Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Deaths at Duffy's Cut: Cholera or Cover-up?

The Watson Twins

Rev. Frank Watson, a Lutheran pastor with a doctorate in historical theology, and Dr. William "Bill" Watson, a medieval historian at Immaculata University in Malvern, had long heard rumors of the unpleasant history of Duffy's Cut. Children found antique bottles and old buttons in the area and whispered that it was haunted; local historians knew it as a sad example of an unhappy intersection of unsophisticated19th century medicine, unchecked capitalism, and ethno-religious strife.

In September 2000, Bill Watson and a colleague, Tom Conner, took part in a bagpipe performance for Lancaster's World War II veterans. That night, each of them traditionally clad in a tunic and kilt, they stopped at Bill's office at Immaculata. From a restroom window, Conner and Bill saw a strange sight on the dark campus's lawn: three ghostly figures. The luminous human apparitions disappeared when the men went outside for a closer look.

From left: Frank and Bill Watson, Earl Schandelmeier and <br />John Ahtes with Duffy's Cut Historical Marker
From left: Frank and Bill Watson, Earl Schandelmeier and
John Ahtes with Duffy's Cut Historical Marker
That was an Ember Night, when souls are, legend holds, able to slip out of Purgatory. At a Labor Day celebration two years later, when Bill told his twin brother about the night, Frank had some information to share: their grandfather's railroad records. The papers included an 1889 newspaper article by Julian Sachse, a late-19th century historian, in which Sachse recounted an old man's insistence that in September 1832 he'd seen the specters of the Irishmen dancing on their shared grave alongside the tracks.

The Watson twins' grandfather Joseph F. Tripician had trained as a stonecutter in Sicily. After resettling in the U.S., he found a job at the Pennsylvania Railroad and worked his way up to Director of Personnel. During the 1940s, Tripician was the assistant to Pennsylvania Railroad President Martin Clement. The twins would inherit Clement and Tripician's records when their grandfather died in 2002.

Clement, it seems, had lived during his early days working for the railroad with an Irish family named Donahue. The wife's brother, Patrick Doyle, had installed a memorial fence around the site of the lost workers' camp in 1870. Clement led the railroad's 1909 retrospective investigation into the 1832 Duffy's Cut deathsbut the railroad kept it quiet. Tripician, though, retained the files from the investigation, including information about where the Irishmen's mass grave lay.

In 1909, Clement had been able to convince the Pennsylvania Railroad to put up a stone marker to commemorate the lost workers. The Watson brothers traced the rail line until they found the marker. In 2004, in cooperation with the Chester County Emerald Society, the Duffy's Cut Project arranged an official Pennsylvania State Historical Marker for the Duffy's Cut site, at the intersection of Sugartown Road and King Road in Malvern. And then they started looking for the remains of the menand trying to figure out the true circumstances of their deaths.

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