films. I was originally supposed to attend the premiere of the documentary film at Immaculata, and this was yet another thing my blasted knee at the time did not allow me to do.
But I bought the DVD and it has sat on my desk, haunting me until today. Amazing. It is amazing. So very good and true.
In the very beginning of the film they discuss the “Irish Need Not Apply” of it all. I have personal family memories attached to that. When I was little my maternal grandfather (whom I called Poppy) would tell me stories of how the Irish were persecuted at different times in this country (John Francis Xavier Gallen was Irish and born in the late 19th century) . When he was a little boy, my great grandmother Rebecca Nesbitt Gallen was in service and was the summer housekeeper to the Cassatt Family in Haverford. If I recall correctly, he lost a lot of family during the Spanish Flu Pandemic of the early 20th century, but I digress. Poppy would tell me of anti-Irish sentiment and tales of “Irish need not apply”.
I remember feeling wide eyed and incredulous as a child hearing that.
“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child”
~1 Corinthians 13:11
Yes, it was kind of like that. Because today I heard that phrase again, in The Cut, as an adult. And I recall the wonderful (and recent) series by Sam Katz, “Philadelphia: The Great Experiment” (which you can watch in it’s entirety online at 6ABC). Sam Katz also discussed the plight of the Irish immigrant in his series.
Today as I watched this brilliant documentary that is so honest and true, I was struck by it all again. I was also struck by the parallels into the world today in which we live. Power, political power, the almost obfuscation of the law, prejudice, religious persecution. Here we are, residents of a country where out very forefathers fought and bled and died for our rights, our inalienable rights, and look how we treat one and other? And even in 1832, when the Revolutionary War wouldn’t have been as distant a memory, let alone the War of 1812, right?
This area in 1832 was farming and countryside and rather rural. These Irish rail workers were discriminated against, abused, persecuted, and ultimately murdered. And one who was complicit? A fellow Irishman named Philip Duffy. He was by most accounts a bully who exploited these men and women who had traveled thousands of miles to a different country in the hopes of a better life. Of course by the very nature of how Duffy treated these workers, he was was also a big coward, wasn’t he? The Philip Duffys of this world persist throughout history, don’t they?
This documentary also delves into the politics and political climate of the time, which seemed somewhat chaotic. I have to ask have we evolved enough from then? It seems like history is so often doomed to repeat itself unless we take the steps to be part of the change, right?
I am the child of immigrants, including Irish. I am not related to any of these workers (at least that I know of), but this inconvenient history of Duffy’s Cut hits me at the core of my being every time I read about it. These dead men could have been my ancestors, or yours, or anyone’s. These men and women mattered. All Americans are the descendants of immigrants. It is how the U.S.A. was founded, remember?
I was struck by an interview of Walt Hunter, Duffy’s Cut Board Member, supporter and long time KYW TV 3 reporter in Philadelphia. He spoke about having a certain feeling when onsite at Duffy’s Cut. I totally get it, I have felt it twice. It’s a feeling, a knowing, an awareness that great evil happened there.
You can buy a copy of “The Cut” through Irish American Films. I strongly recommend it.
Also Dr. Bill Watson and his brother , Rev. Frank Watson can always use our continued support of this magnificent and historically important archaeological project. Donate to The Duffy’s Cut Project. You can donate via the Duffy’s Cut website, just look for the little round button partway down the front page of the website with the PayPal icon. Or click here to see the Duffy’s Cut Donation Page. You can also donate via Square and checks are graciously accepted.
Donations can be made directly to Duffy’s Cut Project by check or money order and mailed to:
Duffy’s Cut Project
C/O William Watson
21 Faculty Center
Immaculata, PA 19345-0667
This history of Duffy’s Cut is so important. Yes it is ugly and brutal and raw. It is a true tale of the horrific things human beings do to one and other. But this was so awful that I totally understand why people literally tried to make this whole part of American history, local Chester County history, disappear. To the descendants of anyone involved, I am truly sorry. It doesn’t matter that it was 1832, it’s so ugly. But the dead will not rest until the workers are all discovered and honored. And that will be a good thing.
Please support Duffy’s Cut.
