Would you send your seven-year-old out on the streets to live? Or expect him to earn a living for your family?
In 1852 the New York City Police Chief estimated 30,000 abandoned children roamed the streets—mainly children of immigrants. The city didn’t have the resources or infrastructure to deal with the growing problem.
Little work to spread among the huge influx of people made for extreme poverty. Children helped to earn a living for their families especially if only one adult could work. In some cases it was easier to find work for their children than for the adults. Some families depended entirely upon the income of their children.
When there was no work or if children were turned out on their own, they might join street gangs for safety and/or resort to thievery or prostitution for survival.
The story of Algie Braly saddened me. As a seven-year-old, he rode the train from New York to Arkansas in 1912. His memory of New York was one of despair. “I hate the Statue of Liberty,” he told the researcher. He could see the top of it from the orphanage dormitory. He forever associated that statue with being deserted by his mother.
The Children’s Aid Society (CAS) was formed to respond to the plight of these children. It was out of this organization’s work the Orphan Train movement began.
With the help of the railroads, the CAS and other institutions in large industrial cities placed more than 200,000 children. Trains were sent to all 48 contiguous states, but the Midwest received the greatest number.
The Orphan Trains may not have been the perfect solution. Still, they provided a chance to help these children—a chance they did not have in their current circumstances.
Rev. H.D. Clarke (placement agent for the CAS) said, “Those who take a child…and keep him or her…will have a great reward. It is the rearing of a monument far greater than that made from marble or granite.”
The National Orphan Train Complex is located in Concordia, Kansas. Check the link for more information. Please call ahead to confirm the museum is open and to make certain there is adequate staffing for your tour, 785-243-4471.
The complex is also the national headquarters of the orphan train rider’s research center and the collection of the Orphan Train Heritage Society of America (OTHSA). Begin your tour with a video presentation at the Morgan-Dowell Research Center (up the walkway from the depot).
Take time to listen to the docent’s presentation at the museum. Our guide was excellent. She made it all come to life, especially since she was acquainted with some descendants of Orphan Train riders.
Consider reading a book about the orphan train before you visit the museum. One suggestion: The Orphan Train Adventures by Joan Lowery Nixon, a series for 8-12 year-olds can still be enjoyed by adults.
If you’re unable to locate a book to read before your trip, don’t worry. The office/complex store has plenty of books to choose from.
In my research for this article I came across a statement by Idona Swedenburg. Her husband rode the Orphan Train in 1929 to Nebraska. After he passed away she found this piece of wisdom tucked inside his billfold:
Now there is a road called tomorrow,
but this is the place called today.
It’s a wonderful place to visit,
but no one may ever stay.
What are your experiences with adoption? Or with the orphan trains?
What monuments have you helped raise?
Feel free to share in the comments below.
Until next time…Travel Light,
© 2016 SuZan Klassen