Endorf brings Orphan Train Stories to Life | TheFencePost.com

Endorf brings Orphan Train Stories to Life

Barbara Ann Dush
Fullerton, Neb.

Dressed in typical traveling attire as an Orphan Train agent, Charlotte presents programs of Orphan Train Riders as well as a program about Annie Oakley at events and in schools, libraries and museums across Nebraska.

Charlotte Endorf’s passion for the Orphan Train is evident.

Not only in her program, Fragile Excess Baggage, that she presents through the Nebraska Humanities Council, but for personal reasons as well.

While gathering stories of riders, Charlotte discovered she was a member of the Orphan Train family. “It has been a whole new world for me. I traveled 15,000 miles before a secret was released in my family. I am actually an Orphan Train rider descendant.”

Charlotte is a sought-after speaker and travels from her home in Norfolk, Neb., to museums, schools, libraries and events to educate audiences on the Orphan Train history.

Her first Orphan Train rider interview was with the late Fred Swedenburg of Clarks. Charlotte attributes that meeting as the inspiration to pursue other stories.

Since then, she has met with riders across the United States and keeps each personal story alive in her books, on DVD and CD, and with her “step back into time” presentation.

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What saddens Charlotte is that her contacts are slowly diminishing. “There were a quarter of a million Orphan Train Riders. Today, there’s less than 100,” she noted.

DRESSED IN A traveling dress typical of the late 1800s, Charlotte begins her program playing the part of an Orphan Train agent.

“Between 1854 and 1929, a quarter million children all over the United States, Canada and even Mexico were touched by the Orphan Train,” she addresses the audience. “The only places they weren’t sent were Hawaii and Alaska because, of course, you couldn’t get a train there. They were sent to Arizona but taken out for political reasons. This 75-year time period started what we know today as foster care and adoption; yet for many years in our history books, some of the children who lived it were looked down upon in shame.”

In 1853, nearly 30,000 children were homeless on the streets of New York. There was no welfare system to back them up; so a minister, Charles Loring Brace, started building orphanages, calling them asylums.

“It had 150 kids at a time in these asylums, and these kids were not crazy,” Charlotte made clear, “but that’s what they called them back then.”

Within a year, Brace decided these children needed a family. Since the main means of transportation was the train, Orphan Train agents were hired to distribute the children across the states.

ONE OF THE hardest stories Charlotte said she had to write was that of the late Jim Fisher.

Jim was taken from the New York Foundling Hospital and was taken in by a family in Tekamah at the age of seven.

“Jim said he thought he was on this side of heaven when he got to Tekamah because when he got up in the morning, his new foster mom asked him how many eggs would he like to have for breakfast. He said he didn’t even have eggs at the Foundling Hospital let alone be asked how many.”

When Jim learned he could have as many eggs as he wanted every morning, “he loved living in Tekamah.”

Jim and fellow riders were welcomed with open arms in Tekamah; and when he grew up, Jim became a travel agent, traveling all over the world.

After he retired, Jim repaid the kindness shown to him as a child. In his will, Jim stated that he wanted to give back to his small town for what he had been given.

Charlotte recently spoke at Tekamah and wanted to “check out” the town’s story regarding Jim. “They were absolutely right,” she confirms. “If you go to the Catholic church you’ll see there’s a Fisher Hall. If you go to the Burt County Museum, there’s an addition built on because of that Orphan Train rider, and if you go to the high school, there’s an endowment because of Jim.”

THEN THERE WAS little Carmella.

“She was one of the lucky ones. She had five dollars,” Charlotte relays. And she had a couple waiting for her. Mr. and Mrs. Peterson had lost a child ten years earlier and wanted a little girl of Italian descent.

However, Carmella rode a very cold train. By the time she arrived at Tipton, Minn., she had pneumonia and had gotten lice on the train.

“When they pulled up to the train station, the man in charge said to the couple, ‘There are other girls of Italian descent. Times are tough. Are you sure you want this sickly little girl?’ “

The couple replied that they had done everything they were told to do, had prayed over the application and filled it out, and of course they wanted her.

The Petersons took Carmella in and nursed her back to health. “Her family still helps keep the history of the Orphan Train alive in Minnesota. In fact, on October 2, they had over 150 people at their Orphan Train celebration,” Charlotte notes.

The well-known apple orchards in Madison also have an Orphan Train story to tell.

