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December 27, 2023 44 mins

Between 1854 and 1929, 250,000 orphans and abandoned children were placed on East Coast city trains and sent west to live with new families. A desperate solution to a desperate problem, some of the stories turned out well and some far from well. The remarkable stories of these riders live on through their descendants, many of whom continue to search for answers about their ancestry. Mo talks to one of these descendants and tracks down the last surviving Orphan Train rider. This episode originally aired on December 20, 2019.

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:01):
Hi, it's Moe. We're off through the new year, but
I wanted to share another one of my favorite stories
with you before we return with our final episode of
the season. It's about the largely forgotten social experiment known
as the Orphan Train Movement. From eighteen fifty four to
nineteen twenty nine, more than a quarter million abandoned or

orphaned children were placed on trains, taking them from East
coast cities to the Midwest and beyond to live with
new families, the largest mass migration of children in American history. Today,
two million Americans are descendants of these courageous riders. In

twenty nineteen, we looked back at their often heartbreaking journeys
and tracked down the last known survivor. It's a story
that moves me as much now as it did when
we first told it. As always, thank you for listening.

Speaker 2 (01:02):

Speaker 3 (01:03):
My name is Addie Skilman, and this is Loving Versus Virginia,
the stepping stone for equality in America.

Speaker 1 (01:11):
Every year, at the National History Day Contest, middle and
high school kids from across the country gather to compete,
presenting on a range of historical topics, therefore turning the
times reward to Victory.

Speaker 3 (01:24):
Rysler appeal taking a stand against prohibition.

Speaker 1 (01:28):
Root sixty sis road possibilities.

Speaker 4 (01:31):
What chaplin, Missouri?

Speaker 5 (01:34):

Speaker 6 (01:35):
Let's all so great to get your kids all Rude
sixty six.

Speaker 1 (01:41):
But the topic that grabbed my attention was one presented
by a fifteen year old from Minnesota, Claire Isaacson.

Speaker 3 (01:48):
Orphan Train, the compromise that the children on the right trucks.

Speaker 1 (01:52):
I'd never heard of the Orphan Train, but from her
first line, Claire had me hooked.

Speaker 3 (01:57):
Your parents are not your parents, Your past is not
your past. Your life begins when you are chosen.

Speaker 1 (02:12):
Your life begins when you were chosen, an apt way
to describe the Orphan Train, a mostly forgotten nineteenth century
movement that rescued abandoned children from the crowded streets of
East Coast cities and delivered them by train to new
families across the country. In her presentation, Claire channeled real

life Orphan Train rider Victoria Moe, a child of Irish immigrants,
as she made the trip west.

Speaker 3 (02:40):
We cruss our fingers and prayed that we get a
loving home. Many older children are scared and tried to run.
Our pasts were left behind on that train station. We
were going to have a totally different life and our
new homes.

Speaker 1 (03:00):
I spoke to Claire after her performance, and I'm a
little embarrassed that I'd never even heard of this before.

Speaker 7 (03:07):
Yeah, I know, it's crazy, and that's why I'm thankful
that I did the topics so I can hopefully make
more people know about it, because it's really a secret
and kind of hidden.

Speaker 1 (03:19):
How big was this movement?

Speaker 8 (03:21):
Well, a quarter million children removed west from eighteen fifty
four to nineteen twenty nine.

Speaker 1 (03:28):
A quarter million people. That's like the population of Cleveland.
That's a lot of people. As I dug into our
archives at CBS News, more voices began to surface, voices
of orphan trained riders from years past, all of them
children who had been lifted from dire situations and scattered

across the country for hope of a better life.

Speaker 5 (03:55):
They sent me out west to Colorado Springs. I went
to Wayne County, Michigan.

Speaker 4 (04:02):
I had never heard of anything like Kansas.

Speaker 1 (04:05):
In this episode, we'll tell you the story of the
largest mass migration of children in American history, and I'll
travel to Texas to talk to the last known surviving
orphan train rider. They took you when you were such
a little baby of us.

Speaker 6 (04:20):
The Smallest, Small, Smallest one London Home train.

Speaker 1 (04:24):
From CBS Sunday Morning, and Simon and Schuster. I'm Morocca
and this is mobituaries, This mobid the Orphan Train. May
thirty first, nineteen twenty nine, death of an American experiment

extra extra. Read all about it the Boston molasses disaster
of nineteen nineteen. It's a slow reader. If you happen
to be outside Penn Station in New York City last June,
you might have seen a familiar face. What else h
extract star. I read all about it Warren Harding dead.
It was the one hundredth anniversary of the New York

Daily News, and I had joined their street team for
the day to pass out papers. Look, I love any
opportunity to shout random historical facts at strangers were extract
I read all about it, the Sultan, the Swat credit
to the Yankees, call the bay Rute News you want.
I love the baby Ruth thing, but I also wanted

to get a feel for what it was like to
be a newsye on the streets of New York. You know, newsies,
they're the plucky dancing paper boys from that disney musically loved.
But it turns out it wasn't all song and dance.
Newsies worked long hours on poor wages. Most of them

were abandoned children, and in the mid eighteen hundred It's
New York City had a crisis of abandoned children. Enter
Charles Loring Brace.

