Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Duffy's Cut, Part 2

(A fictionalized history series exploring what may have happened to the 57 Irish railroad workers believed to be buried in 1832 in a mass grave 30 miles west of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Past series have explored Polio, the Tunguska Event, the First Use of the Electric Chair, and the X-Ray Martyrs.)

John struggled with the wheelbarrow spilling dirt.

The packed trail snaked along hillsides under huge oak trees. He never saw so many trees. Horizon to horizon. America was a land of towering shadows.

Mr. Duffy’s foreman stood at the dumping point over the cut. He was counting wheelbarrows. If it wasn’t heaping, no count, and no pay.

“I had to shovel myself,” John said as he huffed under the weight. “My man ran into the forest. I think he shit himself.”

The foreman didn’t look up from his notebook.

He heaved the load up and over. The tiny addition of earth landed on a mound growing far below.

John leaned and rested for a precious few seconds. “I heard him moaning back there,” he said.

“Second one today,” the foreman said. “We’ll fetch him.”

“The second?”

“Not your concern.”

John didn’t like the sound of that. There were whispers about cholera on the ship. And whispers of a passenger or two helped overboard. Questions were met with tight lips. Nobody else wanted to end up disembarking early.

“You’ll be wanting more loads if you want a wage today,” the foreman said.

“I need another man.”

The foreman shrugged.

“But I need a digger!”

“That load there was skimped,” the foreman said, gesturing over the edge. “No credit.”

John slammed the wheelbarrow down.

He heaved the wooden wheels around to circle back.

“You leave that man alone,” the foreman said.

On to Part 3.


the walking man said...

Not being paid for an arbitrarily defined load in a wheel barrow sounds like a rather good reason for collective bargaining to me.

I will wait to see where you go with your conclusion to this, one of the fascinating small mysteries of American history.

Lee said...

Gritty - and the saga continues...

Anonymous said...

Walking Man, I was thinking the same thing. Unions have done many crazy things, but the underlying need was all too real.

Lee, one little bit of info to keep in the back of your mind: I pass within yards of these people, the real dead, every single day.

Lee said...

No disrespect J. Where is it you pass?

Anonymous said...

Lee, I didn't mean to say that I had taken any offense! I thought it was just an interesting thing to know as you read this series.

My commuter train travels over the work these men did. They are being exhumed within sight of the tracks and my window.

Lee said...

Why are they being exhumed?

SzélsőFa said...

an interesting story (again), creeping back to light. go Jason!

Anonymous said...

Lee, these people would have been forgotten altogether if it weren't for a few papers found in an old railroad executive's safe. Nobody knew for sure where the bodies were precisely, or if they truly existed. A couple of people got interested in the story and went looking for them. The first grave was found with ground penetrating radar.

Szelsofa, thanks! This one has a unique fascination for me. I'll explain it at the end.