Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
NEWSMAKER Trying to unravel Duffy's Cut mystery
nLocal dentist, using skeletal remains, dental X-rays, helping to give some belated respect to 19th century railroad worker. BY JON RUTTER, Staff Writer
Describing how 19th-century Irish immigrants used hand tools to build the Columbia and Philadelphia Railroad, Dr. Matt Patterson shook his head.
"They had their backs and they had their picks and shovels," the Lancaster dentist marveled.
At Duffy's Cut, near Malvern, they toiled in the summer heat until they dropped. "Human beings were used like disposable parts," Patterson said.
Today, thanks to him and others, one of the 57 laborers who died suspiciously in the cut nearly 181 years ago gets some belated respect.
The presumptive remains of 18-year-old John Ruddy will be interred during a 3 p.m. ceremony at the Church of the Holy Family in Ardara, County Donegal, Ireland.
That is, Patterson believes they have the same guy who was listed on an 1832 sailing ship manifest.
Pausing recently at the Delp Road practice he runs with Dr. Vince Votilla, Patterson pinched his thumb and forefinger almost together: "We're this close to saying it's John Ruddy."
"We" refers to a small army of volunteer Duffy's Cut researchers led by Immaculata University history professor Dr. Bill Watson and his twin brother, Frank.
Because Ruddy's skull shows blunt trauma marks –– and another man was shot through the head –– the group believes many of the Irishmen were murdered, and hastily buried in the cut to stop the spread of cholera.
The Watsons say the incident was long hushed up by the railroad.
The first skeletons were discovered March 20, 2009 –– shortly after Patterson joined the group.
The project fascinated the dentist, who is a founding member of the Lancaster County Irish-American Cultural Society.
A Lancaster native and Navy veteran, Patterson, 53, studied forensic dentistry at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida and the former Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, D.C.
He said his resume featured two other vital assets:
"I have a very patient partner and an extremely patient wife," Sarah Breneman Patterson.
He is one of several locals immersed in Duffy's Cut lore, including Millersville University professor Dr. Dennis Downey, who early on hosted a talk on the initiative, Tellus360 owner Joe Devoy and Tim Bechtel of Enviroscan Inc.
Diggers have spent many weekends probing the wooded cut in earshot of Amtrak's mainline.
"It's not 'Indiana Jones'-type stuff," Patterson said, just tedious coaxing of tooth and bone from the earth.
The remains of five unidentified bodies were unearthed separately and buried a year ago in West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd.
Patterson said the Chester County coroner gave the Watsons custody of the Ruddy remains, which have been flown to Ireland.
Tile Films will shoot footage for a second Duffy's Cut documentary at today's service.
Clues to Ruddy's identity may be locked in a jaw bone found in the cut four years ago.
Patterson said his group has been waiting for Smithsonian scientists to examine DNA entombed inside the teeth.
Because the Ruddys have an exceedingly rare genetic defect –– they're born with no upper right first molar –– talking with living relatives could also establish a definitive link.
The prospect drew tantalizingly close last summer when a Ruddy family member visited Philadelphia –– for one afternoon.
He left before Patterson could see him and has since been out of touch in Australia, the dentist said.
While in Ireland, Patterson said, he'll speak with dentists who might be familar with the Ruddy anomaly.
Meanwhile, the mass grave that conceals most of the Duffy's Cut remains lies unexcavated 30 feet down.
Patterson said Amtrak gave permission to continue digging after intervention by lawmakers, including his former high school classmate, U.S. Sen. Robert Casey Jr.
Identification will be even tougher in the future because the bodies are mingled together, Patterson said.
"I think, quite honestly, we're just getting into the thick of it."n