Speaker 9 (06:06):
Charles Loring Brace, from a young age to his dying day,
really tried to be the best he could be for others.

Speaker 1 (06:15):
Say, George is the head curator of the National Orphan
Train Complex in Concordia, Kansas. And to tell the story
of the Orphan Train, you have to tell the story
of Charles Laring Brace, who was born in eighteen twenty
six into a well to do family in Lichfield's, Connecticut.
What was he raised to do?

Speaker 5 (06:35):

Speaker 9 (06:36):
Well, his father, who was a teacher, thought that Charles
would follow in his footsteps, and he thought, okay, Charles
is going to be a teacher. And then Charles decides
to be a pastor. But then he realizes that you
don't have to be a pastor that stands behind a pulpit.

Speaker 1 (06:49):
The patrician Charles was going to become a missionary, an
idea that greatly concerned his father, because being a pastor,
you know, it's kind of nice you get invited over
to dinner, you've got a nice place where you live.
But I mean, when you're a missionary, it's you're kind
of rolling up your sleeves and getting out there.

Speaker 9 (07:04):
He truly jumped into the depths that were being ignored.

Speaker 1 (07:10):
In the eighteen fifties, mass immigration from Europe, mostly Irish
and German Catholics, overwhelmed New York City. Poor sanitation and
wild pigs roaming the streets spread diseases like cholera and tuberculosis.
Non Existent labor laws meant unsustainable wages and unsafe working conditions.

And while the wretched state of affairs touched people of
all ages, children felt the effects hardest.

Speaker 10 (07:38):
There was in fantaside happening in New York, where these
kids were actually literally dying in the streets, in the gutters.
These babies were tossed out of homes.

Speaker 1 (07:49):
Renee Wendinger has written several books about the orphan train movement.
She has a personal connection to the subject. Her mother's
Sophia was a rider. Have you ever wondered what would
have happened to your mother. Had she stayed in New York.

Speaker 11 (08:05):
I don't think in that timeframe she would have survived.

Speaker 1 (08:08):
Charles Loring Brace was determined to help remember the newsiaes.
He created lodging houses for them, but there were far
more children in need than there were jobs for newsboys.
Give me a sense of the scale of the problem.

Speaker 9 (08:23):
At one point they say ten thousand kids are on
the street. At another turn, it's thirty.

Speaker 1 (08:27):
Thousand, thirty thousand homeless children at a time when New
York had fewer than six hundred thousand people total. Charles
Loring Brace saw all this firsthand.

Speaker 9 (08:40):
Is eighteen fifty three. In the February of that year.
He starts going out into the streets and quickly realizes
that we're spending more money imprisoning children because you could
be arrested for being a vagrant child, and he wants
to help.

Speaker 5 (08:56):

Speaker 1 (08:56):
Orphanages existed back then, but they were overcrowded, and so
called poorhouses put children and adults together, a dangerous situation
for kids. So maybe it was best to get them
out of New York altogether.

Speaker 9 (09:12):
He really believed in the idea of getting kids out
of the city and out of.

Speaker 1 (09:16):
Vice, vice seems like the perfect word what he sees
going on in the cities of these kids. He just
sees it as kind of a cauldron of sinfulness, basically.

Speaker 9 (09:27):
But he really doesn't see a way for children to
grow up and not be touched by it, not be
drawn into it, to live in an orphanage and then
be let out at eighteen and not fall into a prison.

Speaker 1 (09:41):
So Brace comes up with a plan to move children
en mass to a place where they'll stand a better chance.
Put simply, Charles Loving Brace says, we're going to put
some kids on a train.

Speaker 5 (09:53):

Speaker 1 (09:54):
In eighteen fifty three, Brace founds the Children's Aid Society
to help carry out his grand play. First, he needs
to find people willing to take in abandoned children.

Speaker 9 (10:05):
He basically selects a community where he knows someone. They're
going to go through that church and require that people
who apply for them bring two references from their pastor
and from their courthouse, and they're going to place them
out under the guardianship of the Children's Aid Society.

Speaker 1 (10:24):
Why is he confident that they're even going to be
placed I.

Speaker 9 (10:27):
Think he truly believed that people weren't going to come
to New York and take kids out of orphanages. But
if he brought them to them, put them in their face,
there was no way they could say no. And so
he took a chance.

Speaker 1 (10:41):
Brace makes a deal with a pastor he knows in
the small town of Dowagiac, Michigan, and the Children's Aid
Society begins to gather the forty five children who will
be the passengers on the first orphan train.

Speaker 9 (10:56):
The majority come from the New York Juvenile Asylum, and
technically that first train we now know by historical records,
is paid for in half by children they had studied
your jubil asylum.