Recent Duffy’s Cut in the media articles include:
Promising discovery in 1830s deaths of Irish rail workers on the Main Line
Updated: JULY 13, 2017 — 3:45 PM EDT by Genevieve Glatsky, STAFF WRITER (Philadelphia Inquirer)
By Bill Rettew, firstname.lastname@example.org
POSTED: 06/10/17, 5:30 AM EDT
By Peg DeGrassa, POSTED: 03/06/17, 9:16 PM EST
Look at it crumble. Astounding. Soon the vines that twist and cover will own what I believe to be an 18th century house next to Clews & Strawbridge on Route 30 in Frazer, PA. Does anyone know anything about this? And is this the ultimate historic preservation in what I assume is East Whiteland? Structures just molder until they completely rot away? So if I am say, “Getting on Board With Bill”, is this what I am signing up for? Should things like this that rot (Loch Aerie, Linden House, Ebenezer AME just to name a few in East Whiteland) be considered accomplishments during his tenure? I am a realist, and I know that not every old house can be saved, nor every truly historic structure, but wow, it just seems like East Whiteland Supervisors need to kick it up a notch, don’t they? Why can’t they ask all these deep pocketed developers in the Township to assist?
Where is historic preservation in East Whiteland? I mean other than what Immaculata has accomplished for Duffy’s Cut that is?
This morning if you were on 352 at the underpass in Frazer you got to witness yet another truck driver get stuck. And it wasn’t some guy renting a box truck from U-Haul or Budget or Penske for the first time, it was a regular truck driver in a huge truck hauling a load – in other words this isn’t in my opinion to be filed under beginner’s bad luck.
Every time I see something like this happen I marvel at how these trucks and people driving them don’t seem to know how big they are by themselves and if they are carrying a big load, how tall they are in relationship to a tunnel or underpass. And if they do know how big and tall they are they see the height sign for an underpass that would indicate to a sensible person they might get stuck, why they don’t stop and turn around?
Around 10 am this morning a giant truck hauling giant metal cube things decided height restrictions were for other people at the Route 352 underpass in Frazer.
We were in a line of traffic waiting on the Immaculata side of the underpass and we sat and watched the truck approach. The driver stopped at first as if giving it a good look and then he proceeded. And got stuck. The truck stopped. Then remarkably it tried to go forward as if that would make it better. Only he wasn’t hauling puffy rubber or foam that would bend, he was hauling these giant metal boxes with what looked like vents cut into them. So he got more stuck.
Finally he stopped trying to go forward and instead started to back up. Of course it being 352 there was traffic up the rear of the truck but they started to back up and after many minutes of all of us on the road collectively holding our breath, the truck was able to get unstuck and out from underneath the underpass.
I just don’t understand how these trucks think they are going to fit if they are too tall and big going into the scenario?
Here’s hoping Amtrak checked the bridge after. Every time there is a stuck truck or a hit they are supposed to check the bridge.
By JIM CALLAHAN
Duffy’s Cut victim John Ruddy, late of Chester County, is to be buried after services March 2 in County Donegal, Ireland.
Ruddy was one of up to 57 Irish immigrants who died of cholera and probable mob violence at an East Whiteland railroad construction site known as Duffy’s Cut.
Ruddy and the others are believed to have died nearly 181 years ago in the last two weeks of August 1832. Ruddy was 18.
His are the only remains thus far identified from an incident that was successfully hidden from the general public until recent years.
Professor William Watson of Immaculata University released details of the funeral arrangements. Services are set for 3 p.m. at Holy Family Church in Ardara, Donegal. Burial will be in the church cemetery.
A week or so I happened to be passing by the Duffy’s Cut historical marker (I got a historical marker approved a few years ago and it is a lot of work to get one of them) and stopped to photograph it. Given the clouds of mystery and intrigue still surrounding Duffy’s Cut, I think the foggy afternoon was perfect. I also think that given the development occurring in Malvern (borough and East Whiteland) by developers who don’t truly give a rat’s fanny about the area, the history, or the current residents (they care about building and selling projects) it is also appropriate to remember the history. You can never truly move forward into the future if you can’t honor the past, or that is just my opinion as a mere mortal and female.
I have always thought the tale of Duffy’s Cut to be a huge part of the history of Malvern. The Duffy’s Cut Project is housed at Immaculata. You can go see it.
The Smithsonian Channel has a special about it – called the Ghosts of Duffy’s Cut.
Duffy’s Cut is a big deal. What was Duffy’s Cut?
From Immaculata’s web site:
In June, 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.
Two brothers, Frank and Bill Watson have done yeoman’s work on this topic of Duffy’s Cut. Read about them in the Wall Street Journal:
April 14, 2011 By PETER LOFTUS
MALVERN, Pa.—Frank and Bill Watson recently led a group hoisting shovels and pick axes into a wooded hollow here in Philadelphia’s suburbs.
