|ORPHAN TRAIN RIDERS OF NEW YORK (MIDWEST)
St Cloud Visitor
Sept 27, 1979
Peterson, the child of a Norwegian mother and came to Minnesota in an Orphan Train in 1912, the year she was born. Her new parents were Mary and John Bieganek of
Polish descent. They brought her into their home as their ninth child, but her new mother These Minnesota Reunions began through the efforts of two orphans: Mrs Mary
Buscher of Breckenridge and Mrs. J.B. Lenzmeier of Wahpeton North Dakota, who discovered each other Sister Justina was born Edith Peterson, the child of a Norwegian
mother and came to Minnesota in an Orphan Train in 1912, the year she was born. Her new parents were Mary and John Bieganek of Polish descent. They brought her into
their home as their ninth child, but her new mother These Minnesota Reunions began through the efforts of two orphans: Mrs Mary Buscher of Breckenridge and Mrs. J.B.
Lenzmeier of Wahpeton North Dakota, who discovered each other through an article in a local newspaper. They were able to make contact with a few others and to begin the
yearly meetings which have grown each year as more of the orphans become aware of the organization.
Guy DeLeo came for the first time this year, only learning about the group a week before the reunion. Many want to get together more often than once a year. Mrs. Carmella
Keaveny, the parish housekeeper for Father Robert Schmainda in Tintah, Minn., has invited the orphans to come to Tintah on October 28 for a day together, which will begin
with 10:30 Mass. She will be assisted by Father Schmainda's mother from Avon Minn., who is also an orphan from New York Foundling Hospital. All "Orphan Train" orphans
are invited to attend whether or not they have ever been to a meeting before.
Helen Schmainda is the orphan and mother of Father Schmainda
ORPHAN TRAIN MEMORIES LIVE ON IN CHILDREN OF SURVIVORS
By Anna Remper - Daily News Intern
Daily News, Wahpeton, ND August 3, 2009
A train whistle blowing to most people may be a disturbance, but for a rider on the Orphan Train it can resurface personal
Jeanne Putnam, an aftercare coordinator at Joseph Vertin and Sons Funeral Home, said whenever her mother heard a
train whistle, she felt like she had to get on the train. Putnam's mother, Carmella Keaveny, nee Schend, was a rider on
the Orphan Train.
"We were talking about adoption one day at work and I brought up the Orphan Train and almost no one had heard of it,"
Countless trains carried orphaned children from New York and Boston across forty-seven states and Canada between the
years of 1854 and 1929. An estimated 200,000 orphans were "placed out" during the Orphan Train Movement.
Carmella Keaveny was born Carmela Caputo to a 30-year-old Italian immigrant in New York City in 1912. The actual date
of her birth was never clarified, some documents read April 6 and others read April 16, said Putnam.
"She never knew which day was her birthday so we had two birthdays for her," Putnam said.
Carmella's biological mother left her in the care of what is known as the New York Foundling Hospital (NYFH), just ten days
after birth. The Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent ran the NYFH and placed the children into Catholic families.
It was customary for a priest from the NYFH to visit Catholic communities before the arrival of the train and scout the
interest of families adopting another child. In 1914 a NYFH priest visited St. Gall's Catholic Church in Tintah, Minn and
was put in contact with a couple, Peter and Mary Schend, who had lost their baby not long after their marriage. When
Carmella arrived on June 14, 1914, it became an occasion for the whole town.
"The whole town was at the train station for my mother's arrival. She was two-and-a-half years old when she made the
journey from New York to Tintah," Putnam said. 'She was so sick when she arrived. She had contracted pneumonia on
One of the first members of the community who came to congratulate the Schend's was Ellen Keaveny, who later
became Carmella's mother-in-law.
Although Carmella was placed in the Schend home in 1914 she wasn't legally adopted until Dec. 9, 1922, said Putnam.
An agent from the NYFH would perform follow up visits to check on the family to ensure the welfare of the placed child.
"There were so many children on the trains, it's hard to believe all of these visits happened," Putnam said.
Carmella began her education at the local Catholic school and went on to be a teacher. Not all of the children were
placed in homes that were concerned about education.
"My mother knew she was fortunate to be in such a loving home. Some of the older children were selected by families
because they could work on the farm," Putnam said.
Later; Carmella with the help of two other Orphan Train survivors, Mary Buscher and Marie Lenzmeier, started the Orphan
Train Reunion. The event still goes on today in Little Falls, Minn. "We go every year, the children of the survivors are
taking over the reunions."
One fellow survivor, 96 year old Sister Justina Bieganek, annually hosts the reunion.
In 1933 Carmella married Ray Keaveny and continued to live in Tinah.
Carmella Keaveny's memories of the Orphan Train are also documented in a book, "By Train They Came", by Charlotte
Endorf and Sarah M. Endorf.
Star Tribune July 31, 1994 Variety
Desperate families put kids on Orphan Trains
Q I understand that for several years trains from New York carrying orphans would stop at various Minnesota towns where couples would pick out children to take home and
raise. I was told that the term "up for adoption" came from the practice of putting the children up on the station platform for the prospective parents to view. Why did this
happen? Who ran these trains and what happened to these adopted children?
A The Orphan Trains, as they were called, ran from 1854 to 1929.