Speaker 1 (11:09):
Were any of the kids coerced, pressured or is this
something that they all wanted?

Speaker 9 (11:15):
It's seemingly like they wanted it, But of course what's
the alternative.

Speaker 6 (11:21):

Speaker 1 (11:22):
Orphan train is a slight misnomer. It takes multiple trains
and boats to get from New York City to Michigan.
For many of these children, it's their first time ever
leaving New York City.

Speaker 9 (11:34):
How scary that must have been on the choppy water
and the cliffs and how many trees there are.

Speaker 1 (11:41):
For these kids, it must have been like going to
another planet. Oh, absolutely, a memory of This kind of
crossing even made it into Claire's Orphan Train performance.

Speaker 2 (11:50):
I remember crossing the Hudson River. Oh the wonder that
filled our eyes. Oh we had ever seen sorrow and pain?
What's the world is supposed for us?

Speaker 1 (12:03):
The children arrive into Watchiack in late September eighteen fifty four,
and no one, not the children, not their caretaker, not
the townspeople, really knows what to expect. So they get
off the train into Watchiack, and then what happens.

Speaker 9 (12:17):
The kids are so excited. They're finally in Michigan, their
final destination, and they take off.

Speaker 1 (12:23):
That's right, they run in all directions. Look, they're kids,
they've been cooped up on a train for days. Their
caretaker can't keep up. He just goes to wait for
them at the hotel.

Speaker 9 (12:33):
Finally the kids start rolling in and they have stolen
everything green apples and pumpkins and acorns, and have shoved
grass and leaves up their shirts, up their shirt sleeves,
in their hats, down their pants, in their pockets because
they're so excited. They've never seen everything where it grows.

Speaker 1 (12:54):
And I'm curious, do they know that you're not supposed
to steal. Possibly not, And I'm just I'm trying to
imagine what the people in the town are thinking.

Speaker 9 (13:04):
I bet they're alarmed.

Speaker 1 (13:07):
They probably are alarmed. The people of Dowagiac, after all,
are scheduled to meet the orphan train riders that day
at church. You can imagine that already they're regretting welcoming
the orphans to town. But when they get to church,
they're greeted with a surprise.

Speaker 9 (13:27):
The first thing that they really hear from the kids
are Sunday hymns, and they are singing comy centers, poor
and needy.

Speaker 1 (13:42):
The kids went over the town.

Speaker 9 (13:44):
They're placed within a week.

Speaker 1 (13:46):
All of them, so this first ride had to be
considered a success.

Speaker 9 (13:50):

Speaker 1 (13:51):
Two months later, a second train leaves New York and
the orphan train movement begins in earnest and now a
pop quiz because I love pop quizzz. It's easy to overlook,
but so much of America's history, innovation, arts, and entertainment

politics has been driven by individuals who grew up adopted
or in foster families. I'm going to give you some
clues and you have to guess which famous orphan I'm describing.
If you get two out of three, you win. There
are no prizes. Our first clue. Before this, former president,
Stanford graduate and self made millionaire was roasted in the

Broadway musical Annie for his role presiding over the Great Depression.
He was raised by distant relatives in Oregon after losing
both of his parents to pneumonia. It's Herbert Hoover fun fact.

One of his nicknames was the Hermit, author of Palo Alto. Next,
this fast food mogul, whose grandma's advice not to cut
corners inspired his decision to make his iconic burgers square
instead of round, was adopted as a baby and used
his wealth and influence to help others with childhoods like his,

creating a foundation that still supports foster children around the country.
I'm Dave Thomas. I started Wendy's with one restaurant. It's
Dave Thomas. Fun fact. Before he created Wendy's, he was
the mastermind behind the fried Chicken bucket that put KFC
on the map. Finally, this adopted child would become famous

at the ripe old age of ten, playing the lead
role in a series about a family living on the
prairie in Minnesota. In the eighteen seventies, I decided something.

Speaker 5 (15:53):
What's that happening home is the nicest word there is.

Speaker 1 (15:57):
It's Melissa Gilbert. Her show Lit on the Prairie would
have storylines revolving around orphans throughout its run, including one
played by friend of the podcast, Chason Bateman.

Speaker 2 (16:09):
And we hope you meant what you said about how
you want us to stay, because that's what we want.

Speaker 1 (16:15):
To Speaking of little houses and prairies, let's get back
on that orphan train. As the Children's Aid Society grew,
it sent hundreds, then thousands of children all across the country.
Now almost none of the riders are alive today. But
back in nineteen seventy nine, my CBS Sunday Morning colleague

the Great Martha Teichner interviewed sisters Anna and Margaret Fuchs.
They and their third sister, Helen, rode the orphan train
when they were just ten, nine and seven years old.
They were orphaned after losing both their parents to tuberculosis.
Margaret remembered seeing their mother's burial.

