Children in nightgowns stood on the front lawn of a Lake Forest home Tuesday, looking like little angels as they waited for director Kraig Moreland to instruct them on the day’s recreated scene.
Moreland and his crew of volunteers are shooting scenes in Lake Forest and Lake Bluff this week for his documentary, A Childhood Lost And Found. The film tells the story of the , which from 1895 to 1969 housed hundreds of children at East Scranton and Evanston avenues.
Moreland has worked on the project for more than a year, traveling to 10 states for interviews with volunteers, families, historians and the adults who lived in the orphanage as children. The film will premiere Sept. 24 in the Raymond Moore auditorium at Lake Forest High School. Moore, the high school's first superintendent, grew up in the children’s home.
Tuesday’s scene brought to life the story of a fire that took place one evening in 1911. Deaconesses and volunteer firefighters led the children out of the orphanage in an orderly fashion, but one boy was overlooked. His twin brother was saved, but amid the chaos, the deaconesses thought both twins were safe; one was still inside.
Before the shoot, Moreland and the children sat on the front lawn as he instructed them on the day’s scene, explaining the fire department and police department had been informed of the day’s itinerary. Fog machines would provide the illusion of a fire while the children ran from the house.
“We are pretending to have a fire here today,” Moreland said. “Has anyone had a fire in their house before?”
“Yeah, I had a little one, but it didn’t burn down the house,” said a little boy.
Moreland reminded the children of what happens at school during fire drills. He explained the deaconesses would lead them from the house.
“You’ll need to look out for the little ones like your younger brother or sister. Take those kids’ hands and hold them. I want you to look frightened and scared,” he said.
The children were excited to be part of the film. “It’s my childhood dream to be in a movie,” said a little girl named Hayden. “The only thing we have to do is scream.”
There is no script for the movie. The re-created scenes come straight from Moreland’s imagination. None of the actors are professionals; in fact, the cast and crew are comprised entirely of volunteers. The owner volunteered the use of the house itself. Moreland knows most of the volunteers through New Vision Athletics, a youth sports program he owns.
Josh Volpe, a volunteer cameraman and Lake Forest High School student, said Moreland is going for historical accuracy. “He’s trying to get everything perfect, with no cars or anything in the background that would ruin it,” Volpe said.
Penny Marsh, a local antique dealer, provided many of the props from her garage and basement. “The children brought dolls. It’s entirely community-made,” she said. “Kraig has a real vision for this and how it’s going to look. He transforms these children into something from the early 1900s.”
Sarah Barnes provided the costumes. She brought a few from the Vliet Museum and some from her personal collection.
Tom Dickelman, minister at the Community Church of Lake Forest and Lake Bluff, played the part of a volunteer firefighter who rushed in to save the doomed twin from the fire and tried to revive him.
“There are no professional actors. These are community people, because that’s what it was when it happened. Kraig’s trying to portray it how it happened. He’s done a great job of that. He has devoted himself to this,” Dickelman said.
“It’s all his incredible initiative to help save an important part of Lake Bluff history.”
Moreland lived down the street from the children’s home in the early 1970s, and played with some of the children being housed there at the time. “We used to hang out Sunday nights and watch movies in the basement,” he said.
The film, which started as a 15-minute story, grew as Moreland discovered the compelling stories of the relationships and bonds that grew in the home.
“It’s about lives. It’s one thing to tell the story of a building. But the stories that make this film so compelling are the stories of families, their hardships and happy endings,” Moreland said.
Moreland heard more of these stories as he traveled to conduct interviews, funding the film entirely out of pocket. “We are fortunate to have volunteers willing to miss work,” he said. “We have to keep telling ourselves, ‘Remember, we still have jobs.’ ”
“If people would like to see a film that will make them appreciate their lives a little more and hear great stories from people who really made a difference in people’s lives, that would be a great reason to come watch,” he said.