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USA : The Merci Train boxcar in Rhode Island (RI)



"The Merci Train" - "The Gratitude Train" - "Train de la Reconnaissance Francaise"

Table of Contents :

Small stories :

David C. White - Farmer in Kansas Ruth Nathanson - High school senior from New York City


Individual states :
Bold = new content. (G) = can be seen on Google Streetview.

Arizona - Alabama - Arkansas (G) - California (G) - Colorado - Connecticut - Delaware (G) - Florida (G) - Georgia - Hawaii - Illinois - Indiana - Iowa (G) - Kansas - Kentucky - Louisiana (G) - Maine - Maryland - Massachusetts - Michigan - Minnesota - Mississippi - Missouri - Montana - Nebraska - Nevada - New Jersey - New Hampshire (G) - New Mexico - New York - North Carolina - North Dakota - Ohio - Oklahoma - Oregon (G) - Pennsylvania (G) - Rhode Island - South Carolina (G) - South Dakota (G) - Tennessee (G) - Texas - Utah (G) - Vermont - Virginia - Washington (G) - Washington DC - West Virginia (G) - Wisconsin - Wyoming (G).



On this page :
The boxcar - The gifts - Lillian Blanche Weimar - Photos from 1949 - The restoration - My photos

under work The Rhode Island boxcar is still being researched.

Main sources :

www.newspapers.comwww.mercitrain.org

Most of the information below has been collected from old newspaper articles.


When researching the "Merci Train" it is important to distinguish between :
  • 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.
Using various search words and combinations of words is necessary :
"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 what

Rhode Island :

merci gratitude train Rhode Island
From www.freeprintoutmaps.com


The Rhode Island boxcar

The boxcar was delivered to the capitol of each state; - in Rhode Island it was Providence.

The Rhode Island boxcar apparently was named "From the City of Cognac to the City of Providence, Rhode Island".
See photo of label below. Why "Cognac" had chosen "Providence - Rhode Island" is still not known.

1948 - January 1949

Same history as the other 48 boxcars.

Repaired, repainted ( "slate grey" ) and decorated with shields and signs in France.
Shipped to the USA on the Magellan.

February 1949

"Merci Train" Committee
in Rhode Island ( Providence ) :
  • Chairman : Laure B. Lussier,
    Registrar of motor vehicles.
  • Mayor Edmund W. Pardee, Newport.
    Newport Mayor Edmund Pardee Rhode Island Merci Train boxcar
  • 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.
  • 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, Maine, 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.
  • Tuesday, February 08, 1949.
    • Stops in Connecticut : Danbury - Naugatuck - Waterbury - Hartford -
    • Arrived in Woonsocket, RI, at hh:mm AM/PM, and was carried to Providence on a train with Governor John O. Pastore as ( honorary ) engineer. See photo below.
    • Arrived in Providence at hh:mm PM. See photo below.
  • February XX, 1949.
    • Merci boxcar placed on flat-bed trailer-truck from "Perry's Express", Pawtucket, RI.
    • Rhode Island boxcar placed in front of the "State House" in Providence. See photos below.
    • Official Reception in front of the "State House" in Providence. See photos below.
  • Wednesday, February 16, 1949.
    • The boxes were transfered on Wednesday, February 16, 1949, to the governor's reception room, where Laure B. Lussier, chairman of the Merci Train Committee in Rhode Island, started opening the boxes.
    • Rhode Island boxcar contained 41 boxes with gifts.
    • All gifts would be on display for about 2 weeks while the committee tabulated the gifts and decided on who would be given the gifts.
  • Wednesday, February 23, 1949.
    • The public display of the gifts from the Rhode Island boxcar opened at 01:00 PM on Wednesday, February 23, 1949, in the governor's reception room at the "State House" in Providence. Opening hours were from 09:00 AM until 04:30 PM. Saturdays and sundays closed. Se photos from the public display below.
    • The opening of the public display was originally set for Thursday, but the cataloguing and the setting up was completed sooner than expected.
  • Tuesday, January 10, 1950.
    • Laure B. Lussier, Rhode Island's state registrar of motor vehicles, and chairman of the Rhode Island Merci Train Committee, was awarded the "Medal of Honor for Foreign Affairs" ( Médaille d'honneur des affaires étrangères ) by the Republic of France.
      Official presentation on April 02, 1950 in Providence, made by Albert Chambon, French consul in Boston, on behalf of Henri Bonnet, French Ambassador to Washington.
      Albert Chambon France Merci Gratitude Train
      Albert Chambon

1949 - 1995

The Rhode Island boxcar was "showcased" thoughout the state in spring 1949, but soon forgotten.

On Monday, September 26, 1949, at the "Narragansett Park" the Rhode Island boxcar was given to the "Blackstone Voiture" of the "40&8 Society" by Governor John O. Pastore.

