Iowa documentary looks for funding

Jacob Lane · Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Last fall the West Liberty Train Depot was used in filming for an upcoming documentary titled “West by Orphan Train.”

Now the film's producers are looking to communities across Iowa to help finish the project through funding, initiating what's known as a crowd funding campaign.

By visiting, anyone can contribute to completing the project. Each pledge amount comes with its own benefits, such as being listed in the film credits.

"If we are able to complete our fundraising, we will be able to move ahead and expect the film will be released in 2014," states the website. "Please consider helping us make this happen."

They've raised $25,000 of the $35,000 needed through grants and funds, the last will hopefully come from individual contribution.

The documentary is set to air on Iowa Public TV later this year. It's an extensive look into a time of American history when orphans were lined up in towns and cities across the American frontier. The hope was that county homes would adopt them in order to have an extra pair of hands.

The West Liberty Train Depot was used for filming a few of the documentary's scenes. While not extensive, the authenticity of the depot is what drove the crew to town.

"The filming crew was here about ninety minutes," said Heritage Foundation Member Pam Schnittjer, "They did only exterior filming near the railroad and one end of the depot."

The film's director and co-producer Colleen Bradford Krantz reached out to the WL Chamber of Commerce and was directed to the WL Heritage Foundation, since it owns the depot property. She had seen a photo of West Liberty residents boarding the train online and wanted to know more.

"We informed her that the photo she asked about was a postcard photo taken in the early 1900s. There could be a number of them," said Schnittjer. "Scott Peters is a local owner of that postcard. They hoped to use that postcard in some way in the film."

While the film has not been completed, the postcard is being used at the end of a short trailer for the documentary available on

Writer and co-producer Clark Kidder is basing the film off of the story of his grandmother in his book “Emily’s Story: The Brave Journey of an Orphan Train Rider.”

Through her eyes it focuses on her time on the train and being adopted by strangers in east central Iowa. Emily (Reese) Kidder later moved to northeast Iowa and then Wisconsin.

The film focuses on Iowa and is meant to be relevant throughout the United States. Since records are scarce and little is known about the orphan train it's a difficult story to tell.

"People of my generation or younger may have never heard of the orphan trains, so I think it’s a good idea to tell this story. During the period of 1860-1920, New York City saw a great influx of immigrants," said Schnittjer. "

"Many families suffered horrible circumstances, which resulted in overcrowded orphanages and waifs along the streets. Nearly every state had orphans sent to them, with a greater portion going to the Midwest, where leaders of the children’s aid societies were seeking fresh air and good food for their charges."

While there are no found records of orphans being adopted in West Liberty, the story is a personal one to Schnittjer.

"My hometown in Delaware County placed a number of the children. I wasn’t aware until after my father passed away, that his grandparents had taken in a boy," she said. "The subject never came up in conversation and I learned of it on a census record. This boy and his older brother, also in the community, returned to New York when they reached adulthood in the early 1920s."
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