Orphan Train - Wisconsin


My Grandparent's Story by Clark Kidder

Emily Florence Reese entered this world at 5:00 a.m., March 28th, 1892 at 1333 Myrtle Ave. in Brooklyn, N.Y. She was the tenth child born to her parents, Lewis and Laura Amelia (Scott) Reese. Lewis was a shoemaker by trade, having been born in New York City. Laura was born in Brooklyn. They were ages 44 and 42, respectively, when little Emily was born to them. Because of circumstances still unknown, Lewis and Laura separated, and Emily, along with her brother Richard, were remanded to the Brooklyn branch of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Emily and Richard were ages eight, and ten, respectively. In a very short time, Richard and Emily were to become wards of the Home for Destitute Children, located at 217 Sterling Place in Brooklyn. A rather ominous looking brick structure, the Home was a branch of the Brooklyn Industrial School Association. Here, several hundred young boys and girls were housed together, yet separately.

Richard and Emily can be found listed on the 1900 Federal Census, among the 327 little souls confined to the Home. In the Home's Annual Report for the year 1900, such comments were made as, "The discontinuance of pillows after a trial of over a year has been attended with very beneficial results" - "It is the earnest request of managers that on visits, parents should not supply the children with cake, candies, and unripe fruits" - "The epidemic of sore heads in now a thing of the past."

As time passed, Emily would have to say goodbye to her brother Richard, as he was adopted by a wealthy couple from Brooklyn. She would see him only once again in her lifetime, when his adoptive parents brought him to see her at the orphanage. Emily later learned from other siblings that Richard had made a career of the army. To her dying day, Emily grieved over the separation of she and her brother, and longed to be reunited with him. The whole experience had left Richard "bitter," as Emily later recalled. He didn't want anything to do with any of the family, even after contact was made with him many years later.

Emily's brother Richard was lucky, as he was adopted before long by a wealthy couple from Brooklyn. Emily did not fare so well. She spent the next six years of her life in the confines of the Home.

On November 17th, 1905, Emily was sent to Elizabeth Home in Manhattan. This Home was a branch of the Children's Aid Society and housed those girls deemed "incorrigible." Emily was then sent for a trial placement in the home of a lady in New Rochelle, New York, but she was later deemed "unsatisfactory," and returned to Elizabeth Home. She was then sent to a Mrs. Hinley for "training." Mrs. Hinley eventually approved of Emily "going to a western home."

Emily was soon taken in as ward number 3993.41/388, by the Children's Aid Society of New York. On March 13th, 1906, at age thirteen, Emily was bathed and fitted with a new set of clothes, and was told that she and several other children would be taking a two-day train ride to their new homes out west. The official destination was Hopkinton, Iowa. Besides Emily, the little company of children consisted of Bernice Lindergren (age 1 ), Kathleen Marie Belt (age 9), Amy Calhoun (age 8), Alfred Bauman (age 3), Joseph Rowland (age 3), Ira Rowland (age 5) and Gertrude Perry (age 4). Accompanying the group was two of the Aid Society's agents, Reverend H. D. Clarke, and Anna Laura Hill.

The group departed the office of the United Charities Building by streetcar around noon, and then crossed by ferry to the New Jersey shores. Here, they boarded a special car on the train. The railways often provided special cars and free passes for the transportation of the children. During the journey, the children were fed sandwiches and would sleep in their seats.

En route to Hopkinton, the train made a stop at Union Station in Chicago. It so happened that Reverend Clarke had received a letter from friends in Chicago that were interested in taking a girl in to their home. Clarke had requested that Mr. And Mrs. C. U. Parker meet him at the station to look the group of children over. After conversing with the group for some time, Emily stepped forward and declared that she would like to go live with the Parker's. Reverend Clarke consented.

After arriving in Hopkinton, Iowa, Reverend Clarke penned a letter to the Aid Society on Hotel Hopkinton stationery. It read in part, "Mr. And Mrs. Parker met us at Union Station. He has no children. He is a fine Christian man, and wife of excellent family. He is city inspector of walks. Mr. Parker is a well-educated man and I have read fine articles from his pen. If there is any hitch about this procedure, let me know. Emily will have good advantages and refined and Christian influences if she stays in that home. I know as yet, nothing of Emily's disposition."

