Annals of the Society for Studies of Societal Integration
Vol. 37, Issue 3 (Spring)
The Case of G: A Child Raised by Trains
Sarah J. Brackenthorpe, MD, MSc (Psych), FRCAP
Readers of this journal will be aware that there have been numerous historical instances of children discovered in the care of creatures as varied as chimpanzees, wolves and elephants;1 and, of course, many more unverified accounts exist, from the case documented by Professor Oskar König in ‘The Bat Boy of Bersenbrück’2 to the unlikely tale of the Lithuanian girl who was rumoured to have grown up within a hive of bees.3 The subject of this article, the girl known as ‘G’, presents an unusual modern variation on the theme.4
There had been roughly a dozen reports of sightings of G on the 6.55 am train from Greenhill Station to the city5 over a period of perhaps a year and a half.6 She was described by those who had encountered her most recently as being white, approximately seven years of age, rather emaciated, and filthy, with long, tangled light-brown hair. All those who saw her were women in their early thirties who were alone in the carriage, and who had chanced to fall asleep on the train. Each had woken to a pressure along the length of one arm and a pungent and unpleasant odour, and several of them had opened their eyes in time to see what appeared to be a small and dirty child fleeing. It seemed the girl had approached them while they slept, sat carefully on the seat beside them, then leant against them for as long as she remained undetected.7
The case of G came to the attention of the public when, in August of last year, one of the women managed to grasp the child’s arm before she could run away. This woman was on her way to a doctor’s appointment, and took the child with her, concerned at her obvious neglect. The child initially struggled without making a sound, but screamed from the moment she and the woman left the station at their destination until collapsing into what appeared to be exhausted silence in the doctor’s waiting room.
On the doctor’s examination,8 it was established that G was likely to be closer to nine years of age, with some retardation of growth due to malnutrition. At this stage she demonstrated no ability either to understand or to speak English. From the time she became silent in the waiting room, she was mute and unresponsive to questions.
When attempts to locate G’s parents failed, she was initially taken into care by a state welfare agency, and within a few weeks fostered out to a volunteer couple with experience in caring for children who had been the victims of severe neglect. It became clear over the following months that G could both comprehend spoken English and speak it herself, though her own vocabulary at that stage was rudimentary, idiosyncratic and largely unintelligible. G’s speech also had (and has) a peculiarly rhythmic quality noticeable to all who encounter it. Dr Kim Tan, the respected child psychologist and speech pathologist, has suggested that this may be due not only to G’s prolonged exposure to the rhythms and other auditory patterns of train motion, but also to her perceived relationship with the trains.
This relationship is perhaps the most peculiar aspect of the case. The child remains convinced that the 6.55 am train from Greenhill to the city (the train on which all sightings of G were reported) is her mother (‘ma’). She has repeatedly asked her carers to take her to visit ‘ma’, and was eventually able to convey that during her years at Greenhill Station she survived on food that ‘ma’ provided.9
The 6.55 leaves Greenhill Station from Platform 5. The other trains that leave from this platform, and those that leave from the adjacent Platform 4, seem to form a kind of extended family in the child’s mind. G refers to these trains as ‘arty’ or ‘arka’—words which, as Dr Tan has suggested, may derive from ‘aunty’ and ‘uncle’. Trains that leave from the other platforms at Greenhill Station do not appear to be seen as part of this kinship group.
The foster parents with whom G currently resides are the fourth set she has lived with since the time of her discovery. It was eventually recognised that she would not stay in a house from which she could not hear the trains. She ran away from her three previous foster homes on numerous occasions, and each time was found at the nearest railway station. Her current home is less than a block away from a railway station on the Greenhill Station line.
What became of G’s parents is unknown. Since it is uncertain when exactly G began living at (or near) Greenhill Station, it is extremely difficult to trace any relevant missing persons reports—if, indeed, there were any. Certainly no family has come forward to claim her since her story has been made public. (Though were her parents to come forward now, it is highly unlikely that she would be released into their care.)
Having been apprised of the basic facts, I approached G’s initial and subsequent foster parents with my desire to document her case, making it clear that I would only continue to do so while such contact did not have any negative impact on the child’s well-being. Each set of foster parents has agreed to this.
In order to observe G, I have made regular visits to the households to observe her behaviour in various situations, and have begun the process of getting to know G herself. In this first report I can attest that over the past three months G’s speech has improved greatly.10 She is becoming increasingly used to fresh food—though she prefers to put it into the kitchen bin and take it out again before eating it, and will still, if unsupervised, rummage in the bin for snacks. Her foster mother currently takes G to Greenhill Station each morning to visit ‘ma’, which the child pats and kisses affectionately. Occasionally the two of them ride the train into the city and back. G has learned that she can lean on her foster mother even while the latter is awake, though so far this is the only physical contact she is willing to accept.
Her foster parents are confident that G will adjust to her new situation and family, given time, patience and care. In the meantime, the daily visit to Greenhill Station is G’s remaining link to the 6.55 and her old ‘family’. Until G has established strong affective links with her new parents (and possibly beyond then), it is likely that this reassuring contact will remain necessary. Further developments in G’s verbal, emotional and relational progress will be made available to this journal as they occur.
- For a useful listing of verified case histories, see BR Bannerjee’s Human Children Raised by Non-Human Species: A Complete Bibliography, SSI Publications, New York, 2016.
- In The Wild Child in the Western World (FJ Beckett, ed.), Aldershot, London, 2014, pp. 23–34.
- Professor Rasa Shimkus, personal correspondence, May 2019.
- The pseudonym ‘G’ is used here to protect the child’s anonymity. ‘G’ was the abbreviation used in the original records of sightings by railway employees, and is alternatively reported as being an abbreviation of ‘Girl’ or of ‘Ghost’, as it was initially uncertain whether the sightings were factual.
- The name of the station has been changed to ensure G’s anonymity.
- During this time there had also been two reports of a young girl at Greenhill Station seen patting and talking to trains, with no obvious adult supervision, and it seems probable in light of later knowledge that this was G also.
- This behaviour is reminiscent of that of the child known as Lorenzo X, found living in one of the basements of the New York Public Library, who would creep up to the reading rooms and rest his head on readers’ knees: Frazer W. Lawrence, ‘While You Were Reading: The case of Lorenzo X’, New Studies in Child Psychology (2017) vol. 134, no. 3, 17–24.
- The doctor is my own physician, and it was she who originally informed me of the circumstances of the case.
- This was later ascertained to be scraps in the rubbish bins on the station platform. It is thought that G searched the bins for food once the evening rush hour was over. It is not yet clear where she slept.
- G’s vocabulary has now increased to include words for food and drink such as ‘milk’ and ‘pizza’, and simple sentences such as ‘Go see ma now’, though much of what she says still cannot be understood. The rhythmic quality of her speech persists.
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