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USA : The Merci Train boxcar in Maine (ME)
Main sources :
Most of the information below has been collected from old newspaper articles.
When researching the "Merci Train" it is important to distinguish between :
Using various search words and combinations of words is necessary :
- The individual boxcar given to a state.
- The "Merci Train" as a name for the 49 boxcars sent by France.
- The "Merci Train" as the name for the transport of the boxcars to each individual state :
The 3 sections : New England - Southern - Western.
- The contents - gifts - that were in each boxcar.
- The fact that the 40 & 8 Society's made / and still make replicas, of varying likeness, of the French boxcar to use as floats in parades.
"Merci Train" - "Gratitude Train" - "French / merci / gratitude car / boxcar" - "thank you train" - "french gift"
The official French name for the "Merci Train" was :
"Train de la reconnaissance française" - as written on one side of the boxcars.
However the term "train de la reconnaissance" can also be used for the first train travelling on a newly laid track and even as a military term for a "scouting" trip.
Known missing facts are shown with "_____" or a
From www.freeprintoutmaps.com ➚
The Maine boxcar
The boxcar was delivered to the capitol of each state; - in Maine it was Augusta.
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The Maine boxcar was built, apparently, in 1886.
Maine "Merci Train" committee
______ member committee appointed by Governor Frederick G. Payne.
- Chairman :
Alexander A. LaFleur - Portland. Former American Legion department commander. In charge of festivities in Augusta
- Judge Harold W. Towie, Bangor
Wednesday, February 02, 1949.
- Loaded off the "Magellan" at the Weehawken docks, Erie Railroad Pier North H, New Jersey.
- Placed on a US-railroad flatcar and shunted onto "New England Section" of the "Merci Train".
- Guarded by railroad-police till departure.
Sunday, February 6, 1949.
Special "Merci Train" section in local newspaper "Portland Sunday Telegram Magazine".
Monday, February 07, 1949.
- Left as part of the New England section of the "Merci Train" left Erie Railroad's Weehawken (NJ) yards "on Monday night" with the other 5 boxcars. ( Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont ).
- 6 New Haven flatcars loaded each with a French boxcar. Newly-painted in steel-grey with emblems.
- 11:00 PM - Arrived at Maybrook, NY - switching from "Erie Railroad" to "New Haven Railroad".
- Due to overhead electric wires and tunnels the "Merci Train" could not take the New Haven Railroad "main line", but had to take an alternate route across the center of the New England States.
Transfer to Maine.
Thursday, February 10, 1949.
- "New England Section" of the Merci Train, with the 6th and last boxcar, stopped at Biddeford from 04:15 PM to 04:45 PM.
Only a 10 minute stop was scheduled, but stop lasted 30 minutes.
"Merci Train" should have been in Biddeford on Thursday, February 03, 1949, but didn't arrive till Thursday, February 10, 1949. ( General delay in France of the "Merci Train" ).
- Parade from Biddeford City Hall to train station.
- Ceremony at Biddeford Station. More than 6000 spectators at Biddeford Railroad station.
- Biddeford Mayor Louis B. Lausier. ( Mayor 1941 - 1955 )
- Albert Chambon ( 1909 - 2002 ). French consul in Boston - said that the Friendship and the Merci Trains was about "... John helping his friend Pierre and Pierre telling his old friend John how grateful he is ...".
[ Photo © : http://la-loupe.over-blog.net/ ➚ ]
- Albert Chambon was active in the French resistance during WW2 and was arrested and in 1944 deported to KZ Buchenwald. In 1945 he immigrated to the USA.
- Boxcar arrived in Portland on a railroad flatcar at West Commercial Street railroad siding,
( Commercial & Emery Street ), at 05:45 PM. Scheduled arrival at 05:00 PM.
- Ceremony at the railroad siding :
- Detachments of the Maine National Guard, Marine Corps Reserve.
18th Engineering Company.
- Alexander A. LaFleur - general chairman for the reception :
[ Photo © : dirigoboysstate.org ➚ ]
- Charles LeGall :
- 44 year old
- employee of the French National Railways (SNCF)
- represented the French National Committee of the Merci Train
and the ordinary French citizen
- arrived on the "Magellan" ( or on the "La Grasse" )
- German prisoner for 1 year
- spoke no English.
- Interpreter : Mrs. Lola Leighter ( 1911 - 1982 ).
[ Photo from : ritahayworthdaily.tumblr.com ➚ ]
- Jackson Leighter from Hollywood, CA. - Representing Drew Pearson.
