Tuesday, March 4, 2014

What a Find!

Such a delight, reading Michael T. Keene's Abandoned: The Untold Story of Orphan Asylums! It is exactly the book I'd of given an eye tooth for in the 1990s when I was researching my own orphan train book, Mail-Order Kid. At that time, I knew that the Children's Aid Society and the Foundling weren't the only New York orphanages in existence, but where were the others? I could find out little about them, but Keene has done that footwork for all of us.

He delineates, in his plain style, the histories of eighteen orphanages, most in New York City or state. He focuses on people, on the wide variety of benefactors, visionaries, and saints who founded these asylums, and he adds tidbits about orphan train agents and riders. 

An interesting history it is, too, touching on such details as children being hung by their thumbs for punishment, the abduction and conversion of a young Jewish boy, the incineration of the Colored Orphan Asylum, and the accidental discovery of numerous bones of babies drowned by their unwed mothers. P. T. Barnum and Abraham Lincoln are bit players.

In short, Keene's Abandoned is a must-read for students, researchers, and descendants of orphan train riders. It reunites us with an important segment of that history.

-- Marilyn June Coffey