On my way home from retreat Sunday, I saw a big historical marker at the intersection of Kings Road and Sugartown Road in Malvern, PA. Now, I'm a sucker for historical markers. Mea culpa, I've broken many a road law pulling illegal U-turns and scared the bejeebers out of my wife and kids (not to mention others) swerving off to the side of the road to see what one says.
So as soon as I noticed the one pictured in the link, I quickly (and this time safely) pulled over to the side of the road, got out of my car, and walked back to the intersection.
In case you don't want to click on the link, it says that 57 men died nearby in 1832. They were Irish immigrant railroad workers who contracted cholera (contracted by drinking feces tainted water). Due to a mixture of anti-Catholic sentiment that said they didn't deserve to be treated and because of ill-founded fears of contagion, some died naturally, and some were shot and/or bludgeoned to death. Forensics has proven that last assertion.
At the time, public opinion largely held that Catholics were stupid, incapable of thinking for themselves, superstitious subhumans beholden to a foreign power. Twelve years later, this thinking would erupt into rioting and the complete immolation of St. Augustine Church, not far from Independence Hall. For a great contemporary woodcut, see here. It also led to the Nativist/Know Nothing movement, not to mention the rebirth of the KKK in the last century (most historians agree the 19th century KKK was animated strictly by prejudice against blacks; its 20th century rebirth, however, was the result of prejudice against Jews and Catholics, as well as blacks).
In Malvern, it was reflected in the Horse Company, which was the de facto police force and was in cahoots with Judge Cromwell Pearce. According to the man who verified the Duffy's Cut deaths, both were anti-Catholic (or is "Cromwell" something average, well-informed papists would name their kid? ... not likely, is it?), and His Honor's land is probably where the executions took place.
And why not kill them? They were not only expendable because 57 more were waiting back in Ireland. What made them especially expendable to Cromwell and Co. was that they were Catholics, subhumans, untermenschen.
Since verifying the story and discovering the dig site ca. 2004, a group led by Dr. Bill Watson from Immaculata College (a stone's throw away) has unearthed artifacts such as this and bodies such as this woman, the only one there (beware: it's a little scary looking, just in case you're bothered by this sort of thing). Every coffin has had 120-180 coffin nails in it. Why so many unless someone wanted to make sure no one inadvertantly opened the coffins and saw faces blasted off and people with point blank bullet holes on the tops of their crowns?
Watson is convinced this was a mass execution followed by a massive coverup. For instance, reports of initial newspaper reports shows that about half of Frank Duffy's railroad crew died during the epidemic. Given that he had roughly 100-120 men working the mile of track for which he had a contract, 57 would be about right. However, subsequent newspaper reports stated he had lost only eight workers.
As project leader Watson told me, this tree was "nurtured by the bodies of found human beings." He believes there are still body parts within the crevices and surrounded by the tree's roots and stump.
This picture is of a grave enclosure holding roughly 50 of the bodies. Wouldn't it be great if they turned this humble enclosure into an oratory dedicated to the Blessed Irish Martyrs of Malvern? I'm not presuming the judgment of the Church, mind you.