A new bronze statue of a girl sits on a sidewalk in Concordia, Kan. Her name is Miriam Zitur, and she’s about 6 years old with pigtails and bare feet.
Miriam is among the first of dozens of statues representing real children that are popping up on the streets of this north central town of fewer than 6,000 residents. The statues celebrate the upcoming 10th anniversary of the National Orphan Train Complex, which opened in 2007.
The facility is a museum and research center dedicated to the so-called Orphan Train movement, through which an estimated 250,000 children were relocated by rail to homes throughout North America between 1854 and 1929. The museum explores a time when abandoned, orphaned and neglected children, many the offspring of poor immigrants, were left to fend for themselves.
Miriam was just 19 months old in 1908 in New York when she and others were gathered up by the Children’s Aid Society, placed on trains and sent west — some to loving families, some not so much. The ads in rural newspapers announcing the arrival of an orphan train read “Children: Free to a Good Home.”
Visitors can step inside the recently added 19th-century passenger car to feel what it was like to ride an orphan train. They also can learn about Anna Laura Hill, who accompanied the children and followed up on them in their new homes. (These days she’d be called a social worker.) A statue of Hill soon also will be put in Concordia.
The National Orphan Train Complex is open Tuesday through Saturday; orphantraindepot.org.