A couple in Madison adopted a young boy who later attended the University of Nebraska. Nearly two years into his studies, his elderly parents asked Clarence to come back to help in the orchards.

“Back then they had both apple and cherry orchards,” Charlotte said. “Clarence came back and helped them, and the Madison apple orchards are still known for their wonderful apples.” After his parents passed away, this Orphan Train rider moved to Sidney, started a bank and worked there for 33 years.

FLORENCE AND BILL were not biological brother and sister, but they came to Columbus in 1913 and were taken into the same home. Unfortunately, they were taken into an abusive situation.

“It was unusual that two kids were able to stay together, but it was even more unusual because this couple decided to take in yet another child. Bill ended up marrying that third child, but that was okay because they were not adopted,” Charlotte said of their story.

Mixed in with several other stories Charlotte related was that of Lester.

Lester was five when he boarded the train in New York. The Orphan Train agent kept lining him up at stops along the way, but nobody wanted him.

When they arrived in Osceola there was a couple at the station who had no children.

“Maybe they would take the boy,” Charlotte hoped as she paced the floor in her agent attire, bringing the story alive to her audience.

“(The agent) took Lester out to see them, and Lester hopped right up on the woman’s lap. She said, ‘Lester, if you had one wish what would that be?’ Lester said, ‘If I had one wish, Mrs. West, it would be to live with a kind lady like you.’ And he got his wish.”

When the agent went back the following year to check up on Lester, he was doing very well; however his brother, Lawrence, was placed in the next farm over and was being abused. The agent recognized that times were tough, but when she asked the Wests if they would take in Lester’s brother they agreed, and the boys were able to grow up together.

Lester also had an older sister, but because she was hearing impaired, no one wanted to take her in. It took him 75 years to find his sister.

Lester became a poet, and, “I think he said it better than anyone could,” Charlotte said of the Orphan Train rider’s poetry:

Their eyes were filled with bitter tears.

Their hearts were filled with pain.

But they were the lucky ones.

They rode the Orphan Train.

NOTE: Charlotte Endorf is a member of the Nebraska Writer’s Guild and the author of seven books, a DVD and CD. Contact her for your grant-based speaking needs or copies of her books at Endorf Enterprises, http://www.unsungneighbors.com (402) 371-3701. Her topics include the Orphan Train and Annie Oakley.

Charlotte Endorf’s passion for the Orphan Train is evident.

Not only in her program, Fragile Excess Baggage, that she presents through the Nebraska Humanities Council, but for personal reasons as well.

While gathering stories of riders, Charlotte discovered she was a member of the Orphan Train family. “It has been a whole new world for me. I traveled 15,000 miles before a secret was released in my family. I am actually an Orphan Train rider descendant.”

Charlotte is a sought-after speaker and travels from her home in Norfolk, Neb., to museums, schools, libraries and events to educate audiences on the Orphan Train history.

Her first Orphan Train rider interview was with the late Fred Swedenburg of Clarks. Charlotte attributes that meeting as the inspiration to pursue other stories.

Since then, she has met with riders across the United States and keeps each personal story alive in her books, on DVD and CD, and with her “step back into time” presentation.

What saddens Charlotte is that her contacts are slowly diminishing. “There were a quarter of a million Orphan Train Riders. Today, there’s less than 100,” she noted.

DRESSED IN A traveling dress typical of the late 1800s, Charlotte begins her program playing the part of an Orphan Train agent.

“Between 1854 and 1929, a quarter million children all over the United States, Canada and even Mexico were touched by the Orphan Train,” she addresses the audience. “The only places they weren’t sent were Hawaii and Alaska because, of course, you couldn’t get a train there. They were sent to Arizona but taken out for political reasons. This 75-year time period started what we know today as foster care and adoption; yet for many years in our history books, some of the children who lived it were looked down upon in shame.”

In 1853, nearly 30,000 children were homeless on the streets of New York. There was no welfare system to back them up; so a minister, Charles Loring Brace, started building orphanages, calling them asylums.

“It had 150 kids at a time in these asylums, and these kids were not crazy,” Charlotte made clear, “but that’s what they called them back then.”

Within a year, Brace decided these children needed a family. Since the main means of transportation was the train, Orphan Train agents were hired to distribute the children across the states.