[ Left photo from : ritahayworthdaily.tumblr.com ➚ ]
- Seal on boxcar broken by Lt. John Landry - Maine National Guard.
- Unpacking done by Maine National Guardsmen :
- Lt. John Landry.
- Sgt. Richard Berry.
- Recruit Robert Burner.
- Adjt. Gen. George M. Carter.
- 40 boxes of gifts taken from the boxcar to City Hall Auditorium for unpacking.
- In charge of display of gifts : City Councilman Neal Woodside Allen. ( 1885-1976 )
- Boxcar stored overnight at the Marine reserve armory compound.
National Guardsmen stand guard at boxcar on siding at Commercial Street.
- National Guardsmen stand guard at gifts in City Hall Auditorium.
- Meeting in the evening at Lions Club, South Portland.
Speaker : Robert Wiener, French vice-consul / press information attache in Boston.
Friday, February 11, 1949.
- 10:30 AM - Merci Train boxcar was transported on a National Guard tank transporter from railroad siding to City Hall Plaza with a color guard from the Marine Corps Reserve:
- West Commercial Street
- St. John Street
- Congress Street
- Longfellow Square - Color guard and sound truck joins the transport.
- City Hall Plaza.
- Gifts on display at City Hall Auditorium from 02:00 PM. Approx. 13.000 saw the 200 gifts
City Councilman Neal W. Allen - in charge of display of gifts in Portland.
More than 200 single gifts / items weighing about 20 tons.
- Boxcar on display at City Hall Plaza.
- Portland Rotary Club.
Friday luncheon in the Falmouth Hotel
Honory guest Albert Chambon.
- Ceremony at City Hall at 08:00 PM. Approx. 1.000 persons were present.
- Alexander A. LaFleur - past state commander American Legion - Master of ceremonies.
- The boxcar and the gifts were officially accepted by Governor Frederick G. Payne.
- Albert Chambon - French consul at Boston made response speech.
- Jackson Leighter, representing Drew Pearson, made brief speech.
- Judge Harold W. Towie, Bangor - Chairman Maine Merci Train Reception committee
- Biddeford Mayor Louis B. Lausier.
- Lewiston Mayor Louis-Philippe Gagné.
- City Council Chairman Robert L. Getchell.
- Lester C. Blake, Yarmouth - American Legion department commander
- William S. Linnell - Portland Rotary club president - representing the service clubs of Maine
- John P. Waller - Waterville department commander Veterans of Foreign Wars
- Officials from Portland, South Portland, Westbrook and Biddeford veterans organizations.
- Local high school bands gave half hour consert.
- Russel Dorr, WGAN announcer, sang "La Marseilleise" and "The Star Spangled Banner".
- Friday evening - Woodfords Club :
Speach by Albert Chambon.
- National Guardsman, recruit William Howe, 103rd Heavy Mortar Infantry Unit, Maine National Gurad, stand guard at boxcar in City Hall Plaza during Friday night.
Saturday, February 12, 1949.
- Gifts on display in City Hall Auditorium from 09:00 AM to noon especially for school-children.
- Boxcar on display at City Hall Plaza, and moved from City Hall Plaza to Augusta on Saturday afternoon.
- Boxcar repacked and again put on the railroad flatcar.
- Boxcar and gifts were viewed by an estimated 13.000 persons in Portland.
- Boxcar arrived Saturday evening in Augusta Municipal Airport on a National Guard tank transporter.
Sunday, February 13, 1949.
- Boxcar on display outside the State House.
Rested on a Maine National Guard tank transporter in front of the Highway Department Building.
Transported from Portland on the tank transporter.
- State Capital. 02:00 PM
Box car and gifts from boxcar received officially by Governor Frederick G. Payne at State House. Hall of Flags. The gifts remained in Portland.
- 200 Maine officials and Augusta citizens attend ceremony.
- Albert Chambon, [ see above ], made official presentation.
- American Legion Junior Band played.
- Rev. Leonard Le Clair, pastor from Togus ( Veterans Hospital ), led the prayer.
- Mayor Richard B. Sanborn, Augusta - spoke.
- Lester L. Blake, Yarmouth - department commander of the American Legion - spoke.
- Ralph W. Parris, Jr., department adjutant of the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) - spoke.
- Benediction by red Wesley U. Reidel, pastor from Augusta Congregational
- Boxcar to be stored at "Camp Keyes" in Augusta.
- Boxcar to be equipped with rubber-tired wheels, so it can be pulled over the highway.
- Boxcar planned to visit every major city in Maine - including Lewiston.
- Governor Payne later used the Merci Train as a model for a "Maine Products Train" that would tour the USA showing the products made and home-grown in Maine.
