Thanksgiving is a time for families to gather together and be thankful for a multitude of things. Tables filled with food and centerpieces are a must each year. But, what about ghost stories?
Yes, ghost stories are usually tied with Halloween. There used to be traditions surrounding telling ghost stories around the holidays. What about Thanksgiving? A quick Google search for, “Thanksgiving ghost stories” doesn’t come up very plentiful.
Sometimes, the supernatural can shed light on the darkest of mysteries. In 1832, over 57 Irish immigrant workers disappeared near Malvern, Pennsylvania. They were almost erased from history.
Here’s how a Thanksgiving ghost story solved an old local mystery!
Grandpa’s TaleEvery Thanksgiving, twin brothers Bill and Frank Watson used to hear a ghost story from their grandfather. A former railroad worker, their grandpa would retell this spooky story of a place known as Duffy’s Cut, located in Pennsylvania.
In 1909, a man was walking home from a tavern. There, he saw blue and green ghosts dancing in the mist on one September night. The Pennsylvania Railroad kept a record of this incident too!
The man said, “I saw with my own eyes, the ghosts of the Irishmen who died with the cholera a month ago, a-dancing around the big trench where they were buried; it’s true, mister, it was awful. Why, they looked as if they were a kind of green and blue fire and they were a-hopping and bobbing on their graves… I had heard the Irishmen were haunting the place because they were buried without the benefit of clergy.”
After their grandpa died, the Watson twins inherited his old railroad papers. Turns out, their grandpa was the assistant to Martin Clement, the president of the Pennsylvania Railroad. From there, they were shocked to find so many correspondances with the blue and green ghosts in the area. According to Frank, one of the correspondances said, “X marks the spot.” Basically, the twins believed that perhaps there was a mass burial ground created when the landfill was made. This area was also the site of the original railroad bridge.
Digging for the Truth
Smoking pipe fragments excavated at Duffy’s Cut, Pennsylvania. Some of the pipes clearly made in Ireland. Museum location given. Duffy’s Cut was a massive project to basically fill in a ravine so that the railroad could come through. Think of it like leveling a hill. Philip Duffy was in charge of the project. Many of the workers came from Ireland, were poor, only spoke Gaelic and came from a Catholic background. By 1930, Duffy was housing Irish immigrants in his rental home.
So, in 2005, the twins decided to start digging around the area. They were searching for clues. There, they found remnants of a shanty as well as forks. Then, they found a pipe with an Irish flag on it. The brothers realized that they needed more help in order to find more information.
They brought in a geophysicist named Tim Bechtel. His work included earth scans, which is a critical tool to see what’s underground without digging or drilling. As Bechtel started to work on the area by shooting electrical currents through the ground. He soon realized that there were strange areas where the current would stop.
Solving a Murder
Early rail road track or strapping c. 1832, covered wooden stringers (lower). Railroad construction tool (upper). Found at Duff’s Cut near Amtrak Tracks, sort of near Malvern, PA. Location is for the display in Immaculata University. After researching, Bechtel pinpointed key areas to start digging. This turned into a massive excavation project. In March 2009, one of Bechtel’s students made a horrifying discovery; a piece of human bone.
Janet Monge soon joined the forensics team as a key person to help separate animal bones from human bones. Since the discovery, seven human skeletons have been found around Duffy’s Cut. The skulls had cracks in them that indicate that they died from a blow to the head, either from a bullet or an axe. It’s hard to conclude whether cholera was the culprit at the time of death. But it’s clear that cholera didn’t kill the men they’ve found so far.
Remembering the Forgotten
Enclosure near the Amtrak (formerly PRR) tracks near Malvern, PA, built as a memorial to Irish workers who died during a Cholera epidemic at “Duffy’s Cut” – mile 59. Enclosure apparently built with stones used in the 1832 construction, but it itself was built about 1909. When the cholera outbreak happened, many of the workers from Duffy’s Cut tried to run. But when they were looking for shelter, people were turning them away because they were fearful of getting infected.
Feeling lost, the men went back to Duffy’s Cut and the shanty where they were all living. According to the story, they were taken care of by the Sisters of Charity and a local blacksmith. As the men died, they were put in a mass grave, and the blacksmith burned the shanty to the ground.
Clement had been doing hard inquiries into the actual death toll of the cholera outbreak, and he was the one who found out about the 57 men who died. The newspapers clearly underreported those numbers. Perhaps they were silenced by the railroad company?
A Sad Ending
Grave marker at West Laurel Hill Cemetery to memorialize lives of Irish railroad workers lost at Duffy’s Cut in 1832. One of the skeletons was identified as 18-year old John Ruddy from County Donegal. He sailed from County Derry to the United States in 1832 in hopes of finding work. All of his countrymen he worked alongside with would die within two months of arrival, which is exceptionally tragic.
Today, the Watsons want to find every last body so that they can be identified and laid to rest. It’s likely that these men would secretly buried in a mass grave as a cover up so that the railroad company could continue recruiting new workers. The Watsons sorted through their grandfather’s papers in great detail. It turns out that many of these men were not recorded as having cholera, or ever really working for the railroad.
Ghosts Showing the Way
Now, you’re probably wondering; are the blue and green ghosts real? It’s hard to say, since the eyewitness testimony came from well over a century ago. I think there are a few possible theories to this, if the ghost story is true.
Maybe the 57 Irishmen were hanging out around their mass grave in hopes that someone would see them and finally lay them to rest.
Is it possible that the Irishmen didn’t really die from cholera and they were trying to communicate with whoever would notice them. If that is the case, my big question is why were they murdered? Maybe perhaps they died from an accident instead? There’s also the possibility that someone was killing them to prevent the spread of cholera to other people. It’s hard to tell.
Or, the eyewitness who saw the ghosts knew the truth of the men’s fates and was trying to give authorities a hint so that they would go digging and find the mass grave.
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