After an April 9th, 1906 visit to Emily's new home, Rev. Clarke made the following report to the Aid Society, "Very pretty home. Mr. Parker built it and owns it. Has lived there about 13 years. Solid man. Home well furnished. I think girl better suited than with average farm boys in the home on farm. Thus far she has pleased them and is quiet and modest and says she will do her best to keep such a good home and kind friends. Calls them uncle and aunt. Mrs. Parker seems to have tact. But of course, time must tell the story."

By the end of the summer, Mrs. Parker had developed a tumor, and a heart condition, and they were forced to give Emily up. On August 22nd, 1906, Rev. Clarke placed Emily with the C. H. Pelham family of Malone, Iowa. The Pelham's farmed 120 acres, and had a seven year-old son named Arthur. After a January 24th, 1907 visit to the home, Rev. Clarke found Emily's relationship with the Pelham's "fairly agreeable." Emily was attending school, and helping with the housework. Rev. Clarke reported, "A hired girl made some trouble with Emily by quizzing all about her past life, which Mrs. Pelham thinks was untruthful. Emily did not seem quite as well satisfied as at first, but said she liked the place. Had had some trouble with the little boy in the home. She does finely in school says teacher and Mrs. Pelham."

By March 21st, 1907, Reverend Clarke was re-placing Emily at the request of the Pelham's, because she "quarreled so with Mr. Pelham's little boy, and was saucy." Emily was off to the home of Mr. And Mrs. Brown of Le Claire, Iowa. Mr. Brown was a carpenter, and farmer. They had two sons, Ralph, (age 20), and Clyde, (age 18). Rev. Clarke reported, "Mr. Brown's home is pleasant and girl seemed pleased. Piano in home and the grown boys appear gentlemanly. I hope girl will do better."

On January 8th, 1908, Rev. Clarke was again summoned to remove Emily from her foster home. He reported, "In the home with Brown's, Le Claire, she was robbed of the years' school, and her clothes. She promises to do her best now." Emily was then placed with the E. P. Kellogg family of Lansing, Iowa. The Kellogg's farmed 226 acres, and were in their mid-thirties. They had three children, Harold, (age 11), Bernice, (age 6) and Cecil, (age 2). Rev. Clarke said of the Kellogg's, "This is a most excellent Christian family from all appearances and recommendations."

The Children's Aid Society requested that the children write at least twice a year, and report on how they were doing. Often, the Society would ask specific questions of the children. Emily wrote just such a letter the day after Christmas in 1906. The quaint letter is still on file at the Aid Society, and reads (verbatim):

"Dear Sir,

I received your letter quite a while ago, but did not answer. I go to school with the children that I live with. I stay at home & help with the work. I have not any photograph to sent. We live 2 miles South East of Waukon. I do not know of the future years what I am going to do. I think I will be a dressmaker. I believed I will start to sew next summer. Well, I will close this time.

Your Truly,
Emily Reese
Waukon, Iowa"

After a visit on May 20th, 1909, Rev. Clarke reported, "The family talks of moving in to Wisconsin and will take girl if consent is given. I gave hearty consent. Not far from State line. Wisconsin law cannot keep a family who has taken a girl, from moving in to the State with her. Anyway, she's self-supporting." He goes on to say, "Emily is now a good Christian girl in present appearance and profession. It was lucky I removed her from two past homes and placed her here. Unless we are deceived, she will make a fine woman. She wants to take a nurses course in a Sanitarium and Kellogg's will help her."

One night, in the fall of 1909, the Kellogg's attended a Seventh-day Adventist camp meeting in the woods near Waukon. They had at some point decided they were leaving without Emily. Once again, Rev. Clarke was summoned to re-place Emily in a new foster home. On September 1st, 1909, Emily was placed with Mrs. C. H. Mikkelson of Milton Junction, Wisconsin. Mikkelson rented 85 acres of land, and had two sons, Harold, (age 13), and Paul, (age 5). Rev. Clarke reported, "Ready for High School. The family at Waukon, Iowa were to move and had no use for Emily. This new home wanted her and will educate her right along in school. I placed her in Wisconsin as a self-supporting girl and for her better education. She thanks me much and is happy over it. Will need no more visits."

