An Orphan Train Rider Tells His Story
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An Orphan Train Rider Tells His Story

November 14, 2019


Stanley Cornell, who was born in 1920, 28
years after Emily in Elmira, New York, was also not a true orphan, though he too would
ultimately ride the train to a new home. Stanley’s father, a World War I veteran, had health
problems associated with his wartime mustard gas exposure. After his wife died of tuberculosis
in 1924, Floyd Cornell was unable to properly care for Stanley, Stanley’s younger brother
Victor and sister Elouise. Stanley was a few months shy of his fifth birthday when his
mother, Lottie, died. He still remembers how she cried out for her children near the end. Stanley Cornell: “My mom was in her room
crying and hollering and wanting, Stan, Vic, please come see me and crying night and day
practically. We put this — the window was up so high up, down below it was not. I got
the wagon up there and then there was an orange crate that I set inside of the wagon so I
could climb up to the window and get in the window because the door was locked to her
room. “ He believes his relatives may have tried to
keep him away from his mother because tuberculosis is contagious. As a young boy, however, he
didn’t understand. Cornell: “I crawled up in there and up inside
the window and I helped my brother up then and then we both went over to her bed and
she held her hand and was crying and I don’t remember what she had to say because I was
too young I think and also she was crying so, but I think what she told us, she knew
she was dying.” After his mother died, he sometimes felt like
no one was looking after them, especially as his father tried to work while struggling
with his own health problems. Cornell: “Two ladies came out in a big limousine,
it looked like it and we didn’t have a car, of course, but it looked like a big limousine.
And they come in and talked to dad and then they talked to us and asked us if we were
happy and I can remember saying, not really, no, not really. I didn’t want to complain
but that was true because we weren’t too happy.” The boys were taken by the Children’s Aid
Society, while an aunt took in their younger sister, then a toddler. At the orphanage,
children were separated by gender. Even on the playground, a tall brick wall separated
the boys from the girls. Cornell: “My brother and I was separated
when we were in there for those six months. But in between the houses they had about 15
feet of chicken wire so that we can get together. And every day at noon, Vic would come to his
side, I’d meet him down front and we’d talk through the fence. “ The children were given sparse and simple
meals, milk, bread or soup. Occasionally they were given a piece of fruit. Cornell: “Then they’d come by before we
finished and leave an apple or a banana or an orange, you know, for each one of us. And
if you went outside, out of the building, out in the yard, the bullies would take it
away from you. It was not a very pleasant place to be at times. However, it was a place
we stayed warm at night and had a change of clothes and things like that.” Before Stanley and Vic Cornell ended up with
the Lutie, Texas farm family that would end up providing them a wonderfully happy childhood,
they were sent away from a half dozen other households. “We lived in six different homes that rejected
us after the first month or two or three months, sent us back because they didn’t want to
keep us. I don’t know what the reason was. I was too young to know, whether we couldn’t
get along with our baby sister or brother or was mean to them or I don’t know what.” Stanley Cornell, now a Colorado resident,
counts himself and his brother Vic, now living in Idaho, among those who were snatched from
poverty and woe. The man who would raise the two boys as his own had never planned to take
in a child from the orphan train that arrived in the Texas panhandle town of Wellington
one December night in 1926. It was a neighbor who suggested it. Cornell: “He was in town that day, bought
a new Model T and needed flaps on his windows on his car so the farmer that rode in with
him says, Mr. Deger, you’ve got two girls, 10 and 13, you have always wanted boys, at
least a boy. Yeah, I’d like to have a boy. So, he said, let’s stop by. The children from the train were lined up
and the agent traveling with the children encouraged the farmer to take both boys, as
Vic clung to his big brother’s hand and cried. They only had each other and had already been
to six other homes where it hadn’t worked out. J.L. Deger agreed to take both. His wife,
waiting at home with the girls, had no idea her husband had even stopped to see the children
from the train.” Cornell: “Mom was wanting, she liked to
sew but she was always, she wanted a Singer sewing machine is what she wanted. And she
thought that was the day that he was going to get one for her. Well, he drives up and
goes in the house and he says, mom, you and the girls go out there and get the groceries
out of the back seat. And it’s still snowing and blowing, you know, so they go out there
and when one of the girls opened the door they see the movement of the blankets and
some voices and they jump back and one of them squealed. It scared them. And finally
one of them pulled the blanket off and there was these two white-headed kids eating candy.
They picked us up and carried us in the house just like we were worth a million dollars.
Boy, they gave us a good home. That was home. “ Years later after serving in World War II,
Stanley would reunite with his birth father. His sister had found her brother several years
earlier. Stanley let his birth father know that his childhood had turned out wonderfully.
They kept in touch over the years but he always saw his adoptive parents as his real parents.

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