BY CLARE MARIE CELANO
FREEHOLD – A new book, “The Ghosts of Duffy’s Cut,” will be the subject of a presentation at the Grace Lutheran Church, corner of Park Avenue and West Main Street, at 7 p.m. March 24. All are welcome to attend the presentation.
The book was written by several historians, including the Rev. Frank Watson, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church. The book spotlights the mystery surrounding the death of 57 Irish immigrants who came to America in June 1832. The men died in August 1832 without any official record.
The men were buried somewhere in an area known as Duffy’s Cut in Penn-sylvania, in an unmarked grave. According to Watson, the death from Asiatic cholera of the newly arrived immigrants who worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad was hushed up. The bodies of the dead immigrants have yet to be located.
Watson, along with his brother William, who is a history professor at Immaculata University, Immaculata, Pa., and their colleagues, John Ahtes and Earl Schandelmaier, have spent the past four years attempting to separate the facts from the folklore that has surrounded these deaths.
Watson said the project he and his colleagues started four years ago, the Duffy’s Cut Research Project, is coming into view one piece at a time. With each piece that fits into the puzzle, Watson, who has a doctorate in history, seems to acquire additional fuel to keep moving on the grueling yet fascinating project that has him trying to find the answers to an unsolved mystery.
The project has attracted a good deal of interest, especially in Ireland. Tile Films, an Irish film company that works with Irish public television, has already filmed a documentary on Duffy’s Cut; its representatives have been to the site several times, according to Watson.
A promotional DVD for that film, along with various artifacts that Watson, his colleagues and other interested people have unearthed, will be on display at this week’s presentation.
The story says the immigrants who contracted cholera were isolated from getting help and were tended to by Sisters of Charity until their deaths. Watson said railroad officials and the state tried to cover up the deaths because it would have been bad publicity for them.
Supposedly, the shanty the men lived in was deliberately burned to the ground after their death. Watson and his colleagues have managed to unearth hundreds of objects after digging in that area. Items such as pieces of clay pipes with Irish markings on them, silverware and buttons are part of the collection.
The historian detectives have not yet, unfortunately, found the bodies of the men they want to put to rest in individual graves. Watson said giving the men a final resting place of their own has always been the goal of the project, and just like a mission he is committed to completing, the reverend said he will not give up until he has achieved what he set out to do.