Alison Moore and Phil Lancaster have been riding the rails across Texas, captivating audiences from Pecos to Texarkana with their multimedia presentation "Riders on the Orphan Train." Over the last three years, twenty-six public libraries and museums have received mini-grants from Humanities Texas to bring this program to their communities.

With a compelling blend of original music, narrative, and historical photographs, Moore and Lancaster recount the "placing out" of parentless and unwanted children in New York to adoptive families in the Midwest and Southwest. Between 1854 and 1929, the Children's Aid Society and the New York Foundling Hospital relocated several hundred thousand of these children aboard what became known as "orphan trains." For more information on this poignant, often controversial, chapter of American history, please visit the websites listed below.

The performances of Moore, a writer, and Lancaster, a musician, have earned enthusiastic reviews from many venues. Rosella Balzen, who attended the show at the Hondo Public Library, described it as "a spellbinding experience." Toni Fisher, director of the Jeff Davis Public Library in Fort Davis, noted that "Riders on the Orphan Train" inspired a desire to learn more about the children: "It was a program that touched your heart," she wrote. The libraries and museums that have hosted the program have also emphasized how well the performers interact with their audiences. "Moore and Lancaster's ability to 'connect' with the folks in the audience was outstanding," wrote Verna Bonner, director of the Alpine Public Library. At several venues, relatives of the orphans attended the program and were moved to share family stories.

Several other historical performers are also popular with Humanities Texas-supported venues. The prominent historian Dr. Félix D. Almaráz Jr. dons a period costume to present "A Chautauqua Experience: An Evening with Senator Sam Houston." Melissa Waddy-Thibodeaux, a Humanities Texas Award finalist, has proven especially effective in connecting with youthful audiences in her portrayals of Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks. Texas A&M International University in Laredo has featured actor Charles Holt in a one-man lecture and performance based on the autobiography of author Richard Wright. Each of these performers has found creative ways to bring the humanities to life for Texas audiences. Please contact our office if you would like more information about bringing any of them to your community.

More information on the orphan trains is available from the National Orphan Train Complex, a museum and archive located in Concordia, Kansas, and dedicated to the preservation of the stories and artifacts of the Orphan Train program; The Orphan Trains, the NEH-funded film by Janet Graham and Edward Gray that tells the history of the orphan train program with first-hand accounts by participants; and the Children's Aid Society, the organization founded in 1853 that administered the Orphan Train program.

Michael L. Gillette
Phil Lancaster and Alison Moore of "Riders on the Orphan Train."
Young riders of an actual "orphan train." Photographs courtesy of Extraordinary Stories, Austin.