BY KATHY BARATTA
ENGLISHTOWN – Unlike the ghost of Ichabod Crane, the ghosts of Duffy’s Cut are more than the stuff of legend.
The story of what happened to a group of immigrants in Pennsylvania more than 170 years ago will be the topic of the first in a series of presentations to be hosted by the Battleground Historical Society.
According to Lydia Wikoff, of Manalapan, program chairman for the historical society, the Rev. Frank Watson, pastor of the Grace Lutheran Church, Freehold, will give a presentation about a book he has authored with other historians. The book is titled “The Ghosts of Duffy’s Cut.”
Watson will speak at the Battleground Historical Society’s Sept. 22 meeting at the Village Inn, corner of Main and Water streets, Englishtown. The 8 p.m. event is free and open to all. Wikoff said Watson’s talk will be entertaining and informative.
“The Ghosts of Duffy’s Cut” tells the story of the mysterious deaths of 57 Irish immigrants who arrived in America in June 1832. The men died that August.
Although no known official record of their deaths exist, it is known due to artifacts unearthed in the area that the men were buried in Pennsylvania in an unmarked grave in an area known as Duffy’s Cut, which is between Malvern and Frazer, Pa., about 20 miles west of Philadelphia.
Watson and his colleagues have posited that the deaths of the immigrants who worked for the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad resulted from Asiatic cholera and were hushed up. The bodies of the dead men have never been located.
Watson and his fellow authors believe railroad officials and the state tried to cover up the deaths because of the bad publicity the matter was sure to generate.
Watson has said he and the others who helped research and write the book remain committed to locating the bodies of the men and seeing to their proper burial.
He said on Monday that he will be traveling to Ireland within the next few months to attend the premiere of a documentary about the mystery of Duffy’s Cut. He said the filmmakers came to Duffy’s Cut to film the research that was being done. Watson said the documentary is expected to premiere in the United States in 2007 on a new cable television channel called the Smithsonian Channel.
According to Wikoff, 37 years ago a group of 20 local residents met to discuss the idea of forming a group which could help in saving local historical heritage. The Battleground Historical Society was formed. One of the society’s first endeavors was to research and date local homes that were more than 100 years old.
According to Wikoff, this project was accomplished over the course of many years and now pictures of these homes are on display in the Village Inn museum in Englishtown.
There were several defeats along the way: one was trying to save the oldest Dutch house in Manalapan.
Two endeavors were successful: saving the West Freehold School (now turned over to the Freehold Township Historic Preservation Commission) and saving a three-story Italianate home on Route 522 (now returned to Monmouth Battlefield State Park as offices).
Wikoff said one of the society’s best accomplishments was saving the 1726 Village Inn tavern, which was slated to be sold for a gas station. The society holds meetings at the Village Inn that are open to the public on the fourth Friday of the month. Programs of local historical interest are presented.
The society’s major endeavor now is to encourage all residents to attend the meetings and join the society to help keep its good work going. The Village Inn museum is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the third Saturday of the month.