Culvert at Duffy's Cut from Duffy's Cut Project
Sure and begorra, what would St. Paddy's Day be without a spook or two from the Old Sod? Today's tale takes us to Malvern in Chester County and the unfortunate souls of Duffy's Cut.
In 1832, 57 Irish immigrant gandy dancers and laborers from Donegal, working in the Land of Opportunity for only six weeks, succumbed to cholera - or worse - while laboring on Duffy's Cut. The epidemic claimed 900 lives in the Delaware Valley before it subsided and caused widespread panic in the area.
The Irish, being thought of as job-thieving immigrants, and Catholic to boot, were left to their own devices by the citizens, receiving what little aid the Sisters of Charity from Philadelphia and the village blacksmith could provide to them. There was no cure at the time - either you fought it off or you died.
The death rate for the dreaded disease at that time was somewhere around 65%. It was 100% for the Irishmen. Some suspect that the workers that survived were murdered by area vigilantes, and others thrown in their graves while in a coma, not yet dead, to keep the feared disease from spreading.
They were buried in a mass grave along with some of the nuns who died trying to save them by the smitty. The prejudice of the times was so great that the sisters that survived couldn't even hire a coach back home. They had to walk back to Philadelphia. The relatives of the dead men in Ireland were never notified of their deaths by the railroad.
For many years, the area was shunned by the locals who were frightened off by the alleged glowing apparitions of the dead Irish workers. One old timer said their ghosts were "...green and blue fire." Spooks were reported dancing in the nearby woods. The owners of homes recently built around the area have said that spirits peer into their windows.
The supposed plot of their mass grave was fenced off by a group of old railroaders who knew of the legend, and they maintained it as best they could. But researchers looking over old files now believe that the graveyard was in a different location. Even worse, they think that ever since the 1880s a train line has rumbled over their final resting place.
An Immaculata University professor, Dr. William Watson, who's doing research on Duffy's Cut believes he and a friend saw three of the fiery Irish spirits on the campus lawn. It was on Ember night, when the ghosts of the dead are supposed to roam the earth according to Irish lore. In another sighting, the restless Irishmen caused a bit of havoc in the college library during an exhibit of Duffy's Cut relics.
The professor says that the spirits aren't trying to scare anyone, but reaching out for help to get their bones properly buried after almost two centuries in an unmarked mass grave. As you may imagine, he's trying, through an ongoing effort called The Duffy's Cut Project, looking for the truth and closure.
The story's told in The Ghosts of Duffy's Cut by William Watson, J. Francis Watson, John Ahtes and Earl Schandelmeier.