Emily didn't know it yet, but she would live out the rest of her life in the Milton area. In April 1910 she went to the home of George and Della Courtney, which stood a few miles to the Southwest of Milton Junction. Here, Emily helped with chores on the farm, which included hand milking eight cows. She and Mrs. Courtney entered baking contests and won a good many of them. Emily attended the nearby Sandy Sink Church with the Courtney's, with services being preached by the Rev. Roberts, a Circuit Riding Minister. She joined the choir and enjoyed it very much. She was a beautiful singer, according to Earl Kidder, whom we'll learn more about below.

Emily was soon to leave the Courtney's and head for Chamberlain, South Dakota, where she was given the opportunity to study to become a nurse. She was put in charge of four children at a Sanitarium and walked nearly a mile to work each day. She was not supplied any schoolbooks on the subject of nursing, so she wrote her guardian minister, Rev. H. D. Clarke, who promptly sent some. Emily received $4.00 a week for her apprentice work. Emily later recalled how her peers had questioned her age after her arrival for work, thinking she was surely not a day over twelve, instead of the eighteen years she proclaimed she was. Emily's stay at the Sanitarium was to last six months, but soon Emily was headed back to the Courtney family, who had written that they needed help.

[click photo at left for full size image]

One of the Courtney's neighbors to the north was the Clark and Elma Kidder family, which consisted of four sons, and a daughter. The second youngest son, Earl Dane Kidder, was born at home, March 25th, 1893. After returning home from Janesville where he went to sell a load of firewood, Earl's father Clark had spied Emily walking along side the road, and offered her a ride home in his buggy. Upon his arrival home, Clark told his son Earl that he had just met the sweetest little girl with the darkest eyes he'd ever seen, and if he were a young man, he'd look her up!

It so happened that Earl's mother Elma was to host the next Ladies Aid Society meeting and, among those attending would be Mrs. Courtney, and her foster child, Emily Reese. Well, Earl had just purchased a new rubber-tired buggy "for haulin' the girls around" at the Northwestern Carriage Company in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. Eventually, Earl worked up the nerve to ask Mrs. Courtney if it was o.k. to give Emily a ride around the block in his new buggy. To his delight, Mrs. Courtney agreed, as long as they returned by a certain time.

Soon a romance began, despite the fact that Earl had been going steady for many years with his childhood sweetheart, Minnie Beutow. It seems Minnie's father had disliked Earl, and it put quite a strain on the relationship. He often referred to Earl as "the damn Yankee."

Alas, all had finally seemed well in Emily's life, but to her horror she soon learned that the Courtney's could no longer keep her, and she would have to return to South Dakota, and her job as a chambermaid. She was beside herself.

It was soon Sunday, and time for church. By the time the sermon was over it had become pitch black outside. Not many had attended that day, and Emily was fearful of the long walk home in the dark. It so happened that Earl was one of those that attended service, and he graciously offered to walk Emily home. As they walked, Emily began to cry. She explained her predicament to Earl, and asked him what to do. Earl pondered for a moment and proclaimed, "Well, I guess the only thing I can do is marry ya." Emily jumped off the ground repeatedly, proclaiming, "Will ya?, Will ya?, Will ya?." To Emily the dark night seemed somehow brighter now. Earl had proposed. Perhaps not on his knees, or in a traditional sense, but that didn't matter, he had still proposed. The journey to South Dakota could be canceled.

The following week their marriage intention was published in the local paper. It was official. On March 20th, 1912, Earl and Emily were married at the United Brethren Church in Janesville, Wisconsin. Two witnesses were pulled from the sidewalk, and those in attendance were just immediate family. Mrs. Courtney had hand sewn Emily's dress from material purchased in Janesville and Earl bought his first suit for the occasion at Seeger's in Milton Junction.

[click photo at right for full size image]

Without a house to go home to of their own, Earl had remedied the situation by erecting a 12 x 14 foot tent in the orchard just south of his folk's place. Here the newlyweds would spend their first two years together. After tiring of life in a tent, Earl decided to renovate his folk's old granary into a home for them. He did just that, and soon the couple moved into their three-room former corncrib, which seemed like a mansion after living in a tent for so long!

