Wednesday, January 28, 2009

He rode the 'Orphan Train' across the country

They called it the Orphan Train. It carried scores of street urchins -- with no parents, no homes -- out of New York City between 1854 and 1929. At each station, the orphans would stand outside the coaches, wearing their best clothes, hoping they'd be chosen by inspecting families.
PUEBLO, Colorado (CNN) -- Orphan Train rider Stanley Cornell's oldest memory is of his mother's death in 1925.
"My first feeling was standing by my mom's bedside when she was dying. She died of tuberculosis," recalls Cornell. "I remember her crying, holding my hand, saying to 'be good to Daddy.' "

"That was the last I saw of her. I was probably four," Cornell says of his mother, Lottie Cornell, who passed away in Elmira, New York.His father, Floyd Cornell, was still suffering the effects of nerve gas and shell shock after serving as a soldier in combat during WWI. That made it difficult for him to keep steady work or care for his two boys.

"Daddy Floyd," as Stanley Cornell calls his birth father, eventually contacted the Children's Aid Society. The society workers showed up in a big car with candy and whisked away Stanley and his brother, Victor, who was 16 months younger. Stanley Cornell remembers his father was crying and hanging on to a post. The little boy had a feeling he would not see his father again.

The two youngsters were taken to an orphanage, the Children's Aid Society of New York, founded by social reformer Charles Loring Brace.

"It was kind of rough in the orphans' home," Cornell remembers, adding that the older children preyed on the younger kids -- even though officials tried to keep them separated by chicken wire fences. He says he remembers being beaten with whips like those used on horses.

New York City in 1926 was teeming with tens of thousands of homeless and orphaned children. These so-called "street urchins" resorted to begging, stealing or forming gangs to commit violence to survive. Some children worked in factories and slept in doorways or flophouses.

The Orphan Train movement took Stanley Cornell and his brother out of the city during the last part of a mass relocation movement for children called "placing out."Brace's agency took destitute children, in small groups, by train to small towns and farms across the country, with many traveling to the West and Midwest. From 1854 to 1929, more than 200,000 children were placed with families across 47 states. It was the beginning of documented foster care in America.

"It's an exodus, I guess. They called it Orphan Train riders that rode the trains looking for mom and dad like my brother and I."

"We'd pull into a train station, stand outside the coaches dressed in our best clothes. People would inspect us like cattle farmers. And if they didn't choose you, you'd get back on the train and do it all over again at the next stop."

Cornell and his brother were "placed out" twice with their aunts in Pennsylvania and Coffeyville, Kansas. But their placements didn't last and they were returned to the Children's Aid Society.

"Then they made up another train. Sent us out West. A hundred-fifty kids on a train to Wellington, Texas," Cornell recalls. "That's where Dad happened to be in town that day."

Each time an Orphan Train was sent out, adoption ads were placed in local papers before the arrival of the children.

J.L. Deger, a 45-year-old farmer, knew he wanted a boy even though he already had two daughters ages 10 and 13.

"He'd just bought a Model T. Mr. Deger looked those boys over. We were the last boys holding hands in a blizzard, December 10, 1926," Cornell remembers. He says that day he and his brother stood in a hotel lobby.

"He asked us if we wanted to move out to farm with chickens, pigs and a room all to your own. He only wanted to take one of us, decided to take both of us."

Life on the farm was hard work.

"I did have to work and I expected it, because they fed me, clothed me, loved me. We had a good home. I'm very grateful. Always have been, always will be."

Taking care of a family wasn't always easy.

"In 1931, the Dust Bowl days started. The wind never quit. Sixty, 70 miles an hour, all that dust. It was a mess. Sometimes, Dad wouldn't raise a crop in two years."

A good crop came in 1940. With his profit in hand, "first thing Dad did was he took that money and said, 'we're going to repay the banker for trusting us,' " Cornell says.

When World War II began, Cornell joined the U.S. Army Signal Corps. He shipped out to Africa and landed near Casablanca, Morocco, where he laid telephone and teletype lines. Later he served in Egypt and northern Sicily. While in Italy, he witnessed Mount Vesuvius erupting.

It was on a telephone line-laying mission between Naples and Rome that Cornell suffered his first of three wounds.

"Our jeep was hit by a bomb. I thought I was in the middle of the ocean. It was the middle of January and I was in a sea of mud."

With their jeep destroyed and Cornell bleeding from a head wound, his driver asked a French soldier to use his vehicle to transport them. The Frenchman refused to drive Cornell the five miles to the medical unit.

"So, the driver pulled out his pistol, put the gun to the French soldier's head and yelled, 'tout suite!' or 'move it!' " Cornell recalls.

Once he was treated, Cornell remembers the doctor saying, "You've got 30 stitches in your scalp. An eighth of an inch deeper and you'd be dead."

Cornell always refused to accept his commendations for a Purple Heart even though he'd been wounded three times, twice severely enough to be hospitalized for weeks. He felt the medals were handed out too often to troops who suffered the equivalent of a scratch.