Speaker 12 (16:57):
The thing that really got to me was seen in
that coffin being lowered, and I can remember trying to
jump into that grade because that was my mother down there.

Speaker 1 (17:07):
When the children were put on a train in nineteen
twenty four, they didn't even know where they were headed.
As Anna remembered, I had.

Speaker 4 (17:15):
Very strong ideas that I was going to California. I
didn't know there was any other stake besides New York
and California, as far as I was concerned.

Speaker 1 (17:26):
Margaret described their arrival in the tiny town of McPherson, Kansas.

Speaker 12 (17:30):
First thing I did was to look around. How come
they're letting us out in the middle of nowhere. I
couldn't see any buildings. I was looking for skyscrapers.

Speaker 1 (17:38):
Whenever orphans sent by the Society arrived at their destination,
they were lined up on a train platform or on
the stage of a theater so that families could walk
down the line and pick out their preferred kid. As
author Renee Wendinger explains, this process actually gave rise to
a familiar turn of phrase.

Speaker 10 (17:57):
Some of the children would have stood on a little
box called the soap box, and that's how the term
put up for adoption became known as we know it today.

Speaker 1 (18:07):
If it sounds impersonal, well that's an understatement. Here's how
fifteen year old Claire Isaacson described it in her National
History Day performance.

Speaker 2 (18:17):
Ladies were usually chosen first, then the tougher, stronger looking voice.

Speaker 3 (18:22):
US girls were usually chosen vast. We watched people come
and go and inspect of the children. We saw them
looking at their teeth and even having some boys to
push us.

Speaker 1 (18:35):
Martha Teichner asked Anna Fuchs about her experience.

Speaker 13 (18:38):
Did you ever feel any outrage or any any anger
at the fact that you were being kind of lined
up there and say, okay, I got a kid.

Speaker 4 (18:47):
No, I don't think so. I think it's a matter
of you sort of blame yourself for having lost your folks.

Speaker 1 (18:55):
The sisters were all selected, but by different families.

Speaker 13 (18:59):
How big thought was that when you were standing there
the day that you were both selected by families, seeing
each other and seeing goodbyes and wondering what's going to happen?

Speaker 12 (19:10):
I think it was sort of the case that there
was so much confusion and all that we didn't really
have that much chance to think about it, did we.

Speaker 4 (19:19):
I don't think the thought entered my mind at all
until I got there and sat on that step ladder
in the kitchen, and then it finally hit me. You
are alone that was when you started, and that's when
I start in.

Speaker 1 (19:38):
Sibling separation was an added trauma thousands of orphan writers
suffered over the years.

Speaker 12 (19:44):
Were you scared, Yes, I think we just wanted to
be sure that we were going to be close enough
together so that we get to wouldn't lose each other.

Speaker 13 (19:55):
Why was that so important?

Speaker 12 (19:56):
What was it's We were family and that was all
the family there was.

Speaker 1 (20:03):
Even though Anna and Margaret were both taken in by
families in the same town, their lives took very different turns.
Anna became extremely close to her new mother, Jenny Bankston.

Speaker 4 (20:15):
She was a person I could trust when I first
came here. When I came out here, that was one
thing I did not trust anyone. I had lost faith
in people. I really feel like I've had two mothers.

Speaker 1 (20:30):
Margaret, meanwhile, was taken in by the Runian family, who
ran a local boarding house. They enlisted Margaret to help
with cleaning and cooking for guests. It was a pretty cold,
business like relationship.

Speaker 12 (20:43):
I always had the feeling that I was there in
place of a maid.

Speaker 1 (20:46):
Now these weren't formal adoptions, at least not at first,
but the family's writers ended up with were bound by contract.
Parents had to make sure the children went to school
and church. They were expectationsations for the kids as well.

Speaker 9 (21:02):
Yes, the child had to you know, be a child
and listen to those parents and help out around the house,
and a household at that moment operated like a little business,
whether you were the birth child, or the adopted child,
or the foster child.

Speaker 1 (21:14):
Basically, what you're saying is being a kid in the
nineteenth century wasn't very fun. No, no, absolutely not. But
that didn't make it any easier for orphaned children hoping
to find a family. Arriving to one like Margaret's was hard.

Speaker 12 (21:29):
I honestly don't remember whether I call them mom and
dad or whether I call them mister ms Venion.

Speaker 5 (21:33):
What does that tell you about your experience.

Speaker 12 (21:36):
Well, just that there wasn't that kind of love there, well,
affection of any kind.

Speaker 13 (21:43):
Does it hurt you that you never had that?

Speaker 5 (21:45):
Does it?

Speaker 4 (21:46):

Speaker 12 (21:46):
Yes, yes, particularly when I knew the kind of a
home that Anna was in, where she was getting that
kind of affection and all.

