Clark County Press, Neillsville, WI
January 30, 2008, Page 2
Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.
Tales of a forgotten history
Local author Robert Noonan mixes historical fact and fiction in his
Orphan Train Trilogy novels
Some pictures say a thousand words. In Robert Noonan’s case, one picture inspired several thousand words and three novels.
For Noonan, a Hatfield resident was compelled to write his Orphan Train Trilogy after seeing a picture of a nine-year-old orphaned girl in a history magazine. Inspired both by the time-period and the possibilities of the young girl’s life, the first-time author had found what amounted to a vivid outline for his historical-fiction trilogy.
"When I saw that little girl I had found my story," Noonan said.
Noonan spent the next three years writing his version of the girl’s history. Her tale, like that of the other orphans’ that populate Noonan’s three novels - Wildflowers, Bridie’s Daughter, and Secrets - is a mixture of both ecstatic highs and depressing lows, good fortune and bad luck.
The novels center around the little-known era of the Orphan Trains, roughly 1854 to 1929. Started by social reformer Rev. Charles Loring Brace - founder of the Children’s Aid Society - Orphan Trains relocated homeless or orphaned children from large coastal cities to towns in the Midwest. Some children found good homes, some did not. Some lives improved, others did not. It estimated that over 200,000 children were taken in and adopted during this era.
Noonan’s trilogy begins with Wildflowers, the story of 12-year-old Hilary Cook and her widowed mother, both forced to work long hours at a textile mill in the fictional Alton, Delaware. But Hilary’s mother becomes sick, putting the young girl’s future in question.
Bridie’s Daughter follows five children, including Hilary, as they travel by train to the fictional Newberry, Illinois, where they are adopted by families whose fortunes span the social stratum. The book offers a glimpse of not only the changed lives of the children, but the adults as well.
The trilogy concludes with Secrets, wherein a tragic past encroaches on the orphaned characters and puts a blissful future in question.
"It’s an emotional story about family, love and friendship," Noonan said of his Orphan Train Trilogy. "It is filled with tragedy, romance, murder and intrigue, and tons of humor following the kids."
Noonan said that reviews of the book so far have been "highly acclaimed." Some readers have already asked him when the next story in the series will be published. There is nothing in the works, so far, as he has been busy promoting the novels, Noonan said.
The Orphan Train Trilogy can be purchased through iUniverse.com, Barnes and Noble.com, Amazon.com and many other online retailers.
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