The American Experience: Season 8, Episode 4

The Orphan Trains (27 Nov. 1995)

TV Episode  -   -  Documentary | History
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Title: The Orphan Trains (27 Nov 1995)

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Episode cast overview:
Charles Loring Brace IV ...
Voice Actor - multiple roles
Matt Carlson ...
Voice Actor - multiple roles
Dan Desmond ...
Voice Actor - multiple roles
Voice Actor - multiple roles
Voice Actor - multiple roles
Susan Gordon-Clark ...
Voice Actor - multiple roles
Voice Actor - multiple roles
Voice Actor - multiple roles
Larry Keith ...


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27 November 1995 (USA)  »

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User Reviews

Solid. intelligent documentary
15 July 2013 | by (US) – See all my reviews

Solid and informative documentary on how the Children's Aid Society of New York, founded in 1853 by a compassionate young minister named Charles Loring Brace, for 75 years helped over 100,000 orphaned or unwanted kids from New York City find homes with rural families, mostly farmers, across the country.

The film is helped by the amazing photos by Jacob Riis of New York's street kids, but even more by the first hand accounts of the kids who made this journey to becomes strangers in a strange land.

Some are read from letters and diaries by actors as voice-overs accompanying old stills or black and white modern footage of trains and country side. But far more arresting are the interviews with some now old survivors of the journey, most of whom look back on the the families they found with great fondness, without white-washing how difficult and strange the changes in life could be. Indeed the film acknowledges that the kids were used as cheap labor, and at times were ill-used and became run-aways, although the clear implication was that was the exception not the rule (and kids working for a living was not a rarity for the time).

Perhaps most moving is a man who must be in his 90s at the time of filming, remembering with a quiet, stoic love the son he adopted, who died at 72.

Always interesting, somehow this documentary never crossed over into the more emotional experience I had expected, and can even feel repetitive at times, but is well worth seeing for an intelligent 1st person telling of a little known piece of American history,

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