The 4:25 p.m. Pacific Northwest....

departing Chicago....heading west..come ride with us

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Orphan Train..what the heck is that?????

It's just what it sounds like, a train carrying orphans. In our day and age, it's not that we don't have orphans, but we have a 'system' for addressing their aloneness. That hasn't always been the case. Before I tell you about that, and the origins of the TRUE ORPHAN TRAIN, I should tell you how personally involved I am with the 'orphan' concept. Most of you know my new friend, Ebby. What you see in the blog pictures looks like a perfectly lovely cat that anyone could/would love. And that's true and not true. Ebby is "a-social", meaning she is scared to death of everyone she encounters, and every situation that occurs. It's nothing I was expecting or prepared for when I said I would take her. I couldn't have imagined a cat, who had lived with 'people', indoors, a pet, being as isolated as she keeps herself. Certainly NOT what I had hoped for when I decided I needed a companion. I was delighted with the speed and efficiency the Universe answered my petition for a middle aged cat. I was SO very specific in what I wanted. Read about it back in Sept and Oct. of 2006 over at Pieces From my on the sidebar. I sort of forgot to add friendly and loving to my list of requirements....OL
What I have come to recently is, that if I hadn't taken her, and she'd gone to a shelter, she never would have even been put UP for adoption. She wants nothing to do with anybody she doesn't know, and would have 'flunked' the socialized test. She was left an orphan in the most cruel way..unprepared for the world she lives in. She's been with me 10 months now, and we have made progress in socialization. She has gotten to know me enough to trust me when I call her, or reach down to touch her. But she's still a very nervous Nellie, jumping at noises outside, and running from the sound of a car door closing.
But on to the reason for the post....
The saga of the Orphan Trains that left New York carrying unwanted children west across America, in hopes of finding them homes. It sounds like a happy one, but I have serious doubts about that. Being forced to leave what little security they had in the familiar, and only 'hope' that they would find a home with a 'good' family and not a 'slave master in the making'.

In 1853 there were over 30,000 immigrant children living in the streets of New York City. A seminarian, Charles L. Brace, founded the Children's Aid Society, and for the next 70 years transported children west to America's frontiers in hopes of a family for each of them. Over 200,000 children rode that train, heading west. One must believe some of them found good, loving homes.
In the 1980's a special was, in documentary form, for TV. The narrator was a Mrs. Fuchs, who had been an orphan train child. Her story, while mostly bittersweet in it's portrait of her life, touched my heart. As an adoptive mom to 5, it's hard for me to accept that there wss NO goodness shown any of the children. And so I wrote to her, and she answered my letter. It was a lovely reply, and I wish I remembered her words, or that I still had the letter.

Jeanette Oke, who writes the Christian based books such as Love Comes Softly, which was made into a mini series on the Hallmark Channel writes of similiar happening in her books. The series follows the young daughter into marriage and parenthood. In one episode, the town is called to gather at the church in preparation for meetin the Orphan Train which will be arriving that day.
The children are literally paraded in front of the residents, and 'looked over' like livestock, in hopes of a home within that community. You can imagine the humiliation at standing there for inspection and being passed over as many children were.."too old, too young, only one child not both of you, a handicap, a lisp, crossed eyes, to thin" the list was long. And if you weren't selected, back on the train til the next community.
I believe there have been one or two episodes on Little House on the Prairie about the Orphan Train as well, altho no mention is ever made of it in the Little House books. The time period is right, and no doubt the train may have stopped in a community where the Ingalls lived.
If you would want to know more about the 'real deal', and not just my fanciful name for using my unloved and abandoned blocks, Google Orphan Train, or the name of the seminarian, Charles L. Brace, or Children's Aid Society, still active today.
There are some books on the subject, and one trilagy that I know of, but can't remember the author off hand. I'll have to look and see if I can find the book. The second book, which I have, is called "The Little Sparrows". I found it on the library book sale which is why I have only the 2nd one.

