Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
Date: March 24, 2009
Byline: Sam Wood
Mass grave found on Main Line?
For years, academics suspected the remains of dozens of 19th-century Irish immigrants lay buried alongside the former Pennsylvania Railroad's Main Line tracks in Chester County.
Now there is little doubt. Their suspicions apparently were confirmed on Friday with the discovery of two human skulls and other bones along the line in Malvern.
Named Duffy's Cut, the site has been gingerly excavated since 2004 by historians from nearby Immaculata University.
"We're overjoyed," said William Watson, a professor at Immaculata who has headed the search. "We are near the end of our quest."
The site is named after Philip Duffy, a fellow immigrant who hired 57 Irish laborers in 1832 to help build the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad. A nearby rail line now carries SEPTA R5 and Amtrak Keystone Corridor trains.
Soon after beginning work on the rail line most of the men began to drop dead of cholera.
Several are believed to have been killed by vigilante groups at a time when anti-Irish sentiment was strong. It's still not known for certain why the bodies were buried anonymously in an unmarked ditch.
"It's one of those stories that really does tug at the heartstrings," Watson said.
Watson has already been able to tentatively identify one of the victims.
"We believe one of the skulls belonged to an 18-year-old from Donegal and his name is John Ruddy," Watson said. "But ultimately, that will be determined by the coroner."
Watson's search for the remains began in 2003 after he discovered a file of papers belonging to his grandfather that mentioned the unmarked grave. Watson's grandfather had been an executive with the Pennsylvania Railroad.
"I didn't know [the file] it existed until long after he died," Watson said. "The railroad tried to keep the deaths secret, and others tried to keep it out of the public eye."
The papers gave no exact location for the burial site.
"It said they were buried in the field, but it's 300-feet long, and very rough terrain," Watson said. "They could have been buried anywhere."
So Watson assembled a archeological team and under the sponsorship of the local Emerald Society set up a dig.
"We made some major progress in 2005 when we found an old pipe carved with an Erin Go Bragh flag and other things marked 'Derry,'" Watson said.
"What we've lacked up till now is the science," Watson said, refering to the machinery necessary to efficiently search beneath the soil level.
The "science" was provided this year by Tim Bechtel of the University of Pennsylvania geosciences department.
Using ground penetrating radar and other devices, Bechtel was able to pinpoint the first of the human remains at the site.