Writing From a Distance for the Spinster on the Orphan Train collection took me down quite the research road. Or rails if you wish.
While this book is more about Shanna Becket, an agent on the train, than the orphans, to write it I had to understand how the orphans were collected and dispersed out west. Most of my research didn’t end up in the book, but that’s the way it is with writing. Under every story, there is a hidden glacier of knowledge gleaned by the author.
Did you know there were no “Orphan Trains” instead, regular trains were used, sometimes a car would be filled with children? Most of the time there were small groups who were looked after by a few agents.
The agents took food along with the utensils they would need for the children. The also took along emergency bags that included wash cloths, soap, blankets, and medicines, like Larkspur, in case vermin (lice) had snuck past the caretakers. Talk about a packing for a road trip!
The saddest part of the research book was reading about children separated from their siblings. In later years, some of them were able to reconnect but many were not. Their family history would be lost forever because they were too young to remember. And then there were those who were given to families looking to supplement the farm labor. Those children were often housed with the livestock and when they turned 18 they ran away (if not sooner) or told to leave. They seldom shared in any family inheritance.
While these are sad stories of failures it is likely these children would not have survived the cold New York winters living on the streets. Could it have been handled differently? Sure but back in the late 1800s this was new and those with kind hearts wanted to help the children. And many were treated like members of the families that took them in.
Shanna’s trip from New Your City to Trenton, Illinois was close to 1,002 miles! She would have left on Monday and arrived at her destination on Wednesday evening.
While From a Distance is not a true story, but I did discover there was an orphan adopted in Trenton who later moved to Marion, Illinois–or so the story goes. Sometimes history is not exact.
To save her life, a spinster runs from her brutal stepfather. But what she runs to might be more than she can handle.
Shanna Becket, abused for years by her stepfather, runs away from him. When she secures employment as a Children’s Society Agency agent, her travels bring her dangerously close to meeting him again.
Aidan Sollar, trying to please his wealthy father, oversees the building of a Chicago hotel in the hopes that his father won’t give it to his older brother.
They meet while traveling the country, but Shanna can’t trust any man. A sick orphan brings them together, and Shanna is forced to place her well-being in Aidan’s hands. But accepting the love she’s only observed from a distance is another story. And Aidan must choose between his family’s wealth or love.