A few days ago I posted my thoughts on Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. Last night, the Bookies Book Club met for pizza and reviewed this book as well and then followed up by seeing the author speak.
The whole Orphan Train experience has been fun. First, our Book Club won the books from a Harper Collins on line contest. Then our Library secured her to come and speak in our town, AND it just happened to be on the day our book club normally meets AND happens to be the Bookies Anniversary month (13 years!), it sounded like a fun night.
When we went to see the author of Orphan Train speak we were in for a real treat. Christina Baker Kline was a delight to listen to. She put an impressive amount of research into the book, fueled on to the topic as her husband’s grandfather was an orphan on the train.
When Christina asked the audience if anyone knew someone who had been on an orphan train, a third of the rooms hands shot up. Wow.
As you can see, Minnesota was one of the higher states as far as the count of orphans were that road the trains. It was sad to learn that only 30% of the children were orphans. Many were abandoned, and some were even taken. Christina said that you did not want your children outside after dark for fear that they be snatched and put on the trains.
The children mainly were between the ages between 2 and 14. Preferred were boys between the ages of 9 and 14 as they were handy to use on the farms and they could sleep in the barn. Babies were the next in demand and these trains of babies were called Mercy Trains. The hardest to place were girls as they could not do the physical labor that was needed and they were more underfoot as girls did not sleep in the barns but in the homes instead. Harder yet to place, Christina said, was red heads. No one wanted red headed children or children with freckles. Christina had articles where they specifically said they do not want any red headed children claiming that they were more prone to disobeying and fights.
Most of the children were not adopted by the families that took them in. Adoption meant inheritance and people did not want these children to inherit their lands. They were chosen and signed for with very little paper work – and yes, like in the book Orphan Train, some were abused.
The trains ran from 1854 – 1929. Over that time more than 100,000 children were placed in homes – many with no records of who they were or where they came from. Christina had documented conversations with some of the Orphan Train riders she had spoke with and even though the survivors are now in their later 90’s, they still say they always felt something was missing – while they may have been placed in good homes, they still felt somewhat disconnected and knew that “these were not my people.”
When Christina first started her research she was able to connect with around 60 Orphan Train Riders. Now she said there is about 25 left in the world, and it is their descendants that have picked up the torch to carry on the research and the questions yet unanswered.
The Bookies overall rated the book a strong 4 out of 5. Most of us really enjoyed the historical fiction mixed with fact. Following up with the author event was a real treat and for me, has left a need to know more. This will not be my last look into the Orphan Train. Thank you Christina Baker Kline for opening our eyes to such an important part of our history.
Do you know anyone who has ridden the orphan trains?