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Orphan Train Riders to Iowa Orphan Train Riders
~ Grace Blaine Fiser ~
~ Source: Iowa Co. Historical Society Vignette No. 141, November 1989

This article was written by a daughter of Ralph and Famie Schuldt of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Her grandmother, Grace Blain Fiser, was on the Orphan Train and this is her story.

Krisangela Real = Grace Blaine Fiser. Born 29 Dec 1890 at Brooklyn, NY (Aunt Lizzie said she was so small they didn't expect her to live.)

John J. Real = Father, Irish decent, Catholic (Died -- pneumonia?)

Fredericka (Ricky) Kraus = Mother, German Lutheran (Reddish blonde hair, blue eyes, fair skin. Died of cancer at age 33. Born 1859 (?), died 04 Jul 1892-93)

Grandma was 2 or 3 years old with her mother died. They lived in the tenement house. Willie, Ella, grandma and Jack were the four children. Ella was supposed to keep house, babysit, etc. She would play outside with the other children and forget to have the meals ready when father came home. He was a hot tempered Irishmen and Ella "got many a beating". One night they heard a roaring noise. It was a fire in the dumb waiter and the place was on fire. It wasn't long before he took them to St. Joseph's Catholic Home.

At the Catholic Home Grandma learned the rosary and made her first confession. She mentioned a Sister Canesha who watched the children at night - she liked her. They had a crabby nun during the day (she was old - they saw her gray hair under her vail). They slept in cribs, had good food and plenty of it. They went to mass in the morning. The kids were mostly interested in what the priest wore. Grandma like the white and gold robe the best! They did like the black robe. She doesn't remember the school work there or how long they stayed for sure. She thinks about a year. She thinks her father forgot to pay for their room and board. He was a heavy drinker and would go on binges and be gone for long periods of time. He finally came and got them and put Ella to work for our lady who kept boarders. Willie said he couldn't get along so he ran away. Willie and a chum hired out to go on a boat to Cuba. He made two trips and joined the Army - evidently lying about his age so he could get in. He wound up in the Philippine Islands.

Somewhere in this time they were sent to live with Aunt Lizzie, who was her mother's half-sister. She and her mother's brothers, Herman, Joe, and Charlie ran the bakery in Brooklyn along with another Lizzie - the cook who was also a housekeeper. It was an awful place to keep kids. The store was run by Aunt Lizzie and was on the first floor. They lived upstairs. Uncle Herman was boss, and Joe and Charlie helped with baking. The oven went under the backyard and was hot! The streetcars ran on the street and the elevated railroad went past the upstairs window. There was no place for kids to play, nothing to do but it into mischief. Grandma doesn't know how long they were there, but "it was too long".

Their father came and took them to the New York Juvenile Home on Amsterdam Avenue in Brooklyn. She says they stayed in the home for one year and five months. It was also a miserable place. She thinks they were old retired old maids running it who were too old for public schools. She doesn't know how it was supported. She said it was on the edge of town - cows in the pasture across the street and horses did all the work. The food wasn't good. On Friday's she did not eat breakfast because that was "Oatmeal morning". Supper was always a piece of dry bread and a bowl of milk - no butter. Sunday evening they got a brown cookie and they took tiny bites to make it last longer. She said they had big meals on July 4th, Christmas and Thanksgiving and then that night the kids were lined up waiting for the bathroom (toilet). Their systems weren't used to all the food and it upset their stomachs.

She worked in the sewing room sometimes where they made dresses for girls in shirts for the boys. Girls were supposed to do basting and sewing buttons and buttonhole's. Grandma could never get the corners of the boy shirttails turned and basted but she could sew on buttons. Two Italian girls could make the prettiest buttonholes and the matron past them around for the rest to see. One time she was punished... she and another girl came out of the sewing room and ran across the hall to go outside and were clapping hands. Then their names were called to come inside. One of the teachers apparently had a headache and the noise disturbed her. They were sentenced to stand in line with another girl watching - losing their recess and playing time after school for as long as the sentence was. She thinks they put in two days and quit - "no one came after us".

The went to church on Sunday afternoons it was about the only time she saw her brother Jack, who sat across the aisle from her. Once in a while they would allow brothers and sisters to see each other. Large groups of kids in the home were usually split up into small groups and made their own group of friends. Sundays were strictly kept - no games or loud noises in the yard. They had illustrated hymns for entertainment once in a while. Grandma was chosen with three other girls to sing "There's a Stranger at the Door." Ms. Chase was the organist and was very nice.

They went to bed at 6:00 p.m. One of the girls was appointed to monitor over the rest. They slept in wards and Graham was in the fourth ward.

All the kids were motherless or fatherless or both. Visitor's day was the last Thursday of the month she thinks that after a certain period of time if a parent didn't show up they were considered deserted and they would find a new home for them.

She remembers hearing lists of names being called of kids to work going "out west". One day her name was called and she was fitted with a new dress and got a new change of clothes. Then a group headed west on the train. She said they enjoy the train ride even though it was long. They stopped somewhere in Illinois and left half the children there, the rest came to Iowa. She thinks Henry Gode and the Presbyterian Church had something to do with the children coming to Marengo.

Grandma said they were from a Protestant home and whoever adopted them couldn't be Catholic. Grandma will never forget that "terrible day in the hotel with all the strangers in a circle around the kids looking them over and picking out which when they wanted to adopt". She was eight years old at the time and didn't fully realize what was happening. A lady with four boys wanted to Grandma but they wouldn't let her have her. Instead William Blaine (Papa) and Euphemia (Famie) adopted Grandma and his brother Jim Blaine got her brother Jack. She had her first buggy ride on the way home. They stopped at Pete McGivern's to show them "his girl"! It sounded like Grandma was particularly fond of her adoptive father - they had a lot of fun together. She says he never grew up - had enough boy in him - he knew and loved kids. Uncle Jim on the other hand was a "surly domineering bugger" and she says Jack didn't have the home she did. She said her new parents were Scottish. So she was "born with the German mother Irish father raised by Scottish parents and was called in American"!

She had never seen a pig or chicken before. Her new parents had turkeys also. She had all the animals for her friends all except pigs - she didn't like them. She doesn't remember feeling lonesome or missing the kids from the orphanage.

Her adoptive parents both came over from Scotland. Euphemia's maiden name was Walker. Her mother was a widow left with three children to raise. Euphemia was put to work as a peasant herding cows on the dairy farm when she was only eight years old. She had an illegitimate son named Jimmy Patton who lived with them. He was crippled but not sure why - perhaps something about his foot.

Grandma talked about her father writing the horse to call the doctor when a new baby was coming to the neighborhood and her mother staying to help the new mother and baby. Her father was a natural born entertainer and her mother was a quiet woman who "was real good to me". She was a hard worker, quick at work, full of quiet fun in her own way.

After Uncle Jim died, Jack hired out to a man on the road west of them. Then Grandma Shedenhelm (Grandpa Fiser's mother) married a man that owned a far north of them. Jack get acquainted with Harry Fiser and brought him to Grandma's house when Sunday evening. The next Saturday evening while she was in town he asked to take her home and that was the beginning of their courtship. They were married March 3, 1913.