LAST TRAIN HOME, an orphan train story, is a Dickensian novella about cultural identity and family history set during the nineteenth century at a time when America received an enormous influx of immigrants, and a quarter of a million children whose fates would be determined by pure luck were sent west from East Coast cities by orphan train. Would they be adopted by kind and loving families, or would they face a childhood and adolescence of hard labor and servitude?
The narrative highlights a little known, but historically significant moment in our country’s past by tracing the individual journeys of two children, Johnny and Sophia, bringing about the distinction between the “placing out” of these children to find families and homes. History, culture, and geography celebrate the survival of these children, by weaving individual stories into triumph over tribulation building strength of mind and character into an incredible reserve.
Johnny’s story tells the journey of a young boy making his way from Europe to America as a victim under the padroni system, to an American immigration process. Finally Johnny’s life on the streets of New York lands him in an orphanage with others like himself, until he is dispatched West aboard an orphan train through the New York Children’s Aid Society.
Sophia’s fascinating chronicle tells how a child becomes a victim of circumstance at the New York Foundling, followed by her journey aboard an orphan train yearning for acceptance and her journey to find it all. A heart-wrenching Cinderella story gives way to chance, abuse, and resilience of mind as Sophia’s survival is celebrated by way of individual expressions of love, living by love, and giving of it generously.
Author, Renée Wendinger (Extra! Extra! The Orphan Trains and Newsboys of New York), is an eminent orphan train historian, and an honored essayist supporting historical prose. She has researched the epoch of the orphan trains for decades. She is the honorary president of Orphan Train Riders of New York, and an established sought after public speaker on the subject of the orphan trains. Her protagonist, Sophia, in Last Train Home, an orphan train story, happens to be the author’s mother, substantiating first hand information. Johnny, a lead character in the story, exposes his life through chronicles of hand written journals owing to Wendinger’s authentic orphan train knowledge, research, and quality assurance from Johnny's family, John, Clarice and Sam.
This richly detailed historical fiction from Wendinger (Extra! Extra! The Orphan Trains and Newsboys of New York) draws upon the real-life stories of John Arsers and Sophia Kaminsky. Wendinger's subject is orphan trains, a popular child adoption method used in the U.S. from the middle of the 19th century until well into the 20th. When five-year-old Italian boy Johnny Arsers's mother dies, his father sells him into the padrone system, essentially making him a child slave, and he is shipped off to New York City in 1871. After a brief, precarious hand-to-mouth existence on the streets, Johnny is placed with the Children's Aid Society, which is run by the philanthropist Charles Loring Brace. Johnny's fortunes improve markedly when the kind Mildrum family offers him a home in Iowa, and he embarks on the orphan train traveling west through the heartland. The New York Foundling Society places young Sophia, the novel's other protagonist, Anna Greim, a childless, middle-aged German widow. The cold-hearted, dictatorial Anna keeps Sophia "working hard at all times," and reinforces the girl's labor regimen with frequent beatings. Wendinger's intriguing narrative humanizes the thousands of children who rode the orphan trains. (BookLife)