Two-year-old Mary Brown rode an orphan train from New York City to McCook, Nebraska, in 1913. Her foster parents, George and Nellie Martin, named her Antoinette Martin. She married Leo Weiler in 1932, and the couple had eight children. It wasn't until 1980 that Toni finally discovered her parents were Irish immigrants named Murphy, who already had one child when she was born. Why her parents placed her in the New York Foundling Hospital remains a mystery, along with the identity of her sibling.
As an adult Toni shared her story as an orphan train rider, speaking to school children and groups and writing about her experiences. She appeared in the PBS American Experience documentary titled "The Orphan Trains." Shortly before her death in 1996, Toni received the Sister Irene award from the Orphan Train Heritage Society of America in recognition of her efforts to preserve the histories of orphan train riders.
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Toni Weiler's son, Robert, donated many of her papers to the Nebraska State Historical Society. The collection includes writings by Toni, scrapbooks, newspaper clippings, correspondence, photographs, and issues of Crossroads, the Orphan Train Heritage Society of America's newsletter.
Toni shortly after she arrived in McCook in 1913
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Toni posed with her foster parents, George and Nellie Martin, in 1913. Foster parents had to sign a document agreeing to provide adequate room and board, education, and medical care for their ward. The New York Foundling Hospital also required that the child be brought up in the Catholic faith.
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Nebraska History Museum