Grassroots archaeology and a 19th century murder mystery


In June of 1832, the 57 Irish migrant workers arrived at the docks of Philadelphia. Their job was to lance a flat path for the track through steep, hilly terrain. In railroad parlance, this is known as a 'cut' and thereafter that stretch of track would be known as Duffy's Cut. Six weeks later, they would all be dead.

A lot of eerie folklore and some community organized archaeology uncover a murder mystery on Philadelphia's Main Line.

Image courtesy the Duffy's Cut Project


  1. Fascinating archeological mystery, I am especially intrigued by the missing newspaper edition.

    It’s just a shame the article devolves into pseudoscientific ghost “research” and contacting the “dead”.

    1. Agreed; the article was great until it got into the ghost bits. Well, can’t please everyone I guess!

      1. Can’t please everyone indeed. I liked the uncanny bits. You don’t have to wear tinfoil and believe in (Casper the Friendly) ghosts to believe that such a degree of violence and suffering can imprint a mark on a site, especially if it’s rocky. We are after all, electromagnetic machines of great power. More things in heaven and earth, Horatio…

        I’m more disappointed by the intent to “give the men a proper Christian burial.” Why assume they were all Christian?

        1. Imprint a mark on a site, especially if it’s rocky? Electromagnetic? Hogwash.

          As to your other point, you’re the one making assumptions about people making assumptions. Giving the men a proper Christian burial does not assume that they were Christian, although I would likely assume that Irish migrant workers in 1832 would have been Christian. Why not assume that?

          1. I AM in fact electromagnetic(ally conductive). Each morning when I turn to the wrong side, my radio standing next to the bed gets bad reception. Didn’t try to wear tinfoil during the night though – and it also might the effect of a ghost that I shove out of the bed accidentally.

        2. I think the assumption is they are Catholic with pretty good reason to assume they are.

          …and as someone who does’t believe in god or ghosts I don’t think they will care in any case. But the gesture is nice.

        3. re: “Why assume they were all Christian?”

          It was 1857 and they were Irish. That is a pretty safe assumption. Even today that is a pretty safe assumption with ~95% of them are Christian (IIRC).

    2. Well, if nothing else, it points out the benefit of spreading such information beyond the reach of those who would erase or at least bury it.

      The part about the figures with the tiny heads hopping and bobbing (to the Crocodile Rock?) had enough of the Thomas Ligotti-esque to it I’ll never ever go to Duffy’s Cut, even if the “curse” appears to have been lifted. I don’t believe in ghosts, but I do believe in my capacity to creep myself out.

      Anyway, hurrah for justice of a sort.

  2. The article states: “…living bones break differently than dead bones,” says Monge.

    Even recently dead?

  3. Those recordings are lame… If a ghost can influence an AM radio tuner to create relevant answers, then it shouldn’t be to hard to present them with some form of EM-field keyboard so they can be specific in their bitching (an Irish keyboard in this case).

    We got ramps, braille, talking signs, seems like no one is putting any effort into serving the needs of the tortured dead.

    Would love to add Great-great Grandpa Jack to my Friend’s & Five.

    1. I agree, those recordings are really lame.

      It’s not even pareidolia, hearing things in white noise, it’s just a radio playing snippets of people talking. Of course you’re going to hear crazy stuff, especially if there’s what sounds like a bible-thumpin preacher on the strongest signal.

      I mean, people can’t be that stupid, can they? It’s as if you were to take a stick and claim that it could find water, only you’re on a continent that’s almost entirely covered in easily discoverable aquifers….

      oh. wait.

  4. I looked at the picture before reading the headline and thought “this looks so familiar.” It’s literally where I grew up. Gross, another thing to think about when I visit my parents. Will make a cool story to tell visitors though.

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