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Orphan Train © Jennie Avila

(Intro and Tag incorporate 'Jesus Loves Me' verse melody by Anna B. Warner 1860 and William B. Bradbury 1862 – Public Domain)

Guitar and Vocal - Jennie Avila · Resophonic Lead Guitar - John Turner · Upright Bass - Ralph Gordon · Authentic 19th Century Steam Engine effects - Todd Stotler

During and after the war, NY City alone reported as many as 20,000 orphans wandering the streets. The 'solution' was to send orphans to families out west via trains for adoption. But rather than being treated as family, the children were often abused as workers. Some sources refer to his practice as the "white slavery" movement. Hagerstown was a transportation hub. I have not found any record of orphans being shipped from the Washington County region. If they were, they would have been sent through Harrisburg, PA on their way to the farms out west. The impoverishment of the orphan characterized in this song is based on the case history of a child described in the Washington County Home for Orphan and Friendless Children Board of Directors minutes.

Big girls don't cry, beggars don't complain
Got a free ride on the orphan train
No one to lose and the world to gain
Be workin' for a brand new mother
Mamma come back Mamma come back
Mamma come back Mamma come
Mamma come back Mamma come back
Mamma come back Mamma come

Mamma tied a chicken bone to a crumpled note
Hung it round my neck like a diamond of hope
She set me down in the middle of the floor
The holes in her soles disappeared right through the door

Chorus: I sleep with my ear up tight against the wall
It's hard to hear anything at all
My heart is racing a train around a track
Mamma come back Mamma come back
Mamma come back Mamma come

Click click clack someone's out there in the hall
That don't sound like mamma's shoes at all
A stranger feeds me corn mash and tells me I've been found
I swallow hard but it don't go down

I cry like a sparrow
To get my necklace back
I'd chew right through the marrow
And the rails on the track

All aboard the Orphan Train
Big girls don't cry, beggars don't complain
Way up high in black soot and steam
Wave goodbye, nobody sees