His younger brother served during the war in the Air Force at a base in Nebraska, where he ran a film projector at the officers' club.

As WWII was drawing to a close, Stanley Cornell headed up the teletype section at Allied headquarters in Reims, France. "I saw [Gen. Dwight] Eisenhower every day," he recalls.

On May 7, 1945, the Nazis surrendered. "I sent the first teletype message from Eisenhower saying the war was over with Germany," Cornell says.

In 1946, the 25-year-old Stanley Cornell met with his 53-year-old birth father, Daddy Floyd. It was the last time they would see each other.

Cornell eventually got married and he and his wife, Earleen, adopted two boys, Dana and Dennis, when each was just four weeks old.

"I knew what it was like to grow up without parents," Cornell says. "We were married seven years and couldn't have kids, so I asked my wife, 'how about adoption?' She'd heard my story before and said, 'OK.' "

After they adopted their two boys, Earleen gave birth to a girl, Denyse.

Dana Cornell understands what his father and uncle went through.

"I don't think [Uncle] Vic and Stan could have been better parents. I can relate, you know, because Dad adopted Dennis and me. He has taught me an awful lot over the years," Dana Cornell says.

Dana Cornell says his adoptive parents have always said that if the boys wanted to find their birth parents, they would help. But he decided not to because of how he feels about the couple who adopted him. "They are my parents and that's the way it's gonna be."

Stanley and Earleen Cornell have been married 61 years. She is a minister at a church in Pueblo, Colorado, and is the cook at her son's restaurant, Dana's Lil' Kitchen.

Stanley Cornell believes he is one of only 15 surviving Orphan Train children. His brother, Victor Cornell, a retired movie theater chain owner, is also alive and living in Moscow, Idaho.

Monday, January 26, 2009

DNA Could Illuminate Origins of Medieval Manuscripts

The DNA of animal skins used as parchment for medieval manuscripts could reveal where the texts were made.

By comparing the genetic codes of manuscripts of unknown origin to those whose provenance and age is known, an English professor hopes to learn where and when the mysterious manuscripts were made.

"One of the things we try to do when we study a text is to guess from the handwriting and dialect where and when it's from," said Tim Stinson of North Carolina State University . "But these are inexact processes, and it takes a lot of guesswork. Our tools have been fairly blunt instruments — until now."

Initial tests showed that the animal skin pages contained enough intact DNA to make analysis worthwhile. So Stinson and his brother Mike Stinson, a biologist at Southside Virginia Community College, skin samples taken from five pages of a 15th century French prayer book. Preserved mitochondrial DNA revealed that the pages came from two closely related calves.

Those results, said Stinson, are a proof of principle that it's possible to create a DNA database from manuscripts of known age and origin. Monastic paperwork tended to be dated, so DNA from those works could be cross-indexed with that of literary works from tomes of unknown provenance, producing a taxonomy of manuscript manufacture.

"This could help us understand not just things, not just books, not just medieval cows, but people," said Stinson.

In addition to pinpointing manuscript origin, such a taxonomy could flesh out the as-yet-murky transition from monastic to commercial publishing.

"When did books become a business, as opposed to something monks did? That's a puzzle nobody knows," said Stinson. "This could be a social history of producing a good for trade."

DNA matches could also help link pages from books that have been broken up by unsavory collectors and sold piecemeal to museums and galleries around the world.

Before this can happen, however, Stinson needs to refine his technique. Testing currently requires the removal of a half-centimeter square — enough to turn the stomach of any true bibliophile. Stinson plans to repeat testing with ever-smaller samples until a process is found that leaves no visible scars.

Stinson also needs grant money for the project, which will be presented at the upcoming Bibliographical Society of America meeting in New York City. Tests run between $800 and $1000 per sample, and dozens of samples will be needed for the initial database.

Medieval manuscript identification could be a tough sell in today's economy, but Stinson believes that historical insight is still valuable.

He gave the example of an undated poem he's currently translating, about the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. The poem, said Stinson, reflects anti-Semitic tendencies common in parts of medieval England.

"Who was circulating these — what time, and when? Was it country gentlemen? Monks? Where are these being produced?" he wondered. As can be claimed of so much of history, Stinson said, "The matter in Jerusalem is far from over."

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Dieting in the year 1087

It is said that in the year 1087, William the Conqueror (who became King of England after his success at the Battle of Hastings) found he could no longer ride his horse because he was too fat. He reportedly refused to get out of bed, and began drinking alcohol instead of eating food in an attempt to lose weight. If this story is true, it may be the first recorded instance of someone changing food intake in order to reduce their bulk.(thus dieting)

Although it is apparently true that he had grown quite fat by the end of his life, we have no record of what success King William's alcoholic 'liquid diet' might have had. King William died that same year, but since he died from injuries he suffered when his horse fell, we may assume his regime was at least partially successful, because he was on his horse once again.