Sharing family history

September 12, 2018

Columbus resident Lloyd Castner, whose father was a passenger on the Orphan Train, is looking forward to sharing his family history after being selected as a panelist for the Orphan Train Colloquium being held at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

“I have found out more information about it as years passed,” Castner said. “But (my father) remembered – in his stories – the train ride from New York City to Madison (Nebraska).”

Growing up, Lloyd said his father, Clarence, never spoke much about his childhood to his four children. He learned about his father’s past from the stories he would write during his personal time, which sparked his curiosity and ultimately led to him conducting further research.

“At first, I was curious about what it would be like,” Lloyd said. “I admire him for having done it, and he was very fortunate to have such a good family … because many, many orphan riders did not have a good experience.”

During a Monday interview with The Telegram, Lloyd flipped through newspaper clippings which encouraged families to adopt orphans, which was a struggle for many.

Clarence was one of approximately 250,000 orphaned children who were placed throughout the United States and Canada during the Orphan Train Movement from 1854 to 1929.

Lloyd said the movement was established by the Children’s Aid Society, an organization geared toward helping children in poverty succeed. The movement aimed to resettle poor and orphaned children living in New York City with farm families in the Midwest in an effort to deter them from a life of crime and poverty, according to the organization’s website.

Clarence and his two brothers, Albert and Clark, lost their mother in 1905 after she died giving birth to their sister, who passed away shortly after, too. Their father couldn’t afford the cost of raising his children and subsequently placed them into an orphanage in Canandaigua, New York.

The Castner brothers eventually made their way to Madison on the Orphan Train in 1908. Eight-year-old Clarence and 5-year-old Albert were adopted by the Reigle family, while 10-year-old Clark was taken in by another farming family close by.

“(Clarence, Albert and the Reigle family) had a very good relationship,” Lloyd said. “They were fortunate to have very good parents. They were very well thought off in the Madison area, and still are.”

Despite the separation, Lloyd said Clarence kept a close eye on Clark by making frequent visits before the family moved to Atkinson.

Lloyd said the organization periodically checked up on the adopted orphans to make sure they were living in a safe environment and proceeded to file written reports.

“If they thought their environment ought to be changed, they were changed,” said Lloyd, noting he still keeps the reports of his father filed by the organization.

Lloyd said he’s led numerous presentations highlighting his father’s childhood experience, but this will be his first time speaking on a panel. Joining Lloyd is Mickey Creager, whose parent was also an Orphan Train rider and John Shontz, coordinator of the “Orphan Train Project: Making a Difference.”

Lloyd said he looks forward to speaking at the event with his folder in hand filled with newspaper clippings, timelines and pictures of his father and the Orphan Train. He is also looking forward to the play “Orphan Train: The Musical” starting Oct. 3 at the Miriam Drake Theatre inside the university’s Fine Arts Building.

“It’s part of our history of settling in the west,” Lloyd said.

It took Anne Foradori, vocal music professor at UNK, five years to track down and contact sources to put together the performance.

“Nebraska has a lot of descendants of Orphan Train riders along the Union Pacific Railroad line,” Foradori said through a released statement.

The two-day event is set to take place from Tuesday, Oct. 2, through Wednesday, Oct. 3, and Lloyd is scheduled to speak at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday. Admission is $60 per person, which includes all the presentations, a conference book, lunch and a ticket to “Orphan Train: The Musical.”

Those interested in attending the event and seeing a full list of scheduled activities are encouraged to visit unk.edu/orphantrain.

Natasya Ong is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach her via email at natasya.ong@lee.net.