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Recalling Irish muscle that built Mass. Railroads

BY JENNY HALL
Staff Writer

HATFIELD- Town historians celebrated the wearing of the green a few days early Thursday with tales of Irish derring-do, fiddling and a colorful array of shamrock-inspired goodies.

Members of the Hatfield Historical Society gathered in the parlor of the Congregational Church to enjoy St. Patrick's Day with a program about the role of Irish laborers in the construction of the Massachusetts Great Western Railway linking Boston, Worcester and Springfield to New York between 1838 and 1841.

Some 40 people gathered for the program, presented by Dennis Picard, director of Storrowtown Village Museum in West Springfield. Picard was dressed as an Irish immigrant, in vintage vest, trousers and cap.

Tidbits of train trivia peppered the presentation.

For example, artist James McNeil Whistler made his mother famous in his 1871 portrait, now known simply as Whistler's Mother. But who's heard of his father?

Fact: Whistler's father was the chief engineer on the Massachusetts Great Western Railroad in 1848.

Or who knew the cruel and ironic twist of fate that awaited the stone mason- one Bemis by name- who supervised the construction of the stone bridges and embankments that carved out rail beds in Chester's mountain sides?

Fact: He retired to New Jersey and blew himself up in his own backyard while detonatng a rock that was in the way of a goldfish pond he wanted to build.

Or this: After the completion of the railroad in 1841, crews of Irish laborers followed the railway west. Some met a cruel fate. Experts have always believed that the mass grave dug beside a railroad spur in Michigan- known as McCarthy's Cut- contained the bodies of Irish labors fallen victim to a cholera epidemic.

Fact: When recently exhumed, forensic scientists confirmed that most bodies showed signs of blunt trauma wounds. It's now believed that McCarthy murdered most of the laborers and retired with the proceeds of the considerable sum paid to him by the insurance on the loss of his crew.

Picard's presentation ended with a rousing performance of Irish ballads by fiddler Stan Svec and Picard on the mouth harp.

After the program, audience members snacked on green-themed desserts as they perused Historical Commission Secretary Frederick Martin's extensive collection of antique photos of local trains and train scenes.

(c) Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield MA. All rights reserved.
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There is currently no available "Beginner" label. The following is the default level label: Many Irishmen worked as laborers building the railroads. In a presentation for the Hatfield Historical Society, men who built the Great Western Railway, which linked Boston, Worcester, Springfield and New York, were remembered. Interesting bits of train trivia, such as the fact the James McNeil Whistler's father, who is definitely not as famous as his mother, was chief engineer of the railroad in 1848, were also included in the presentation.

 

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"Recalling Irish Muscle that built Mass. Railroads" article from Daily Hampshire Gazette newspaper

author   Jenny Hall
publisher   Hampshire Gazette
date   Mar 17, 2007
location   Northampton, Massachusetts
width   9.0"
height   3.5"
process/materials   printed paper, ink
item type   Periodicals/Newspaper
accession #   #L07.014


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