Speaker 1 (21:59):
Mart situation wasn't rare, but spurred by the Children's Aid
Society's success, other organizations began to follow suit, and in
eighteen sixty nine, the second largest orphan train institution began earlier.
I quizzed you on some of America's most prominent real

life orphans, but they're not nearly as famous as some
fictional orphans. Remember that Herbert Hoover song from about ten
minutes ago, Well, it's from a musical centered around an orphan.

Speaker 4 (22:32):
Why any kid would want to be an orphan is
beyond me.

Speaker 1 (22:36):
Not little orphan Annie was a star, first of comic strips,
then of the Broadway stage. In my opinion, the nineteen
eighty two movie is only worth mentioning for Carol Burnett's
Miss Hannigan.

Speaker 9 (22:53):
And if this floor don't shine, I could turn with
the pressure building or becks.

Speaker 4 (23:01):
Unders stamp yes Miss Again.

Speaker 1 (23:05):
On television, the nineteen eighties, as It Happens, were a
boom time for orphan centered sitcoms, starting with Arnold and
Willis on Different Strokes.

Speaker 5 (23:15):
Don't get too used at his place?

Speaker 4 (23:17):
Who'ld you talk about? Willis?

Speaker 1 (23:19):
And there was Punky Brewster.

Speaker 5 (23:21):
What doesn't anyone want me?

Speaker 1 (23:23):
What's wrong with me? Nothing's wrong with you?

Speaker 6 (23:27):
You don't want me?

Speaker 9 (23:28):
Neither did my mom, That's.

Speaker 4 (23:30):
Why she did?

Speaker 8 (23:30):

Speaker 1 (23:31):
And who could forget Webster.

Speaker 5 (23:34):
I'm r getting used to you guys.

Speaker 13 (23:38):
And you know what, chance, we're getting kind of used
to you too.

Speaker 1 (23:44):
It's surprising, given our love of a good orphan story,
that the Orphan Train has been so overlooked. By the
time the Civil War ended in eighteen sixty five, the
Children's Aid Society had placed twelve hundred children with families
in America's heartland, but Charles Loring Brace's organization placed children

primarily in Protestant homes, regardless of the fact that many
of those babies were born to Catholic immigrant mothers. Enter
the New York Foundling Hospital once again, Shaley George from
the National Orphan Train Complex.

Speaker 9 (24:20):
The New York Founding Hospital starts in eighteen sixty nine
with two sisters, Sister Theresa and Sister Anne, and then
they're head of their foundling sister Mary Irene Fitzgibbons. And
so they start the New York Founding Hospital as tiny
little Brownstone and within the night a baby's left on
their doorstep.

Speaker 1 (24:39):
The demand for their services caught them totally off guard, and.

Speaker 9 (24:43):
By the end of the month they have forty five infants.
By the end of the year, they have over one hundred,
and so their mission turned to placing Catholic babies in
Catholic homes.

Speaker 1 (24:54):
Not all of those babies were Catholic when they were
left at the door of the Foundling Hospital, but as
one Orphan trained riders set about the Foundling, you.

Speaker 9 (25:02):
Might go in one way, but you'll leave a.

Speaker 1 (25:04):
Catholic Following in the tracks of the Children's Aid Society,
the Foundling started placing children on trains headed west, but
these children were much younger, mostly infants, and specifically chosen
to resemble the families they were joining.

Speaker 9 (25:18):
They believe that placing out younger children who matched the
family by eye color, hair color, age, and gender would
cut back on the stigma from the surrounding community because
they looked like the family that they were placed in.

Speaker 1 (25:32):
So it's sort of the reverse of Children's Aid Society,
where the Children's Aid Society sends kids out and then
prospective parents choose the kids. Then here it's more of
a mail order system, right. Basically, that's what happened to
Anne Harrison, who was featured on CBS Sunday Morning back
in two thousand and two when she was a spry

ninety three.

Speaker 14 (25:56):
They had asked for a two and a half year
old girl with brown hair and brown eyes. Well they
got a two and a half year old girl that
had auburn hair and hazel eyes, but that was close enough.

Speaker 1 (26:14):
Because she was so young when she arrived. Anne grew
up not even knowing she was adopted. Her father made
sure that.

Speaker 9 (26:21):
Her father basically threatened the entire town to not tell
her she was adopted. Her father never wanted her to
feel less than to be thought of, that she was
not truly his daughter.

Speaker 1 (26:35):
But despite her father's best efforts, the other kids and
her own teachers never quite accepted her.

Speaker 14 (26:42):
I was never popular in school, and that bothered me,
and I seemed to always be the odd ball. Orphans
or adopted children were not really as good class as
the other people. I think that was just a general
thought that you were a bad seed if you came

from people that they didn't know.

Speaker 9 (27:07):
So a lot of the orphan train writers had to
contend with people who were not pleased with them being
in town. The idea is that you're going to inherit
traits of poverty, of vice from parents that some never.

Speaker 1 (27:22):
Knew, almost like the orphan train writers are tainted.

