Skip to main content

MN's surviving orphan train riders can't make the trip, but their journey still inspires


The orphan trains stopped running more than 80 years ago, but their legacy rolls on.

A reunion in Little Falls on Saturday will be the 55th such Midwestern gathering of the Orphan Train Riders of New York.

Many historians consider the orphan trains a forerunner of the modern foster care system. For 75 years – ending in 1929 – they carried abandoned or orphaned children from tenements in New York City to families waiting for them in the Midwest.

Thousands of orphans arrived at Minnesota train stations over the years, many with their names or a number sewn into their clothing to help their new families identify them.

The Pioneer Press reports there are still four orphan train riders living in Minnesota, ranging in age from 98 to 103. None is able to make the trip to Little Falls this weekend but the newspaper spoke with one of them, 100-year-old Sophia Kaminsky Hillesheim-Kral, at a nursing home in Sleepy Eye.

Hillesheim-Kral's foster mother died in the flu epidemic of 1918. That led to her being placed with a widow in Springfield, Minnesota, who proved to be abusive. But Hillesheim-Kral tells the newspaper the kindnesses of neighboring families in southern Minnesota left an indelible impression.

Hilleshieim-Kral's daughter has written two books about the experiences of orphan train riders, the Pioneer Press says.

Several years ago, the Minnesota Women's Press profiled another of the orphan train riders, who was a 96-year-old nun living in a Little Falls convent at the time.

Saturday's reunion event in Little Falls will include dozens of descendants of riders, along with students and researchers, an organizer tells the Pioneer Press.

The National Orphan Train Complex in Concordia, Kansas, is a museum and research center with much more on the legacy of the orphan trains.

Next Up

u.s. attorney

Minnesotan sentenced after assaulting man with baseball bat

Marshall Wayne Boshey was sentenced to 30 months in prison followed by two years of supervised release.

Target store

Target's gift card discount is back, but for this weekend only

The fine print: for Target Circle members only (but membership is free).

Screen Shot 2020-06-15 at 7.11.05 AM

Minneapolis teen arrested in St. Cloud after fleeing police in stolen vehicle

The vehicle was stolen in a car-jacking in Minneapolis Thursday.

snow, blowing snow

Winter storm warnings issued with heavy snow set to slam MN

Parts of northern Minnesota could see more than a foot of snow, but there won't be much in the Twin Cities.

D'Angelo Russell

With KAT out, Timberwolves can't upset Nets

D'Angelo Russell stepped up but couldn't overcome Brooklyn's firepower.

Everson Griffen Vikings dot com

Everson Griffen confirms he has bipolar disorder

"I’ve been running from it a long time. I’m not ashamed of it anymore.”

Angela Renee Jones, St. Cloud murder suspect

St. Cloud suspect now charged in two local murder cases

Both murders happened within a day of each other in June.

st anthony 3 crop

Twin Cities police ask for help finding missing 16-year-old

Police say all her family and friends have been contacted, and none of them know where she is.

mpd suspect 12.3.21 - 1 - CROP

MPD releases photos of shooting suspect, asks for public's help

The man is wanted in connection with a fatal shooting that happened Wednesday evening.

redmons popcorn colbert 2

Support grows for Redmon's Popcorn after shop's sudden closure

The county also commented on the situation, saying it hopes to help owner Zack Redmon.


Cat survives 245-mile trip trapped in an engine compartment

Tuffy the cat was found under the hood of a car towed from South Dakota. The Postbulletin says a northwest Rochester man bought the car in Sioux Falls, but didn't find the freezing and frightened kitty until a couple days after he got back to Minnesota. Tuffy is now recovering at Paws and Claws Humane Society.

Riders stranded again on State Fair swings

The Stratosphere Swing Tower stopped again in mid-air Friday morning. It was the second time in two days for the ride. The 200-foot-tall attraction, making its debut this year at the Minnesota State Fair, also stranded riders Thursday for about 20 minutes. KSTP reports that the same ride also stalled out at the Wisconsin State Fair.