By Walt Hunter
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Each day SEPTA and Amtrak Main Line trains roll near, or perhaps even over the graves of 57 long-forgotten Irish workers who built those very rails.
The 57 all dead — many evidence now shows murdered — within six weeks of arriving in Philadelphia from their home country in 1832 — victims of anti-Catholic and anti-cholera hate and hysteria.
“183 years ago, the railroad buried some its secrets here,” research Bill Watson tells CBS 3 Eyewitness News. “Things they didn’t want anyone to find out about.”
Only CBS 3 cameras were there Monday morning as a drill began unearthing soil samples 30 feet below, in what could be the first step in at last uncovering the terrible secrets of what is known as “Duffy’s Cut” — named after the contractor who brought the workers to the East Whiteland Township site.
It is, researchers believe, a mass grave where 51 of the 57 workers have been secretly entombed for 183 years. The secret was finally uncovered 13 years ago when Watson, and his brother ,Frank, found old, confidential railroad files in a deceased relatives attic.
“After 13 years,” Frank Watson tells CBS 3, “it feels like a dream come true.”
Adjoining the site from 2009 to 2011, the remains of the first six workers were found. The search has been on hold for the past four years until the team got legal clearance to excavate on this part of the property.
Samples are now being gathered. They will be carefully analyzed by a University of Pennsylvania archaeologist in hopes they will reveal evidence leading searchers to the crude pit where the bodies of Irish workers were tossed and forgotten.
“For 13 years, we’ve been trying to figure a way to get these guys out of here, and now I think we’ve got it,” Bill Watson concluded.
If remains are found at the site, they will be identified and, the Watsons say, ideally, they will return to rest in peace, in the country they left so long ago, never to see again.