Speaker 9 (27:25):
Yeah, the negativity of immigration is there from the get go,
the negativity of your parents didn't want you, your parents
lost you because they were a drunk or abusive or
in prison, and.

Speaker 1 (27:39):
Would grow up move to Chicago and become a professional
nightclub singer. She wouldn't find out she was adopted until
she was twenty seven years old, and that wasn't the
only surprise waiting for the woman who'd been baptized to Catholic.

Speaker 14 (27:52):
In nineteen eighty nine, I get this letter from the
New York Health Department. Open it up, and there's my
original birth certificate, Mabel Reuben. My mother's name was of
Jenny Ruben. My father's name was Moe Kohn.

Speaker 5 (28:15):
Well. I looked at that and I just split into laughter.

Speaker 9 (28:20):
She just thought, well, I'll just go on and add
a Star of David to my crucifix necklace and just
keep going, because what can I do?

Speaker 5 (28:30):
Well? My Jewish friends said, we know it all about.

Speaker 1 (28:37):
The Foundling and Children's Aid Society together set the Lion's
share of those two hundred and fifty thousand children west
until the last orphan train left for Sulfur Springs, Texas,
on May thirty first, nineteen twenty nine, the world had
simply outgrown the orphan train. Communities in the Midwest now
had their own abandoned children to help. The story doesn't

end there. We know how a quarter million children found
their way west, but what happened after they grew up?

Speaker 2 (29:11):
Do you know the name that was given to you
at bern.

Speaker 4 (29:17):

Speaker 10 (29:19):
Who names your Sofia?

Speaker 5 (29:22):
For my mother and my dad?

Speaker 1 (29:25):
That's Renee Wendinger interviewing her mother, Sophia Hillesheim Kaminski. Sophia
had been an orphan train rider taken in by Anna Grime,
a single woman in Springfield, Minnesota, who spoke only German.

Speaker 14 (29:40):
She really didn't know how to raise children because she
could not be English.

Speaker 5 (29:45):
So I had to learn German.

Speaker 9 (29:48):
And when I went forward to school, then I had.

Speaker 14 (29:50):
To relearned the English because I had only talked German
all the time.

Speaker 4 (29:55):
So what did you do for entertainment?

Speaker 5 (29:59):
I didn't have any entertainment. That had to work all
the time.

Speaker 1 (30:02):
But that wasn't the worst of it. Was Anna physically abusive?

Speaker 11 (30:06):
Yeah she was. She had a little whip that she
kept in the corner.

Speaker 10 (30:10):
It was a snake handled whip, and by that I
mean it was sort of a leather handled whip, and
that's the way she would flog her and she'd say,
now you remember this, and remember not to do that again.

Speaker 1 (30:27):
Sophia's orphan train story is a sad one, but it
doesn't end at her childhood. She would grow up to
become someone vastly different from Anna Grime. Here's how Renee
describes her mother.

Speaker 10 (30:39):
She just had such a warm, open heart. There is
no one that ever knew her would say anything bad
about her, because she was just a warm, loving person.

Speaker 1 (30:52):
You know, it's funny that your mother's story in so
many of these other orphan train writers' stories. It sort
of underlines how vulnerable children are, but also how resilient.

Speaker 10 (31:04):
They were the type of people that would just sort
of kind of pull the bootstraps up and they would
carry on. But my mother would always say, I was
just so thankful to have a roof over my head.

Speaker 1 (31:16):
Your mother had a lot to be angry about.

Speaker 11 (31:18):
She really did, but she did not have that in
her heart.

Speaker 10 (31:22):
And you know, I don't know if that's something that
we inherit Is it biological? Is do we have the
influences around us? Is it our geography? I have no idea,
but her arms were always outreached to people.

Speaker 1 (31:38):
But Renee's mother didn't find peace until near the end
of her own life. Did your mother ever forgive Anna?

Speaker 10 (31:45):
She did not forgive her until she was about I
think she was like ninety six years old, and she
asked me one day if I would take her to
a cemetery. She said, it's time. I need to go
to the cemetery and I need to forgive her.

Speaker 1 (32:07):
So you took your ninety six year old mother to
the cemetery. And what did she say when she was
at the tombstone? Havanna.

Speaker 10 (32:15):
I have no idea what she spoke inside her heart
and we walked away and she said, it's done. I
needed to do that, She said, I should have done
that a long time ago.

Speaker 1 (32:37):
Now, all the Orphan train riders you've been hearing from
in this episode, Renee's mother, Sophia, Anna, and Margaret Fuchs,
Ann Harrison, they're all voices from the past. They're all gone.
But I wanted to talk to a writer myself, and
so I went down to Texas to meet the last

known survivor being orphan train rider. Okay, testing testing right here,
I'm in a conference room at an assisted living facility
in East Bernard, Texas, an hour outside of Houston. Sitting
with me, a host of eager relatives would surrounding ninety

seven year old Beatrice Voytek, an actual orphan train rider.