ONE OF THE hardest stories Charlotte said she had to write was that of the late Jim Fisher.

Jim was taken from the New York Foundling Hospital and was taken in by a family in Tekamah at the age of seven.

“Jim said he thought he was on this side of heaven when he got to Tekamah because when he got up in the morning, his new foster mom asked him how many eggs would he like to have for breakfast. He said he didn’t even have eggs at the Foundling Hospital let alone be asked how many.”

When Jim learned he could have as many eggs as he wanted every morning, “he loved living in Tekamah.”

Jim and fellow riders were welcomed with open arms in Tekamah; and when he grew up, Jim became a travel agent, traveling all over the world.

After he retired, Jim repaid the kindness shown to him as a child. In his will, Jim stated that he wanted to give back to his small town for what he had been given.

Charlotte recently spoke at Tekamah and wanted to “check out” the town’s story regarding Jim. “They were absolutely right,” she confirms. “If you go to the Catholic church you’ll see there’s a Fisher Hall. If you go to the Burt County Museum, there’s an addition built on because of that Orphan Train rider, and if you go to the high school, there’s an endowment because of Jim.”

THEN THERE WAS little Carmella.

“She was one of the lucky ones. She had five dollars,” Charlotte relays. And she had a couple waiting for her. Mr. and Mrs. Peterson had lost a child ten years earlier and wanted a little girl of Italian descent.

However, Carmella rode a very cold train. By the time she arrived at Tipton, Minn., she had pneumonia and had gotten lice on the train.

“When they pulled up to the train station, the man in charge said to the couple, ‘There are other girls of Italian descent. Times are tough. Are you sure you want this sickly little girl?’ “

The couple replied that they had done everything they were told to do, had prayed over the application and filled it out, and of course they wanted her.

The Petersons took Carmella in and nursed her back to health. “Her family still helps keep the history of the Orphan Train alive in Minnesota. In fact, on October 2, they had over 150 people at their Orphan Train celebration,” Charlotte notes.

The well-known apple orchards in Madison also have an Orphan Train story to tell.

A couple in Madison adopted a young boy who later attended the University of Nebraska. Nearly two years into his studies, his elderly parents asked Clarence to come back to help in the orchards.

“Back then they had both apple and cherry orchards,” Charlotte said. “Clarence came back and helped them, and the Madison apple orchards are still known for their wonderful apples.” After his parents passed away, this Orphan Train rider moved to Sidney, started a bank and worked there for 33 years.

FLORENCE AND BILL were not biological brother and sister, but they came to Columbus in 1913 and were taken into the same home. Unfortunately, they were taken into an abusive situation.

“It was unusual that two kids were able to stay together, but it was even more unusual because this couple decided to take in yet another child. Bill ended up marrying that third child, but that was okay because they were not adopted,” Charlotte said of their story.

Mixed in with several other stories Charlotte related was that of Lester.

Lester was five when he boarded the train in New York. The Orphan Train agent kept lining him up at stops along the way, but nobody wanted him.

When they arrived in Osceola there was a couple at the station who had no children.

“Maybe they would take the boy,” Charlotte hoped as she paced the floor in her agent attire, bringing the story alive to her audience.

“(The agent) took Lester out to see them, and Lester hopped right up on the woman’s lap. She said, ‘Lester, if you had one wish what would that be?’ Lester said, ‘If I had one wish, Mrs. West, it would be to live with a kind lady like you.’ And he got his wish.”

When the agent went back the following year to check up on Lester, he was doing very well; however his brother, Lawrence, was placed in the next farm over and was being abused. The agent recognized that times were tough, but when she asked the Wests if they would take in Lester’s brother they agreed, and the boys were able to grow up together.

Lester also had an older sister, but because she was hearing impaired, no one wanted to take her in. It took him 75 years to find his sister.

Lester became a poet, and, “I think he said it better than anyone could,” Charlotte said of the Orphan Train rider’s poetry:

Their eyes were filled with bitter tears.

Their hearts were filled with pain.

But they were the lucky ones.

They rode the Orphan Train.

NOTE: Charlotte Endorf is a member of the Nebraska Writer’s Guild and the author of seven books, a DVD and CD. Contact her for your grant-based speaking needs or copies of her books at Endorf Enterprises, http://www.unsungneighbors.com (402) 371-3701. Her topics include the Orphan Train and Annie Oakley.