“Let’s find some bodies,” said Bill Watson, a professor of history at nearby Immaculata University.
Two children playing nearby scampered away before the men led by the Watsons—twin brothers and historians—started chipping away at a hillside hemmed in by two housing developments and busy railroad tracks.
The Watsons are on a macabre mission that began with a file of railroad company documents left behind by a grandfather and curiosity about what exactly happened at this spot—known as Duffy’s Cut—nearly 180 years ago.
This much is clear: Nearly 60 Irish laborers died here in 1832 as they built a land bridge for what became the thriving railroad that lent its name to Philadelphia’s affluent Main Line suburbs.
Their bodies were believed to be buried in a mass grave next to the railroad line, used today by Amtrak and local commuter trains. Tales of ghost sightings nearby were passed down through generations of area residents.
Cholera seemed the most likely culprit. Newspaper reports from the time reported that the disease killed several of the laborers at Duffy’s Cut. And an 1833 letter written by a superintendent of a precursor of the Pennsylvania Railroad said the contractor who hired the workers, Philip Duffy, lost “nearly one half of his men” to cholera. But early in their research, the Watsons began to suspect there might be more to the story….
In 2009, they began finding skeletal remains of at least four people. While many questions linger, the Watsons have become convinced at least three of them didn’t die of cholera.
One skull has holes with traces of lead on the edges, indicating a bullet’s entry and exit wounds, as well as a narrow slit that appeared to be delivered by an axe or hatchet. Another has a compression fracture suggesting it was caused by a blunt object. The third had dents in the skull indicating violence….
The work at Duffy’s Cut has received media attention in Ireland, and the Watsons have told the story to Irish heritage groups here. Michael Collins, the Irish ambassador to the U.S., has visited Duffy’s Cut twice.
“I was really struck by the human tragedy of all these young people dying so soon after coming here, and family back in Ireland never knowing what happened to them, or even knowing that they were dead,” he said. “Their story needs to be told.”
By JAMES O’SHEA,IrishCentral Staff Writer
The dig for Irish remains at Duffy’ Cut in Pennsylvania has come to an end.
Frank and Bill Watson, the historians who first located the remains of Irish railroad workers, many of whom are believed to have been murdered in 1832, say that the mass grave they have been seeking is unreachable
It has been located 30 feet underground but too near to an existing Amtrak track to unearth it. It is said to hold the remains of up to 57 Irish emigrants from Donegal, Derry and Tyrone.
The Watsons, believe most of the Irish were likely victims of lynch mobs driven by anti-Irish sentiment which was widespread at the time.
The discovery of the mass grave came when geophysicist Tim Bechtel used updated equipment electrical imaging and seismic surveys, to discover the mass grave 30 feet below the surface.
It’s also on Amtrak property. They will not permit any digging because of its proximity to the tracks, spokeswoman Danelle Hunter told Associated Press.…The mass remains are of Irish immigrants, mostly from Donegal, who were building the railroad near Philadelphia when they all mysteriously died….
Frank and Bill Watson with the help of volunteers and archaeologists proved via DNA and testing that most of the Irish had been murdered and did not die of cholera.
“Since the beginning, we have seen it as our job to get their story out of folklore and into actual history, and we hope we have done that,” Bill Watson told Associated Press.
A local monument stated the men had died of “black diptheria” in 1834 but it is known they died two years earlier.
Soon after they started digging they found the remains of six people and a nearby shantytown.
University of Pennsylvania anthropologist Janet Monge found proof of savage violence done to the remains including a bullet wound to the head of one of them.
Many locals had been sceptical that anything would be found. East Whiteland Township Manager Terry Woodman told AP.
“Some people thought that this was lore, a story that through the telling had been exaggerated,” Woodman said. “There was a lot of skepticism.”
The rest who were killed were ordered buried in a mass grave and their shantytown burned to the ground.
One victim was identified victim as 18-year-old John Ruddy, based on his bone size and the passenger list of a ship that came from Ireland to Philadelphia shortly before the men died.
The brothers plan to bury the remains found in a suburban Philadelphia cemetery around St. Patrick’s Day, March 17.
Dennis Downey, a history professor at Millersville University, said the work done has been invaluable.
So Malvern, as you look at the developer tarting up one end of the town to sell his project, remember what happened in the East Whiteland side of Malvern. Here’s hoping some day the dead there can all rest. They certainly didn’t get what they deserved coming to America looking for honest work.