Historians at Immaculata University have known for years about the 57 immigrants who died in August 1832, but could not find the actual grave. Human bones discovered last week near the suburban Philadelphia university may at last reveal their final resting place - and possibly allow researchers to identify the remains and rebury them.
The woodsy site where the bones were found is known as "Duffy's Cut." It is named after Philip Duffy, the man who hired the immigrants from Donegal, Tyrone and Derry to help build the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad.
The Irish workers were said to have died of cholera, though researchers believe at least some may have been murdered. Prejudice against Irish Catholics contributed to the denial of care to the workers, historians say.
The immigrants were buried anonymously in a ditch outside what is now Malvern. On Friday, researchers unearthed pieces of two skulls along with dozens of other bone fragments.
In June 2004, the state erected a historical marker in the general area of Duffy's Cut to commemorate the men's deaths. It says their illness and deaths typified the hazards faced by many 19th century immigrant industrial workers.
Cholera is an acute intestinal infection caused by contaminated food or water. Outbreaks large and small were common at the time, when few people grasped the importance of clean drinking water.