Speaker 2 (33:25):
The only thing is we know for ninety seven she's
doing great.

Speaker 1 (33:29):
That's her son, George. You're a terrific looking ninety seven
and appreciating you may be the last surviving orphan train rider.
How does that feel?

Speaker 6 (33:39):
Well, I'm kind of They believe that because I was
the smallest on that train.

Speaker 1 (33:46):
She's a national treasure. Did you hear that?

Speaker 6 (33:50):
No, you're a national treasure.

Speaker 1 (33:53):
You are because you are.

Speaker 6 (33:54):
You absolutely are.

Speaker 5 (33:57):

Speaker 6 (33:57):
I appreciate that. I'm thinking, I think extra from any
other orphan.

Speaker 1 (34:03):
Beatrice, the daughter of an Irish immigrant, was only fourteen
months old when she made the trip from New York City,
landing with a Czech family in Texas. She's got a
fascinating story, but in the end, the person that seems
least interested in it is Beatrice. I asked her about
discovering she was an orphan train rider. You didn't know

that you'd been adopted.

Speaker 6 (34:27):
I didn't know I was an orphan. I didn't know anything.
I just read it all the time. You mind you mama,
You mind your mama, And I didn't pay attention.

Speaker 1 (34:36):
Could I asked her about her birth mother, who was
twenty nine when she had her.

Speaker 6 (34:40):
If she used she stood that chance of getting pregnant,
then she should have known that she finet to provide
for that baby.

Speaker 1 (34:49):
Do you wonder what the rest of her life was like?

Speaker 6 (34:53):
You mean my real mother?

Speaker 1 (34:55):
No, I asked Beatrice if she ever wondered what she
might have missed out on having been scooped up and
moved so far away so young.

Speaker 6 (35:03):
Well, yeah, I mean I was adopted into a into
a family, and and that was my family. There's that,
you know, that was my life.

Speaker 1 (35:14):
You've never imagined, even for a moment, what your life
would have been like if you stayed in New York.

Speaker 6 (35:19):
Oh yeah, oh yeah, I thought about that, America?

Speaker 1 (35:23):
And what did you think?

Speaker 5 (35:24):
What were you?

Speaker 6 (35:25):
Thank God? I'm I'm here in Texas. I'm satisfied with
my life the way it is, and and I'm so
blessed with you know, the people that adopted me and
and and brought me up and raised me right and
probably much better than my real parents.

Speaker 1 (35:47):
With and if you ever do want to come to
New York, I've got a guest room. We'll go see
a Broadway show. You ever see Phantom of the Opera? No,
it's terrific.

Speaker 2 (36:02):

Speaker 1 (36:04):
There was no dramatic revelation from Beatrice, no Rosebud moment.
She didn't render a sweeping verdict on whether the Orphan
Train was good or bad. As she saw it, She
rode the train, she grew up, she moved on. It
was what it was. But when Beatrice herself passes on,

that won't be the end of the Orphan Train story. Descendants,
historians and budding historians like Claire Isaacson are still telling
it today. Does this give you kind of a new
appreciation of the importance of preserving history.

Speaker 13 (36:42):
I believe it does.

Speaker 8 (36:43):
Yeah, and especially this movement, because it's not well known
at all. And I've joined the little community of the
Orphan Train rider, people trying to keep the story alive.

Speaker 1 (36:56):
And the main way of preserving it is through Orphan
Train reunions. When they first started in the nineteen sixties,
they were places for the writers themselves to gather.

Speaker 10 (37:05):
What these writers would do, would stand up and tell
their stories. And I found them so intriguing and so interesting.

Speaker 11 (37:14):
These riders.

Speaker 10 (37:15):
When they got together, they celebrated for three straight days.

Speaker 1 (37:19):
I'm struck by how you used the word celebrate. What
do you mean celebrate?

Speaker 10 (37:25):
They celebrated their togethern Us as orphan trained brothers and sisters.

Speaker 1 (37:32):
But as the number of riders has dwindled, they've become
a chance for descendants to share memories and stories of
their loved ones who have passed on.

Speaker 11 (37:41):
It's quite amazing.

Speaker 10 (37:42):
In fact, we feel very much a kinship with each other.
We all know what our parents felt or our grandparents felt,
and soon, hopefully the grandchildren of these writers will take over.

Speaker 1 (37:56):
The legacy of the Orphan train movement. Isn't easy to quantify.
While all the writers were impacted by their new communities
and families, many grew up to make their own impact
on the world.

Speaker 9 (38:09):
The kids went on to serve in the Civil War,
World War One, World War II, Korea. We have some
that served in Vietnam. Just thinking politically, you know, speaking
the people who served in our state governments, in our Congress.

