The following article will appear in The Comsewogue Warrior's final issue for the 2002 school year. 

The Orphan Train By Danielle L. and Jessica W.
Students at Comsewogue High School

Friday, May 3rd - Boyle Road Elementary School held an event discussing the Orphan Train. The Orphan Train, was a train which brought many homeless kids westward to find families. It began in 1853 and carried a total of 200,000 children westward until 1929. This was the largest migration of children in the United States. Eighty-year-old Mr. Oser, a former orphan train rider who now lives in Nassau county, was a guest speaker at Boyle Road. In addition, Shirley Andrews, a guest speaker from Missouri, told the story of her mother Irma Craig, an Orphan Train rider. She spoke through an Internet tool called the Polycom to the 4th grade students at Boyle Road and elementary students in Missouri. Each of the guest speakers and students were broadcasting through the Polycom, allowing everyone to be able to share their information on the Orphan Train.

 A group called the Children’s Aid Society founded by Charles Lawrence Brace established the Orphan Train. Around the year 1850, it was believed that there were about10,000 to 30,000 homeless children living in the streets of New York, according to newspapers written during that time. Nuns were interested in saving babies that were found dead on the streets. The nuns also wanted to keep alive the children that were found on doorsteps or in dumpsters. Sister Irene Fitz Gibbons, the founder of the orphanage, asked wealthy people to donate a house so she could begin an orphanage. Many nuns gathered to establish the New York Foundling Hospital. Parents who could not afford to care for their child would leave their children at the hospital to be better cared for. The very night that the orphanage was formed a baby was left on the door step; after one month, there were 45 babies. The orphanage separated boys and girls; there would be one nun to 35 kids. The hospital would keep the children there until they reached the age of three, then they would put the children on a train heading west to find a family who would take them in as their own. The families chose the children based upon how healthy they appeared; kids would be poked at to see if they were strong enough to be put to work. Their teeth also would be checked to make sure they were healthy. Every so often an agent from the orphanage would check on the living conditions. If they saw the children were being treated unfairly, they would take them back to New York. 

Mr. Oser said, “The train was made of wooden cars; in order to keep warm, we had to huddle together around a coal stove.” Mr. Oser was only three-years-old when he rode the Orphan Train in 1925, along with his sister Marge, who was five and a half years old. “I didn’t really remember my experience,” said Mr. Oser. “I was too young.” His natural father died when he was eleven months old; he was brought to the orphanage when he was just over a year old, and his birth mother died when he was almost two-years-old. Mr. Oser was chosen by a poor family in Michigan with whom he stayed for two years. “The orphanage took me out of my home and brought me back to New York,” stated Mr. Oser. “I guess the orphanage felt my living conditions were unfair.” This was the longest he ever stayed with a family. “I was separated from my sister Marge when I was eleven,” stated Mr. Oser. Fortunately, later on in his life, Mr. Oser was reunited with his sister. “Marge died two years ago, at the age of 82,”stated Mr. Oser. Mr. Oser, had lived with many families off and on until he turned eighteen and then he moved out on his own. “The orphanage was a substitute for a family,” said Mr. Oser. Throughout his life, Mr. Oser supported himself working for a railroad industry for forty-two years. Mr. Oser stated, “It’s ironic that I left Grand Central Station on the orphan train, and I retired working from there. I’ll never forget being an orphan because even today when I am in a restaurant with my wife and see children with their parents, I know that I never had that.” 

Through the Polycom, Shirley Andrews told the story of her mother, Irma Craig, who was an orphan train rider.

Irma was placed in the care of the New York Foundling Hospital as a child. “The New York Foundling Hospital had a program where they allowed poor women to take a child and they would pay her ten dollars a month to care for the child,” stated Shirley Andrews. Many babies died in the hospital because of poor feeding; the hospital also allowed mothers to stay there to breast feed their babies, as long as they would breast feed another child as well. In 1901, 45 percent of the babies staying in the Foundling Hospital lived. This was considered a high percentage of survivors for the time. “My mother was three years old when she rode the Orphan Train to Missouri,” said Shirley Andrews. “Many kids never remembered the train ride and their experiences because they were too young.” Flyers and posters were put up in the towns which were expecting kids coming from New York on the Orphan Train telling the people when the kids would arrive. The adults would choose the children; however, the kids were able to decide whether or not they wanted to live with that family. “My mother told me that some of the children in the town were not allowed to play with the adopted children.” Shirley Andrews added, “My mother felt lucky that she found a home with loving parents.”

 Many people were involved in the Orphan Train video conference at Boyle Road. Ms. Silverman, the instructional technology integration teacher, helps teachers with computer technology in class rooms. Ms. Vainelle and Ms. Tilmont, fourth grade teachers at Boyle Road Elementary School worked on a lesson about immigration with their students; they decided to teach about the Orphan Train since it was the largest immigration of children in the history of the United States. Ms. Silverman, Ms. Vaianella, and Ms. Tilmont wanted to do a project on the Orphan Train. Ms. Silverman contacted Renee Kratzer  from the University of Missouri College of Education who then suggested a video conference between Missouri and New York. Boyle Road did not have access to a Polycom, the technology used to visually broadcast people over the Internet from different states to do the video conference.

Therefore, the Missouri school kindly offered to send one. Mr. Lamb, our network administrator, set up the Polycom and all the technicalities of the process.

 “A lot of testing was required in order to perfect the video conference; there were many glitches,” stated Ms. Silverman, “It was a very time-consuming, diligently planned activity. It had to be well planned in advance.” Due to Missouri’s different time zone, it was difficult in planning date and times where every one involved could meet. Prior to the videoconference, a planning session was held in order to make sure everything worked properly. Ms. Silverman, Ms. Vaianella, and Ms. Tilmont contacted Ms. Uptegrove, the fourth grade teacher in Missouri, and Renee Kratzer through e-mail. Mrs. Hull, principal at Boyle Road, had to make many accommodations around the fourth graders’ daily schedules. Renee Kratzer, contacted Shirley Andrews, by going to a web site online. Ms. Vaianella also went to an Orphan Train web site where she found out about Mr. Oser. In addition, Dr. Saffer contacted Mr. Karwoski, an English and Mass Media teacher at CHS, to have students attend the Orphan Train video conference. The students who attended were Erica S., Vanessa L., Adriana F. and Joanna K.; also we, journalism students in Ms. Palin’s class, were asked to cover the issue. The mass media students took pictures and video taped parts of the video conference. Mr. Rella set up the transportation in order for Mr. Karwoski and students to get to Boyle Road. A follow up video is to be made sometime before the year ends; it will show how the conference went and show the projects the kids worked on. Ms. Silverman stated, “It was a great experience for everyone.”