Rhode Island "Grand Chef de Gare" Walter R. Dolliver ( Warwick - Voiture 252 Providence ) [ elected June 1949 ] accepted the boxcar, and said that it would be used for child welfare programs.

The railroad-wheels had already been replaced with ordinary tires to facilitate transport on the road.

Governor John O. Pastore also presented to the 40&8 a new "float" locomotive which would be used to draw the boxcar around Rhode Island's highways. Locomotive donated by "Narragansett Racing Association".


The boxcar ended up in "Burlingame State Park", but the park was according to a newspaper article closed, and the boxcar forgotten for decades.

However Burlingame State Park & Campground - History ➚ states that the Burlingame State Park never closed, but was in fact used by the "American Legion" :

Following the war, a portion of the park served the American Legion as a youth summer camp.
"Legion Town" re-used facilities employed by the CCC [ Civilian Conservation Corps ] from 1946 until 1961.

Since at the time the "40&8" was an integrated part of the "American Legion" it makes sense that the boxcar would have been placed at this park.

1995 - 2004

Two articles in the "Providence Journal" ( RI ), August 14 & 18, 1995, brought the RI boxcar back into the limelight, and on December 06, 2004 the "Bangor Daily News" ( ME ) told the story of the restoration of the boxcar and the exhibition at the "Museum of Work and Culture" in Woonsocket.

Unfortunately the newspaper articles do not agree 100 % as to what took place in the years 1995 - 2004.

Untill August 1995 it seems certain that the RI boxcar was kept by Irving Crandall at his junkyard on Ross Hill Road in Washington County, Charlestown ➚ municipality, RI.

In the late 1950s or early 1960s part of the "Burlingame State Park" was demolished and Irving Crandall got part of the demolition job, and ended up with the boxcar in his junk-yard.

Earl Crandall - Irving's cousin - was at the time caretaker of the "Burlingame State Park".

On August 14, 1995, John Hill, a staff writer on the "Providence Journal", wrote an article about the boxcar ending up in the Crandall junkyard. Not known why he wrote the article.

Irving Crandall said that people "...every now and then..." had visited his junkyard, seen the boxcar and told him that they would try to organize something, but they never contacted Irving again.

Joseph Mercurio, commander of the North Kingstown American Legion Post 12, ( American Legion Post 12, 730 South County Trail, North Kingstown, RI 02852 ), was interviewed in the article and hoped that someone would put up the $800 that Irving Crandall wanted for the boxcar. Why Joseph Mercurio was involved is not known.

In the article August 18, 1995, Joseph Mercurio has gotten the $800 to buy the boxcar - from anonymous donations.

The boxcar would then be hauled from the Crandall junkyard to the Legion headquarters where it would be untill a proper restauration could be arranged.

In the articles relating to the opening of the exhibition at the "Museum of Work and Culture" in Woonsocket there are some further information.

merci gratitude train rhode island 1998
Boxcar on September 17, 1998
Photo © www.mercitrain.org


Jacques Staelen also read the articles in August 1995.

He tried to find the boxcar and found it in 1999 at a horse-farm ( Heritage Equestrian Center, Fred and Betty Tanner, Tillinghast Road, Warwick, RI 02818 ) in East Greenwich, RI. The owner had bought the boxcar for $ 800, hoping that someone would appreciate the boxcar.

Staelen first saw the boxcar in 1999 and it was in a very poor condition. Apparently it had deterioated further since August 1995.

The boxcar was in a bad shape. Flooring charred from fires set by squatters. No wheels ( However - they had already been removed in 1949 ). All shields gone.

Staelen arranged to have the boxcar shipped from East Greenwich to Woonsocket. In Woonsocket the restoration began. Stripped to the skeleton. No original wood remained.

merci gratitude train Rhode Island Jacques Staelen Jacques Staehlen - ( November 16, 1924 - † August 17, 2009 )
Jacques Staehlen helped create the "Lt. Georges Dubois Merci Train and Veterans Wing" of "The Museum of Work and Culture" in Woonsocket and was a member of its board, helped with the renovation of the Rhode Island Boxcar.

Jacques Staehlen was later given the Association Canado Americaine special award for his work with the Rhode Island Merci Train boxcar Merci Train.

From 1987-1988 he was international president of "Richelieu International".


According to "The Auclair Family Journey" ➚, a man named Alphonse Felix Auclair ( also ) located the boxcar and arranged to have it transported to Woonsocket.

The original shields, including an "aluminum" shield ( presumably brass ) referencing a boxcar given to Rhode Island, had been bought at an antique auction in Charlestown, RI, ( near the Crandall junkyard ), by a Westerly physician - John Bergeron, who loaned the shields to the museum for the duration of the exhibition.