Speaker 1 (38:25):
Just some of the orphan trained riders who went on
to lead lives of distinction. Andrew Burke became the second
governor of the state of North Dakota. His friend John
green Brady, who rode the same orphan train, would become
governor of the Territory of Alaska. Henry L. Jost became
mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, his nickname the Orphan Boy

Mayor before joining the United States Congress. Joe Iya would
become head football coach at Louisiana Tech University and inducted
into the College Football Hall of Fame. And while we
can't confirm, it's a long standing rumor in the orphan
trained community that a former United States Supreme Court justice
was a writer, but kept its secret because of the stigma.

If you think you know who it was, let us know.
The writers certainly made their mark. The Children's Aid Society
estimates that there are over two million Orphan trained descendants
alive today.

Speaker 9 (39:23):
Yeah, they helped shape America, but.

Speaker 1 (39:26):
On a personal level, the trains meant something different to
each child who rode them. For Anna Fuchs, it was
the best possible solution to a terrible situation.

Speaker 4 (39:37):
It took a lot of kids off of the streets
of New York who might have become prostitutes and beggars
and thieves and gave them another chance of life for.

Speaker 1 (39:47):
Her sister Margaret. Though its benefits couldn't justify the pain
it caused for that time.

Speaker 12 (39:54):
I guess it was as good as anything. It was
all it was, but I certainly can't go along with it.
I feel that the idea of taking children and having
them lose all contact with any of the relatives I
think is wrong.

Speaker 1 (40:08):
And Harrison never let the inauspicious start to her life
slow her down.

Speaker 5 (40:13):
I've had a good life, you think so.

Speaker 14 (40:16):
Yes, I just took opportunities when they came, and when
I couldn't find the opportunities, I lived with what was there.

Speaker 1 (40:27):
But it's Renee Wendinger's perspective that will stick with me
the longest.

Speaker 10 (40:33):
I am a grandmother, and every time my grandchildren have
turned the age of two, I look at them and
I think, oh, my gosh, this is what my mother
would have looked like when she boarded that train at
Grand Central terminal. And I really cannot imagine that little

child getting on a train to somewhere to know where.

Speaker 11 (41:00):
I have no idea what my life is going to
be like.

Speaker 1 (41:05):
Wow, and two year olds is so vulnerable.

Speaker 10 (41:09):
Absolutely so vulnerable, it hits your heart. You know, I
don't know anyone that does not have a heart for
any child.

Speaker 1 (41:26):
An update since we first posted this episode in December
twenty nineteen, we learned that Beatrice Voytech passed away at
the age of one hundred. Her local newspaper wrote that
Beatrice started life in New York City, but an orphan
train ride was in her future to take her to
East Bernard, where she lived all her life. I am

so grateful that I had the chance to meet her
that day in Texas and to learn her remarkable story.
Mobits will be back next week with the story of
legendary comic Lwanda Page. You may know her best as
the hilarious aunt esther on Sanford and Son.

Speaker 5 (42:09):
You are evil heathen.

Speaker 1 (42:13):
And one of these days the Lord is gonna strike
you down.

Speaker 13 (42:18):
If he ever decide to get his hands dirty.

Speaker 1 (42:22):
But Page was much more than a secondary character on
a sitcom. A queen of comedy. She remains an inspiration
to comedians including Whoopy Goldberg. She as funny as hell,
Yeah you know, and black women. They will tear you up.
They will tear you up, they will talk about it,
they will tell you about yourself. I certainly hope you

enjoyed this mobituary, Nah ask you to please rate and
review our podcast. You can also follow Mobituaries on Facebook
and Instagram, and you can follow me Morocca on Twitter
at Morocca. For more great content about the Orphan Trains,
please visit mobituaries dot com. You can subscribe to Mobituaries
wherever you get your podcasts. This episode of Mobituaries was

produced by Harry Wood and Gideon Evans. Our team of
producers also includes Megan Marcus and me Moroka. It was
edited by Harry Wood and engineered by Dan Dezzula. Indispensable
support from Genius Denesky, Kate mccauliffe, Sam Egan, Renee Wendinger,
Shelley George, Jason Sakka, Alberto Robina, Richard Roher, and everyone

at CBS News Radio. Thank you to the New York
Daily News for letting me join you for your one
hundredth anniversary celebration, and to the New York Foundling for
welcoming us to your one hundred and fiftieth anniversary, not
that it's a competition. Thanks also to CBS News correspondent
Bob McNamara for his two thousand and two interview of

Ann Harrison. We'd like to thank Greg mark Way, the
families of Anna and Margaret Fuchs and Anne Harrison, Beatrice
Voytek and her family, and Linda Fomer, the orphan trained
descendant and researcher who connected us to Beatrice. Special thanks
to our bold, budding young historians from National History Day,

Addie Skilling, Tucker Olshaby, Jacob Reid, Evelyn Carpenter, Katie Merrikovitz,
Jack Anderson, Jader Briggs, Megan swankat Daytona Foley Logan Smith,
and of course Claire Isaacson and her mom Joy. Our
theme music is written by Daniel Hart and, as always,
undying thanks to Rand Morrison and John carp without whom

mobituaries couldn't live
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