After reading the article on the “Orphan Train”, write a brief essay making an educated guess on what conditions combined to create the existence of such a remarkable thing as “The Orphan Train” in Michigan at the time in question. Be sure to include historical facts to support your guess. When you are finished submit the essay through your student folder for grading. Due by end of week Three.
TRACKING THE TRAIN
The idea came up when we were working on the Oxford documentary,”
said Dave Eicher. “After we completed that project,
the idea sort of jelled into, ‘Let’s find more information about
this.’” Dave and his father, Al, learned from an Oxford newspaper
obituary about a local doctor who came to town as a child on an
orphan train. A local Oxford historian told the Eichers that her
grandfather also chose a child when a similar train came through
the area in 1869. “We thought,” Al said, “‘Where in one county
there’s two of them, how many more are there?’” The Eichers were
soon on the track of the orphan train and its Michigan connections.
Research about the orphan train took the Eichers to the New York
Children’s Aid Society, the Boston Home for Little Wanderers and to
museums across the state as well as to organizations with online
databases collecting information about orphan train riders. They
discovered that few documents or papers existed for children who
had been placed out through the orphanages that used the train.
This type of research was not new for the Eichers, who own
Program Source International, a Bloomfield Hills video production
and marketing company that specializes in historical profiles of
small towns around Michigan.
Relying on groups such as the Orphan Train Heritage Society of
America (OTHSA) and its website, www.orphantrainriders.com, the
Eichers pulled together enough information to create “The Orphan
Train in Michigan,” a 38-minute video they say brings more phone
calls and emails—some seeking information and some giving it—
“They’ll ask us, ‘Where did you get your information?
Do you have our family name on your registry?’
And we send them to two different places,” said Al.
The two places are the OTHSA website and the Orphan Register, run
from Omaha, Nebraska (with a website at www.rootsweb.com/~
neadoptn/register.html). “It’s kind of a network,” Al said. “When
people find out what you’re trying to do, everybody’s sharing. I
would say about 130 names are known in Michigan. And out of
12,500 [that the orphanages placed here], there’s obviously a lot
The Eichers found more stories than appear in their video, which
with their other videos won them an Award of Merit for
Distinguished Professional Service from the Historical Society of
Michigan in September 2002. Some details about orphans were left
out because no supporting photos were available. To share these
stories, the Eichers are making presentations to local historical societies
and other interested groups. They also continue to collect
names for their Michigan orphan register.
Anyone with more information about the orphan train in
Michigan, especially someone with a family connection to one of the
orphans, is welcome to contact the Eichers by e-mail at orphan@
program-source.com or by telephone at (248) 333-2010. They maintain
a website, www.program-source.com, and they’re spreading
the word about a reenactment of the first orphan train drop-off in
Dowagiac, scheduled for September 24-25, 2004. The reenactment
is being organized by the OTHSA.
— Hillary Whitcomb Jesse