Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

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

They Found Death

The Mile 59 camp and its immigrant workers made news a few months later. On October 3, 1832, the West Chester Village Record apparently reported on cholera deaths at Duffy's Cut. "Apparently," because modern researchers haven't been able to find a copy of the October 3 issue. That installment of the paper is curiously missing from the collections of local libraries and state and federal agencies, including the Chester County Historical Society and the Library of Congress.

Image of cholera from popular culture
Image of cholera from popular culture
So all that we know about that October 3 article is what was printed in the November 7 retraction of the Village Record. In the November article, copies of which are still extant, the newspaper retracted that now-lost October story, and said that only 8 men had died, rather than the higher number that the October issue must have listed. The retraction insisted that the wave of disease had soon subsided, and that the railroad's workers had seen an unusually healthy season.

Perhaps the original number of the dead or some other detail in the story of the workers' bout with cholera had upset one of the 19th century's big print advertisers: the railroad.

But the Watsons don't think long-dead robber barons are the only ones responsible for the cover-up. Railroad records refer to a diary that Mary Ogden kept during that cholera-plagued summer. Her father, William Ogden, a lieutenant in the local militia, was one of the first victims of the epidemic. The Watsons speculate that her diary, now missing, might explain what happen and perhaps even show that the workers had been killed as revenge for, as the Nativists would have seen it, bringing the deadly foreign disease to Chester County, infecting Ogden and others. Bill Watson has even suggested that the person who has repeatedly called him to demand that the dig be stopped may be an Ogden descendant who still has that diary.

The confusion surrounding the deaths would spur Bill and Frank Watson to launch an investigation. The Village Record correction saying only 8 people died doesn't fit with local legends that say that all the men died. On the other hand, all of the men dying would have far exceeded cholera's typical mortality rate, suggesting that something more sinister may have happened at Duffy's Cut.

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