Not an ‘Orphan Train’ but a train full of orphans

undefinedMary Kollschegg

Christina Kline, author of Orphan Train, pulls in the reader by her choice of book title and once the reader is hooked proceeds to tell the incredible story of a 91 year old woman who had been an orphan train rider. The founder of this bizarre program that existed in our country from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s believed that the only way to save the numerous Italian, Polish, Irish orphans from Eastern coastal cities from living a life of crime and poverty was to transport them to the Midwest where good Christian family values prevailed.

More than 200,000 orphaned, abandoned, homeless children were loaded on these trains and driven to Midwestern cities where, stop after stop, they were paraded in front of the townsfolk who checked their teeth, eyes and muscles to see if they were suited for field work or house work. Those not selected reboarded the train only to repeat the entire ordeal at the next town where the train stopped. Some of the children were welcomed into their new home but others were ridiculed for their accents, bullied, mistreated or ignored.

Christina retells the story of one such Irish immigrant, Vivian Daly, who managed to relegate most of her thoughts about the experience to the back of her mind, push down all the feelings of not belonging, being unloved, counting for nothing, and stuff any physical evidence in her trunks in the attic. Enter Molly Ayer, a modern day orphan who is quickly aging out of the child welfare system and has been shuffled from foster home to foster home but who has been given one last chance – helping some old lady clean out her attic.

As these two women from opposite ends of the spectrum begin to interact they soon realize there are more things that make them the same than that make them different. Pick up the book, give it a read and join the Monday Night Book Club on July 7 at 7:00 p.m. in the Gold Room for some interesting discussions.