Orphan blocks, like refugee children are not held in very high regard.I feel those blocks are another link to our quilting heritage. Not every child is beautiful or wanted, but that doesn't mean they don't have a purpose. I'm not much of a "planner" when it comes to quilts. I'm more likely to figure out how a block is pieced, and then pull scraps and begin making them. Sometimes it becomes a quilt, and sometimes I just don't like it well enough to make alot of them. Sometimes I make way too many...LOL. And Orphans are born!!

To end on a happy note, I will say that I'm delighted to be part of Blog Land where I've found sooooo many others who just have to 'rescue' things...kittens, old quilts, abandoned mirrors (*VBG*) and the like. It's good to know you have company!


Marcie said...

What an amazing story and history. I need to look for that Hallmark series, or the books. Fascinating!

Sue in western WA said...

Ebby is so lucky to have landed in your home and in your patient, loving care.

I had no idea of the real Orphan Train until I saw the TV movie on Hallmark based on J. Oke's book. I'm with you: I have to believe that at least a fraction of those children found loving homes and not indentured servitude or worse. I guess our modern day foster children could be said to be in a very similar situation... At least I can take some comfort in the fact that I try to give good homes to unwanted animals and quilt blocks!

KCQuilter said...

Finn, our Natasha was very much like that when we got her. She had been at the animal shelter for awhile after being rescued from an abandoned house. A sweet young couple took her in for awhile, but their one-year-old daughter developed an allergy to her. They had put up a poster about her at the vet's and we had been wanting a companion for Rocky (also a rescued kitty--but very sociable and outgoing). We brought her home and for months and months she spent lots of time under the bed or sofa--so afraid of everything. She must have felt abandoned--twice! She didn't trust. We let her do her own thing and slowly but surely, she has become "one of the family". She still is not a lapcat like Rocky, but will cuddle right next to DH or me on the couch, sleep in our bed, meow for petting, and be a part of the family. I never would have believed it if someone had told me she would be like this!!! She still hides when the doorbell rings, however!

QuiltingFitzy said...

I love, love the Oke books! Thanks for putting 2 and 2 together.

This pic of Ebby is a really good one.

Elaine Adair said...

Thanks for the informative story of the real "Orphan Train" ... I think that train may have come through North Platte, not far from here, as that's where MANY of the trains passed through. My town is also a railroad town, so maybe the children ended up here also. What a tragic, yet interesting story. Imagine, just passing those kids out like chickens. Occasionally we hear a real story from one of those real orphans.

MY quilt orphans are very much loved! Almost always, I wanted to have MORE, but used better judgment to limit myself. Occasionally, I became aware that I just could NOT have so many (like children - there ARE limits!)

Stay cool. Near 100 degrees here today and rest of week. Arghhhh

Katie said...

I have heard that the mark of a society is how they treat their children and old folks. Doesn't seem like we did very good and it is still true today. History of the role of children is very interesting. They were considered little adults and many children with parents had very hard lives. I hope the lesson now is to stay alert and get involved when we see or feel a child is in danger -orphan or not.

mamaspark said...

How amazing. I had no idea about the orphan train. I do, however know about orphan cats (and quilt blocks). We have 5 cats. Three we got when our old cat passed away. Then "Jack" just adopted us. We called him Jack, because he could not purr he just made the grrrr Pirate noise. Hence (captain) Jack (Sparrow) the cat. We had him neutered and one week later he ran away. Then my daughter brought us a rescue cat, Hallie, you may have seen her highness on my blog? Anyway, she is super sweet, but still doesn't like being in a housefull of cats. She is kind of a scaredy cat, but loves me and will be where ever I am when she is inside. Well, 2 years ago, on a cold winter night, Jack was seen skulking about the cars. We coaxed him in and found out he learned how to purr, but was now declawed! Now we have 5. You can see Jack on my blog too. He is huge and the BEST sleeper ever. Come and visit!

Susan Tidwell said...

Hi Finn! We are in Kansas now and just picked up a brochure on 'The National Orphan Train Complex' - I read about the orphan trains and remembered your link - I thought yours was about orphaned quilt blocks only, but after reading your post, it is all tied together. According to this brochure: "1 in 25 Americans is connected to an Orphan Train Rider."

Hope all is well with you, thanks for the history lesson!

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