The tragedy of Duffy’s Cut was long expunged from history. The yesterdays we ignore often haunt our tomorrows. (More)
First our thanks to last week’s writers:
On Monday, you shared your stories of offline political activism in Things We Did This Week, addisnana mused about A Mouse Named Scalia in Midday Matinee, and winterbanyan explored Sustainable National Parks in Our Earth.
On Tuesday, Winning Progressive celebrated as Obama DOJ Wins Significant Victory in Arizona Immigration Case in Morning Feature, we discussed What Libertarians Ignore about Property Rights and Government in Furthermore!, readers collaborated to write Tuesday’s Tale: A Trip to the Spa in Midday Matinee, and winterbanyan shared New Methods for Understanding Climate Change in Our Earth.
On Wednesday, Winning Progressive had Questions for Mitt Romney About Military Service and Dodging the Draft in Morning Feature, the Squirrel opined on Creationism, Nessie, and Myth in Furthermore!, addisnana pondered whether we’re Weather Dependent? in Midday Matinee and asked Whose Government Is the Problem, Quiz 6 in Evening Focus, and winterbanyan revealed a Bacterial Attack Strategy in Our Earth.
On Thursday, we reviewed Christopher Buckley’s Supreme Courtship: A Comic Delight in Morning Feature and hosted a LiveBlog of Supreme Court Proceedings in Furthermore!, triciawyse brought us Fursdai Furries in Midday Matinee, Smartypants reminded us to Let Obama BE Obama in Evening Focus, and winterbanyan reported Court Upholds EPA’s GHG Mandate in Our Earth.
On Friday, we summarized the Supreme Court opinions in SCOTUS and the ACA: A 9-0, 1-3-1-4, 5-4, 5-4, 3-2-4 Decision in Morning Feature, triciawyse shared Frieday Critters in Midday Matinee, and winterbanyan saw how Fungi May Advance Biofuels Production in Our Earth.
On the weekend, we looked at the winners and losers in SCOTUS and the ACA: A Surprisingly Progressive Decision in Saturday’s Morning Feature, Ms. Crissie was asked about Throwing a Fit? in Sunday’s Morning Feature, Winning Progressive shared Weekend Reading in Furthermore, we chuckled at Silly Sunday: Close Encounters of the Political Kind in Evening Focus, and winterbanyan brought our weekly Eco News Roundup in Our Earth.
Note: Please share your stories of offline political activism in Things We Did This Week.
Most of us learned an American Story of early explorers finding a New World, faithful pilgrims seeking religious freedom, brave patriots resisting British oppression, visionary entrepreneurs and hardy workers spawning the Industrial Revolution, tragic brothers fighting a Civil War, rugged frontiersmen moving west, brilliant inventors creating the factories and gadgets of a modern economy, dusty families enduring the Great Depression, and our nation united in saving the world from tyranny.
For many of us, the American Story as “history” ended there. What happened since was discussed, if at all, in the context of “current events.” Those were highly contested. Politicians, talking heads, parents, workers, and students all debated what had was happening, and what it meant. Indeed they were “current events” precisely because they weren’t yet far enough in the past for us to have reached a consensus. This was unlike “history,” which was written in books and taught in lectures. We were given tests and expected to respond with the correct answers. There were correct answers because, while “current events” were matters of opinion, “history” was about facts.
That is, of course, a broad-brush simplification. Yet its essence is true, and it helps explain why we so often ground political arguments in history, convinced those who disagree are ignoring not only our opinions about current events but also the historical facts … the American Story.
For 57 Irish immigrants who arrived in Philadelphia in June of 1832, the American Story was brief and brutal. They were hired by another Irish immigrant, Phillip Duffy, who had arrived a few decades before and started a construction business. Duffy had received a contract to build a difficult mile of the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad, the track that would link to the western part of the state and Ohio beyond. Duffy’s portion was near the town of Malvern, about 20 miles west of Philadelphia.
Within six weeks, all 57 immigrants were dead. Many probably died of cholera. The rest, forensic experts say, were murdered to contain both the epidemic and the news. If you’re building a railroad and want people to ride it, best not to tell them about contagious disease outbreaks along the route. Better to dump the bodies in a mass grave, and order all records of their arrival and death destroyed.
Thus the railroad company did and there the story of Duffy’s Cut ended, until brothers William and Frank Watson inherited a file from their grandfather. He had been the private secretary to the president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, and had found and kept secret company papers about the tragedy at Duffy’s Cut. Over 150 years later, that American Story – of industrial expansion made profitable by exploitation – finally began to emerge.
The two mass graves were found last year. One, with the remains of seven workers, has been excavated. Those workers were remembered and reburied on March 10 of this year. Only one could be positively identified. John Ruddy was probably only a teenager when he left Ireland and came to work, and die, at Duffy’s Cut. His body was returned to Ireland for burial among relatives there.
The other mass grave, with the rest of the remains, cannot be excavated. It is too close to the track, still used by AmTrak and SEPTA. The workers lie beneath a stone monument, beside the railway they helped to build.
But their American Story is no longer buried.
In his new book Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent, professor and journalist E.J. Dionne argues that the ideological and partisan cleavage in our political dialogue exists because we no longer agree about the American Story. Our history, like current events classes in high school, is now a matter of opinion.
Republicans and the Tea Party in particular, Dionne charges, have written an airbrushed and often glaringly inaccurate American Story of rugged individualism, ignoring and even denying how the American Story has been a story of We and not merely an aggregate of Mes. Telling a more complete American Story is, he argues, essential to restoring civil society and a functional representative government.
We’ll discuss Dionne’s book later this week. I agree that we need to tell a more complete American Story … a story that includes chapters like Duffy’s Cut.