At Duffy’s Cut, a railroad construction site in Chester County, Pennsylvania, fifty-seven Irish immigrant railroad workers died amid a cholera epidemic in the summer of 1832 and were buried in a mass grave. The Irishmen from Donegal, Tyrone, and Derry were hired to dig a railroad cut and construct an earthen fill in lieu of a bridge at mile 59 of the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad (P&C), part of a transportation system to link Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Archaeological evidence uncovered in 2009 and thereafter demonstrated that some of the workers died of blunt force trauma and bullet wounds rather than cholera.
After bodies were exhumed from their original unmarked grave, the remains of five men were reburied in West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania. Here, fifty-seven Irish flags line the large Duffy’s Cut memorial grave, each representing one of the deceased rail workers. This group of men had just arrived in the United States about a week before beginning what would be their last job. For their survivors back home in Ireland it was as if their loved ones disappeared forever. Only one body could be identified, using dental records that noted a genetic dental abnormality. The body of John Ruddy, who died at age eighteen, was returned to his family in Ireland in 2013. (Photograph by William E. Watson)