On March 01, 2000 Rhode Island State gave "The Museum of Work and Culture" in Woonsocket a check, $ 25,000, (legislative grant check), to help restore the Rhode Island Merci Train boxcar.

2004 - present day

Exhibition opened on February 05, 2004 at the "Lieutenant Georges Dubois Veterans Museum" at the Museum of Work and Culture ➚ in Woonsocket, with Rhode Island Boxcar as main feature. Jacques Staelen, a French emigre, was main initiator.

Sometimes refered to as "Lieutenant Georges Dubois Merci Train and Veterans Wing".

On AP Images ➚ there are 4 photos from December 2004 :

AP Images Rhode Island Merci Train boxcar

Original picture
on AP-Images.
AP Images Rhode Island Merci Train boxcar

Original picture
on AP-Images.
AP Images Rhode Island Merci Train boxcar

Original picture
on AP-Images.
AP Images Rhode Island Merci Train boxcar

Original picture
on AP-Images.

The Rhode Island Merci Train Boxcar is still ( 2015 ) exhibited at the Museum of Work and Culture, 42 South Main Street, Woonsocket, RI 02895.

Apparently the museum has published a "... Red spiral bound booklet titled 'The French Merci Train' ...
... Inside of the booklet are :
1) photo of wedding dress on display at [ the museum ],
2) Two notes from Mr. Mitchell to Ava Wilkey, Registrar/ Asst. Curator of The Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History ➚ [ Atlanta, GA ],
3) digital reprint of photo that includes Julian Mitchell and two fellow soldiers dated 1944,
4) photocopy of solicitation letter from Jacques E. Staelen, Committee Chairman, requesting contributions for the restoration and preservation of the Rhode Island Boxcar ..."
( Source : PDF from The Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History.

Gifts from the RI boxcar.

Known gifts from the Rhode Island boxcar were :
  • 25 inscribed reproductions of the portrait of Louis Pasteur - were distributed to ( # )
    • military hospitals
    • civilian hospitals
    • medical schools
    • colleges
  • Bridal gown from the City of Lyon to be awarded to a Rhode Islander who wears a size 12 / size 3 and was to be married in September 1949. Applications received from July 01 to August 01. The gown would be displayed to the candidates. Gown was made from "white jacquard". ( # ) See photo below.
  • Large box of "roll-your-own" cigarette papers was given to the "Veterans Home" in Bristol.
  • 3 French historical books were given to "Salve Regina College" in Newport on Wednesday, August 03, 1949.
  • The Newport Historical Society received several items
    • a French Boudoir doll in appropriate costume - added to the doll collection - by request.
    • series of documents by Marquis de Lafayette with a brochure regarding his property in France
    • several "broadsides" written at the time of Lafayette ( September 06, 1757 ­ May 20, 1834 )
    • an illustrated book on early map-making
    • a saber ( # )
( # = Woonsocket Exhibition 2004 / 2005 )

Gifts were distributed by the state librarian, Miss Grace Sherwood, on behalf the Merci Train committee.

Distribution was decided upon at a committee meeting on Thursday, June 23 ( 30 ? ), 1949.

On Monday afternoon, August 15, 1949, the Newport Historical Society, at their quarterly meeting were invited to inspect the laces and dresses which had been given to the society and hung in the hallway cabinets. Gifts selected by Herbert W. Brigham, librarian.

Lillian Blanche Weimar

See photo below.
Bridal gown was awarded to Lillian Blanche Weimar, 25 years old, from 111 High Street, Westerly. Clerk at the Otto Seidman Mayonnaise Co. Winner of draw Friday, August 05, 1949, at State House between 3 finalists of the 104 applicants. Laurie B. Lussier drew the lucky winner.

Lillian Weimar was of French descent. Born in Paris, France, on March 23, 1924. Her father, William H. Weimar, served with the US. Forves during WW1, and her mother was Alice F. Bourveieu from Paris. Her great-grandfather was commandant of the gendarmerie in Lyon ?, France

She was married to art student Richard A. Caulfield on Monday, September 19, 1949 at the Immaculate Conception Church in Westerly, RI.

Lillian Weimar was taken by Miss Grace Sherwood, state librarian, on Tuesday, August 09, 1949, to Biltmore for breakfast and then to "one of the large department stores" ( "Gladding" ), where the gown was on display, for an expert fitting.

Special source : Newspaper article "The Day" from February 17, 2005.



