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Red Candy Skull
2 days ago
Grandfather's ghost story leads to mysterious mass grave
By Meghan Rafferty, CNN
Malvern, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- "This is a mass grave," Bill Watson said as he led the way through the thick Pennsylvania woods in a suburb about 30 miles from Philadelphia.
"Duffy's Cut," as it's now called, is a short walk from a suburban cul-de-sac in Malvern, an affluent town off the fabled Main Line. Twin brothers Bill and Frank Watson believe 57 Irish immigrants met violent deaths there after a cholera epidemic struck in 1832.
They suspect foul play.
"This is a murder mystery from 178 years ago, and it's finally coming to the light of day," Frank Watson said.
The brothers first heard about Duffy's Cut from their grandfather, a railroad worker, who told the ghost story to his family every Thanksgiving. According to local legend, memorialized in a file kept by the Pennsylvania Railroad, a man walking home from a tavern reported seeing blue and green ghosts dancing in the mist on a warm September night in 1909.
"I saw with my own eyes, the ghosts of the Irishmen who died with the cholera a month ago, a-dancing around the big trench where they were buried; it's true, mister, it was awful," the documents quote the unnamed man as saying. "Why, they looked as if they were a kind of green and blue fire and they were a-hopping and bobbing on their graves... I had heard the Irishmen were haunting the place because they were buried without the benefit of clergy."
When Frank inherited the file of his grandfather's old railroad papers, the brothers began to believe the ghost stories were real. They suspected that the files contained clues to the location of a mass grave.
"One of the pieces of correspondence in this file told us 'X marks the spot,'" said Frank. He added that the document suggested that the men "were buried where they were making the fill, which is the original railroad bridge."
In 2002, the brothers began digging and searching. They found forks and remnants of a shanty and, in 2005, what Bill Watson calls the "Holy Grail" -- a pipe with an Irish flag on it.
They knew they were close, but Bill said they knew they needed "hard science" to get them to the next step.
The science came from Tim Bechtel, a geophysicist, who learned about the project from a colleague at the University of Pennsylvania who had heard the Watson brothers speak. The friend knew Bechtel could provide the missing link in the brothers' excavation efforts.
Bechtel's work included earth scans, which can help detect what's underground without digging or drilling.
By shooting electrical current through the slope, Bechtel said he learned there were "oddball areas" or places where the current wouldn't pass through. "We saw areas in the slope that were very electrically resistant," Bechtel recalled.
This was an initial indicator something might lie beneath the surface. After further digging, Bechtel and the Watsons detected "air bubbles above the coffins," he said.
Bechtel helped pinpoint key areas to dig and on March 20, 2009, Bill Watson said the team made a startling discovery.
"One of my students came running over at about 2 in the afternoon with something that was a clearly discernable human bone," Bechtel said.
It was just the beginning of the many puzzle pieces to surface at Duffy's Cut. The pieces led them to suspect that something other than cholera was responsible for the deaths.
You Can read the entire story HERE