53rd annual Orphan Train Conference set in Little Falls, Oct. 5

Between 1854-1929, more than 250,000 children were placed out on orphan trains from the East Coast, venturing into unknown territory in the West by train, to settle with unfamiliar families across America. The transfer was the first emigration plan and largest mass migration of children ever to take place on American soil; formulating our counties’ first child welfare system. For many of these children arriving in new family homes throughout America, the placement left them facing kind and loving families, or as indentured servants bound to hard labor.

Descendants and interested persons gather annually to celebrate and discover the saga of those little pioneers drawn into a social experiment spanning a quarter of a century (75 years). There are less than 50 surviving orphan train riders existing throughout the Unites States today.

A silent auction, meeting, entertainment, lunch and orations by orphan train rider descendants will fill the day at the 53rd Annual Orphan Train Riders celebration at St. Francis Center, 116 Eighth Ave. S.E., Little Falls, Saturday, Oct. 5, from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Entertainment will take place at 10 a.m. by Riders on the Orphan Train from Austin, Texas. Phil Lancaster and Alison Moore have traveled the country extensively performing an exceptional history line-up presenting a multi-media program combining audio visual elements, historical fiction and musical ballads into a collaborative performance that brings the Orphan Train movement, a largely-unknown chapter in American history, to public awareness. People won’t want to miss this performance.

John Shontz, railroad historian from Helena, Mont., will be on hand to discuss the railroads connection via the orphan trains. Collective information will be made available to individuals seeking journey histories.

The conference is open to any interested persons. Walk-ins are welcome. Contact an officer to register: Renée Wendinger – [email protected] or (507) 794-7835; Pete Keaveny – [email protected] or (701) 452-4336; Joyce LaVoie – [email protected] or (320) 732-0959; Janice Gonsior – (763) 571-4462 or Susan Lehner – [email protected] or (320) 629-7642.

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 originally organized by Methodist minister Charles Loring Brace and the Children’s Aid Society of New York. His 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 “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 one-hour multi-media program combines live music by Phillip Lancaster and Alison Moore, video montage with archival photographs and interviews of survivors, and a dramatic reading of the 2012 novel “Riders on the Orphan Train” by award-winning author Alison Moore. 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.