A multimedia presentation, “Riders on the Orphan Train,” is set for 2 p.m. Saturday at Muskogee Public Library. The hour-long program is free and is for all ages.
Few people today know much about the largest child migration in history. Between 1854 and 1929, more than 250,000 orphans and unwanted children were taken out of New York City and given away at train stations across America. Children were sent to every state in the continental United States; the last train went to Sulphur Springs, Texas, in 1929.
This “placing out” system was organized by a Methodist minister, the Rev. Charles Loring Brace, and the Children’s Aid Society of New York. Brace’s mission was to rid the streets and overcrowded orphanages of homeless children and provide them with an opportunity to find new homes. Many of the children were not orphans but were “surrendered” by parents too impoverished to keep them. The New York Foundling Hospital, a Catholic organization, also sent out children to be placed in Catholic homes.
This 76-year experiment in child relocation is filled with the entire spectrum of human emotion and reveals a great deal about the successes and failures of the American Dream.
The program combines live music by Phillip Lancaster and Alison Moore, a video montage with archival photographs and interviews of survivors, and a dramatic reading of the 2012 novel “Riders on the Orphan Train” by Moore, an award-winning author. Although the program is about children, it is designed to engage audiences of all ages and to inform, inspire and raise awareness about this little-known part of history.
Local relatives and acquaintances of Orphan Train riders are invited to attend and share their stories with the audience. Those attending are welcome to come in period clothing.