Monday, March 17, 2008

Duffy's Cut

duffy's cut
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 " 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.


blue horizon joy said...

I am fascinated by this one!! I grew up in Malvern. Have you seen the movie? I can't find the Smithsonian channel. Any stories from Bucks County? I am visiting Malvern soon, I am hoping to go to the site. Have you been there?

Ron Ieraci said...

Joy - looks like the Smithsonian has taken the clip off-line. If you're gonna visit the site, drop Dr. Watson a line at . He's the man that has all the tales involving Duffy's Cut - Ron

Ron Ieraci said...

Also, Joy, if you're looking for more Bucks county tales, just click on the "Pennsylvania Haunts & History" banner above the posts. It'll take you to the site's home page, and click on "Freedom's Corner" and you'll find many a spook story from Bucks Co. and the region. - Ron

Anonymous said...

I'm not 100% sure of the validity of this article. I work on The Duffy's Cut Project and to my knowlege, none of the nuns died at the site.

To blue Harizon joy: There are publications on the project's website: Also, access to the site is restricted. When we go down to dig and do work at the site, we need permission to enter the premisis, we are also the only group with permission to enter. Unfourtinately, unauthorized entery is tresspassing; which saddens me because I absolutely love ghost hunting and knowing most of the stories surrounding it, would love the opportunity to investigate the claims and that doesn't look like it's coming anytime soon

Ron Ieraci said...

Robert, you may be - heck, probably are, if you're part of the project - right.
I got some parts of the tale from different articles, and there was some speculation that a couple of the nuns died alongside the RR'ers.
Maybe they were just trying to paint a picture of the times. Still, it does kinda add to the urban legend, no?

Ron Ieraci said...

Robert: here's where I found that reference:

It says "The East Whitemarsh Historical Commission, for example, posted a sign acknowledging the site several years ago. It states that the men died of Black Diptheria in 1834 and that nuns and mules are buried there as well."

I took it to mean that some of the nuns perished while tending to the men. - Ron

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know where the project stands? It's been pretty quiet for awhile now, and was wondering if the digging was continuing.

Anonymous said...

Hey guys, does anyone know where the project stands? I would love to write a post about it over at
haunted places in pa

Ron Ieraci said...

Hey Haunted Pa (Lori, I presume) - send Professor Watson a note ( ); he's been more than accommodating to our requests. - Ron

Anonymous said...

HI I am a member of Paranormal Spirits Group Philadelphia , check us out on facebook.
Anyway,can anyone please give me more information about the address of this location and if the public may go there.
contact me through facebook please

Ron Ieraci said...

Sorry, can't find your FB page. But wikipedia (under "Duffy's Cut") has the address.