From the photos below there are a few very distinctive gifts that should be recognizable - even today :
Pictures are details from the pictures from 1949

big bust Rhode Island Merci Gratitude Train boxcar gift face Rhode Island Merci Gratitude Train boxcar gift

foto Rhode Island Merci Gratitude Train boxcar gift Photo of Louis Pasteur,
as noted above.
One af 25.


horse carriage Rhode Island Merci Gratitude Train boxcar gift

painting Rhode Island Merci Gratitude Train boxcar gift Painting most likely of
"Notre-Dame" Cathedral in Paris.


painting Rhode Island Merci Gratitude Train boxcar gift
plate Rhode Island Merci Gratitude Train boxcar gift statue Rhode Island Merci Gratitude Train boxcar gift

bird Rhode Island Merci Gratitude Train boxcar gift

bookends Rhode Island Merci Gratitude Train boxcar gift

busts Rhode Island Merci Gratitude Train boxcar gift

flag Rhode Island Merci Gratitude Train boxcar gift

flag Rhode Island Merci Gratitude Train boxcar gift Holm Shipping from New Zealand ? Not likely.

flag Rhode Island Merci Gratitude Train boxcar gift flag Rhode Island Merci Gratitude Train boxcar gift

Flag is from "Société Française de Navigation Rhénane".
French shipping compnay mainly running barges on the Rhine / Rhein river.
Source


flag Rhode Island Merci Gratitude Train boxcar gift flag Rhode Island Merci Gratitude Train boxcar gift

Photos from 1949.

In the Virtual Archives ➚ on the Rhode Island State website, you can find a series of photos from 1949 regarding the Rhode Island Merci Train boxcar :

Click on picture to enlarge in new browser-window
All foto's and text in italic : © Rhode Island State Virtual Archives

merci gratitude train Rhode Island
Governor Pastore
at the throttle.

The locomotive
appears to be a
"Alco DL-109".
merci gratitude train Rhode Island
Merci boxcar
delivery.

Flat-bed trailer
"Perry's Express"
Pawtucket, RI.
merci gratitude train Rhode Island
Merci boxcar
at the statehouse.

Boxcar on the
flat-bed trailer.
merci gratitude train Rhode Island
Merci boxcar
at the statehouse.

Reception.
Boxcar on the
flat-bed trailer.
merci gratitude train Rhode Island
Merci boxcar and
state house at night.
merci gratitude train Rhode Island
Rhode Island
greets the train.

Boxcar on
railroad flatcar.
Presumably
on Feb. 08
in Providence.
merci gratitude train Rhode Island
Dignitaries greet
the Merci Train.

None of the
"usual" dignitaries
are present.
RI Governor Pastore
is in front row -
3d from left.
merci gratitude train Rhode Island
Dignitaries greet
the Merci Train.

None of the
"usual" dignitaries
are present.
merci gratitude train Rhode Island
Merci America reception
committee banquet.
merci gratitude train Rhode Island
Merci train
certificate.

The label that
was attached to
every individual
French gift.
This one presumably
regarding the
"boxcar" given
to Providence by
the city of Cognac.
merci gratitude train Rhode Island
Merci train
bridal gown.

See also above :
Lillian Blanche
Weimar
.
merci gratitude train Rhode Island
Merci train
gifts display.

Gifts waiting to
be identified :
Dolls, framed pictures
furs, boxes etc
merci gratitude train Rhode Island
Merci train
gifts display.

Gifts waiting to
be identified :
Flags, drawings, paintings
merci gratitude train Rhode Island
Merci train
gifts.

Gifts waiting to
be identified :
Statues, busts,
bookends

The restoration.

The now defunct website http://www.wactc.wo.k12.ri.us/boxcar/boxhome.html told the story about the restoration of the boxcar that started in 1999.

Thanks to web.archive.org ➚ the page can still be seen as it was around 2005.


The website contained 5 subpages :

home.html :

merci gratitude train Rhode Island
merci gratitude train Rhode Island
boxproject.html :

merci gratitude train Rhode Island
merci gratitude train Rhode Island
boxhistory.html :

merci gratitude train Rhode Island
merci gratitude train Rhode Island
students.html :

merci gratitude train Rhode Island
merci gratitude train Rhode Island
links.html :

merci gratitude train Rhode Island



The website contained these photos :

merci gratitude train Rhode Island merci gratitude train Rhode Island

merci gratitude train Rhode Island merci gratitude train Rhode Island

merci gratitude train Rhode Island merci gratitude train Rhode Island

merci gratitude train Rhode Island merci gratitude train Rhode Island

merci gratitude train Rhode Island merci gratitude train Rhode Island

merci gratitude train Rhode Island merci gratitude train Rhode Island

merci gratitude train Rhode Island merci gratitude train Rhode Island

merci gratitude train Rhode Island

My photos.

The Rhode Island Merci Train boxcar as exhibited at the "Lieutenant Georges Dubois Veterans Museum" ( Musée des Vétérans Lt. Georges Dubois ) located in the "Museum of Work and Culture", 42 South Main Street, Woonsocket, RI 02895.


While waiting for my own photos :









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2014 -
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