On June 28th, 1913 their first child was born. They named her Mildred. Bernice, Earl Jr., Donald, Warren, and Marian followed her. Their seventh child, a boy, was stillborn in 1935. Earl soon purchased a farm of over 100 acres just a mile to the north, and moved his family in. This is where the children would all be reared. Eventually the farm was purchased from Earl by his son, Earl Jr., and Earl and Emily moved to the Ken Parker estate on Vogel Rd., just a few miles northeast. Here, he had been offered a job as caretaker. Parker, his boss, was owner of the famous Parker Pen Co., located in Janesville, Wisconsin.

Once again, Earl and Emily resided in a tent, albeit a larger one that featured wood floors, and two rooms! The arrangement was temporary, as before, until Earl could erect a home and cottages. Among his duties as caretaker was to plant thousands of pine trees on the property, as well as a host of apple, peach and pear trees. He also cared for hundreds of mink for Mr. Parker, built ponds, etc. Meanwhile, he had been appointed Constable for the towns of Milton and Fulton, a job he would have for nearly forty years.

In 1927, Emily made a trip back to the place where her life had began so precariously, New York City. She went to meet the brothers and sisters she never knew. This train ride would be far different than the one she took nearly thirty years earlier. It held promise, and a chance to connect with siblings, with family. She stayed for two weeks, learning about her roots, and getting to know her long lost siblings, and their children. In the years ensuing, Emily's brother Louis, and her sister, came to visit Emily on the farm. Emily corresponded with her brothers and sisters for many years, but would only see her sister Jane again, as she and her husband had moved to Chicago, and were within a short drive away.

Tragedy struck on the 22nd of September 1943. A telegram had arrived telling Earl and Emily that their son Donald had been killed in a plane crash over Waldo, Kansas. He was a Lieutenant, and a flight instructor, and was traveling with several other Lieutenants when the crash occurred. When the casket arrived, Earl reluctantly opened it at the urging of friends, only to discover that there was nothing more than blood stained soil inside. The family was devastated.

As the years went by, Earl was presented with the opportunity to buy a 176-acre farm owned by Johnny Paul, and located just a couple miles southwest of the Parker estate. Earl decided to buy it. It was 1946. Earl and Emily were farming once again, raising melons, and selling them at their roadside stand, along with chicken eggs, and of course raising a few hogs and cattle. There was no problem staying busy.

When it came time to apply for social security, Emily sent away for her birth certificate, and learned for the first time that she was actually a year older than Earl, and had been celebrating her birthday on the 27th of March, instead of her actual birth date of the 28th of March! As the golden years encroached, and then passed by, Earl and Emily had developed heart, and many other health problems. They were now in their nineties.

On March 20th, 1986, the occasion of their 74th Wedding Anniversary, radio personality Paul Harvey announced to the world, "Emily and Earl Dane Kidder, of Milton, Wisconsin, are celebrating 74 years, on their way to forever together." The State Assembly of Wisconsin issued a Citation to them in honor of their long-standing service to the community.

In her final months, Emily could be found in her rocking chair singing the old church songs that she had performed so many years earlier at the little church at Sandy Sink. I looked in on her on the evening of November 21st, 1986 and found that she had passed away in her sleep. She was 94 years old. Earl had died just three months earlier, at the age of 93, and in his last days at Edgerton Hospital, he repeatedly asked to see Emily, his beloved wife of nearly three quarters of a century.

Emily's long journey was over. The little orphan girl from Brooklyn was able to live the American Dream after all.

Copyright Clark Kidder, 2001.


you are the [an error occurred while processing this directive] visitor to this page
Site Index Trains People Places Photos Stories Links

Copyright Notice: All files on this site are copyrighted by their creator and/or contributor. They may be linked to but may not be reproduced on another site without specific permission from Tina Vickery [tsvickery@adelphia.net] and/or their contributor. Although public information is not in and of itself copyrightable, the format in which they are presented, the notes and comments, etc., are. It is however, quite permissable to print or save the files to a personal computer for personal use ONLY.
this page last edited 06 Dec 2003