One of those Orphan Train riders, now a nun at St Francis Convent in Little Falls, Sister Justina Bieganek, O.S.B., writes of this time and provided the following story.
Conflict in Europe in the mid-1800's caused many families to come to the United States. Lax immigration laws allowed people to pour into New York, where there was a lack of
adequate housing, few jobs, poor medical care and no family to help.
Many families were in desperate situations. Times were hard, food sparse and communication among nationalities difficult. Crime was uncontrollable.
When disease, hunger, overwork, and later World War I, took their toll on these new Americans, many children became orphans and went to the streets. One report estimates
that 10,000 homeless children roamed the streets of New York in the late 1800's.
In 1853, Charles Brace, a minister and social work in New York, co founded the Children's Aid Society, hoping to take children off the streets and into homes out West.
Children filled train coaches, which took them to wherever anyone would accept them. No previous arrangements were made, so children weren't guaranteed a home by the
end of this journey.
The selection of a child was not a legal adoption. Instead, it was a non-legal agreement that the child would work in exchange for an upbringing in a family environment until he
or she was of age. In that way, people in Minnesota and other Midwestern states, became the sponsors, employers and foster parents of this homeless throng.
Infants were special cases. The Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, who ran a hospital and orphanage for abandoned infants, chartered several baby trains.
During this time, infants were abandoned everywhere - in alleys, church pews or doorsteps. The fortunate ones ended up in warehouse-like orphanages. In one year, more
than 200 foundlings and 100 dead infants were discovered on New York pavements.
Notes were found pinned on some of the babies, for example, "This is the child of Mrs. Sheridan, who was murdered by her husband," but most abandoned infants had nothing
to identify them.
There was a placement program for infants. Numbers were assigned to willing parents, and when the trains arrived, the nurses on board would bring the babies, who had
corresponding numbers stitched to their clothes, out on the platform where numbers were matched. The clergy arranged these "adoptions."
How each child fared in the new environment depended on many factors, including the attitude of the adoptive families and the child's ability to adjust. Some children were
treated like slaves or pariahs, but others were given love and were made family members.
Scholars have concluded that the outcome for most of the children was better than if they had stayed in New York. Their findings show that about 87 percent fared well, 8 percent
were returned and 5 percent were arrested, ran away or died.
Eventually, federal and state governments intervened with compulsory education, child labor restrictions and foster care. The last Orphan Train made its run in 1929.
Since then, the one-time orphans have organized yearly reunions in Minnesota. This year's OrphanTrain Reunion will be Sept 8 and 9 at the Holiday Inn in Alexandria. For more
information, call Bieganek at 632-2981 or Mary Buscher in Breckenridge, Minn, 1-218-643-4926.
'Orphan Train' survivors re-establish bond
Huge westward migration of years ago recalled... Associated Press
early years of this centurey known as the "orphan trains".
At their gathering Friday at St Francis Convent, they remembered the trains that carried them from the Foundling Hospital in New York to new lives in the Midwest. Some didn't
realize until adulthood that their lives had begun in poverty, the children of New Yorkers who couldn't care for them anymore.
Once a year for 27 years, these survivors from Minnesota and neighboring states have met to reminisce and re-establish a bond they say no one else really understands.
Work- in households for the girls, in fields for the boys - was one of the major reasons Midwest families adopted as many as 150,000 of the orphans from 1854 to 1929, when
child labor and welfare laws made the program obsolete.
The Foundling Hospital, operated by the Sisters of Charity, was only one of the agencies that handled the transporting of children out of New York. Some other agencies
shipped children without ensuring that they had homes at the end of the journey, some children were little more than indentured servants.
But the hospital matched children through local parishes and avoided many of the abuses, said Sister Justina Bieganeck, an orphan herself, who hosted the reunion at the
convent. "Children could have been exploited, but our program wasn't one where we were just put on a train and dumped off somewhere" she said.
"You worked all the time, but you didn't consider it hard work because everyone worked", said Victor Meyers, an 81 year old Paynesville resident who was delivered to a farm
near Pierz as a little boy. "If a family had 12 kids, they still needed help."
Nor was there anger directed to the unknown parents who gave them up; it wasn't abandonment, the old men and women said, but a second chance beyond the slums.
"If I'd stayed there, who knows - maybe I'd have ended up on Skid Row", said Guy DeLeo, delivered to a family in New Ulm 71 years ago, when he was 3. He grew up to
become a musician, leading his own band for more than a half century.
Always aware he was an orpan, the son of an Italian opera singer and an unknown father, DeLeo tried to contact them through letters - without any luck. Unable to embrace
his biological family, he decided his fellow orpahs were a kind of family and has treated the reunions as "a family reunion".
"They give you a little companionship," he said. "We all have these stories that are so similar."
For years, though, they had no one to share those stories with - until 1961 Mary Buscher organized the first reunion. After growing up on the farm in Nebraska where she
delivered at the age of 11 months and spending her adult life in Breckenridge, she had kep her past to herself.
"For many of us, it was a hidden secret," she said. "Our foster parents didn't tell us, so we would find out we'd been adopted from other kids at shcool. Even as an adult, I
thought there wasn't another orhan anywhere."
But as soon as she began organizing the reunions, she found she had tapped a deep need buried in the orphan trains veterans, a need to share.