Five murdered Irish immigrants cast into a mass grave in 1832 at Duffy’s Cut near Philadelphia will be reburied in a full Catholic ceremony today.
Four laborers and one female, a washerwoman, will be reburied.
Irish Ambassador Michael Collins will be among the dignitaries as the five men, likely killed by local vigilantes, will be laid to rest.
They will be buried in West Laurel Hill Cemetery in a service that will include bagpipers and a grave site marked with a 12 foot high Celtic Cross donated by Immaculata University.
"It's just the right thing to do, to give these men a Christian burial," said university spokeswoman Marie Moughan.
"They'll get a real burial that they didn't have in 1832, that's for sure," said the historian Bill Watson, who played a major role in uncovering the remains.
Railroad officials never informed the relatives of their deaths and burned down the shantytown they lived in likely to cover up the murders.
Four months before their deaths a passenger ship, the John Stamp, arrived from Ireland. The passenger list offers the possible identity of 15 workers from Donegal, Tyrone and Derry.
A sixth body has been identied as John Ruddy of Donegal, the only person to be positively identified. He will be buried in his native Ireland.
Their grave will be marked with a Celtic Cross made of limestone quarried in County Kilkenny, Ireland,.
Originally efforts were made to unearth all 57 bodies but Amtrak refused saying the mass grave was too close to active rail tracks to be exhumed
Kurt Bell, an archivist with the state Historical and Museum Commission says what has been uncovered is vital.
"It really speaks volumes about the social history of railroads. We don't know a whole lot about the men who built the railroads in Pennsylvania from early in the 19th century," said Bell, a railroad historian. "The Watson brothers have really shed light on a little-known subject."
The mystery of Duffy’s Cut, how 57 Irish immigrants died and were anonymously buried in the summer of 1832, is thus coming to a close. Several skulls unearthed show evidence of violence and bullet holes.
What is known is that In the summer of 1832 a group of 57 Irish immigrants came to the area west of Philadelphia to work on the construction of the railway line. Within six weeks the men, mainly from Donegal, Tyrone and Derry, were all dead and anonymously buried in a mass grave outside the town of Malvern.
For some time it was thought that the mass grave was due to an outbreak of a dangerous disease such as cholera and this was simply a way of dealing with infection. However, the evidencesoon painted a different picture. The skulls found show signs of violence and bullet holes.
These grizzly finds confirm what the two leading historians on the archaeological dig feared. “This was much more than a cholera epidemic”, said William Watson.
Chairman of the history department at Immaculata University, William Watson and his twin brother, Frank, have been working on this archaeological mystery for almost a decade.
Since 2009 the Watson brothers have uncovered seven sets of remains. For seven years before the brothers found nothing at the site and the hypothesized had been that the group of men had died of cholera. The disease was rampant at the time and the mortality rate was between 40 and 60 percent.
They theorized that some might have been killed by vigilantes due to the anti-Irish sentiment in the 19th century America, because of tensions between the poor transient workers and the affluent residents or an intense fear of cholera. It could have been a combination of all three.
Now that the Watson brothers have four skulls all with evidence of trauma they show that the men were struck in the head. Janet Monge, an anthropologist working on the site, says that at least one of the men was shot.
Monge said “I don't think we need to be so hesitant in coming to the conclusion now that violence was the cause of death and not cholera, although these men might have had cholera in addition."
“They do have indications on their skeletons that life was not a bowl of cherries,” said Monge who is the keeper of collections at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
The Watsons discovered the mass grave through the personal papers of their late grandfather who had worked on the rails long after the 57 men were killed. The projects name comes from the name of the man who hired the group of Irish men, Philip Duffy, and the part of the railroad that the men were hired to build, the cut.