Wednesday, February 16, 1949.
- The 4 trunks, designated to the Dominican Sisters of Lewiston, were presented at a brief ceremony at St. Peters School in Lewiston by Mayor Gagné of Lewiston on behalf of Governor Payne to Sister Aquinas - sub-prior at the Lewiston convent. Special keys fro teh trunks were received by the nuns some time before the boxcar arrived in Maine.
- Gifts from the Maine Merci Train boxcar on display in the State House, Augusta.
Most of the gifts from the maine boxcar are still today ( 2015) at the "Maine State Museum"
April 7, 8 & 9, 1949.
- Some of the gifts from the Maine Merci Train boxcar on display at the Mechanics Institute's Sportsmens Show. Announced by C.W. Newell of the "Robert Shand Post No. 1641", VFW ( Veterans of Foreign Wars ).
April 15, 1949.
- Life display of French clothing at the Friday meeting at the Portland Rotary Club sent by the "Nantes Rotary Club" to the "Portland Rotary Club".
1949 - 1973.
- Not known where the boxcar was. Presumably at Maine State Museum.
1973 - 1986.
- Boxcar placed beside the Coombs-Mountford American Legion Post 158, 10 Webster Road, in Lisbon.
Thursday, August 28, 1986.
- Boxcar was moved from the Coombs-Mountford American Legion Post 158, 10 Webster Road, in Lisbon, to the Boothbay Railway Village ➚ , where it still is today ( 2015 ).
State of Maine donated the boxcar to the Boothbay Museum.
September 1, 1995 - February 28, 1996
- "Maine State Museum", "Curators Choice Gallery" in Augusta had special exhibition of French "merci" and Japanese "arigato" objects. Arranged by Allyson Humphrey.
Merci Train objects on display :
- a vase made from a WW1 75mm artillery shell
- finely carved chess set from a engineer from Paris
- holy water from Lourdes
- a prehistoric stone tool
- several dolls from French young girls and women
- At the time of the Merci Train 60th anniversary, in 2009, the Maine "Merci Train" boxcar was restorated. The superstructure was restored to the 1949-look.
- On Saturday, October 10th, 2009, starting at 01:00 PM, a ceremony took place at Boothbay Railway Village where the restored boxcar was un-veiled.
The "40&8 Society" - Voiture ______ - was present and presented the flags of USA, France and the State of Maine.
Speeches at the ceremony :
- Bob Ryan, Director Boothbay Railway Village.
- Wayne Sheridan, Boothbay Railway Village.
- French General Consul in Boston, M. Christophe Guilhou.
- Director of "Maine State Museum", Mr. Joseph R. Philips.
- Mr. Earl Bennett.
- Ron Ginger, Boothbay Railway Village.
Press release ➚ from the French Consulate - 2 separate files can be downloaded from this link.
[ Cache : Copy of background information - Copy of speech ]
Video from the ceremony can be found on Boothbay Region Community Television ➚ from December 16, 2009; - "Maine "Merci" Car celebration".
- Maine State Museum celebrated the "Merci Train's" 60th anniversary with an exhibition of the gifts from the Maine boxcar on Saturday, February 21, 2009, at the Maine State Museum, Augusta.
List of known gifts in the Maine boxcar
A total of 20 tons of gifts. More than 200 items in 40 boxes.
Gifts were on permanent display in the State House in Augusta, untill Maine got a museum where the gifts could be put on display; the "Maine State Museum" - but how long it took for the "Maine State Museum" to actually be created is quite another story ➚ .
Most gifts are today ( 2015 ) still at the Maine State Museum ➚, but not usually in public display.
Known gifts :
- stained glass windows
- engraved vases
- ship model
- fully-dressed dolls
- Louis XIV wine cabinet
- rare pottery
- ash trays
- stamp collections
- a baptismal rope
- warming pan
- expensive clock
- cigarette paper
- wooden shoes
- "Mogul pie"
- container bearing the inscription "Opium Brut"
- From Nantes Rotary Club to Rotary clubs in Maine : French National customes / dresses.
- Six packing cases not opened :
- Four were trunks with clothing, designated to the Dominican Sisters of Lewiston, who already had received the keys for the trunks.
- One crate was designated to the auxiliary bishop of Portland.
- One crate for Governor Frederick G. Payne with International Rotary Club material.
My photos of the Maine "Merci Train" box car.
Coming soon !
Boothbay Railway Village ➚
586 Wiscasset Road
You can download my Google Earth kmz-file with the positions of all the remaining 43 boxcars.
Click on a photograph to enlarge it.