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Contributed by Arizona Capitol Museum
The Merci Train Collection contains a sampling of items from the 1949 Merci (Gratitude) Train. "Merci" means thank you in French. Each boxcar was filled with gifts from the people of France showing their gratitude to the American people for sending food and other supplies on the Friendship Train and for liberating France from the invading German army during World War II. The Merci Train Collection contains various objects, such as paper stars, photographs, clothing, tablecloths, pillows, toys, paintings, books, trench art, glassware, and lovely dolls showing the traditional dress of several French provinces. A Peugeot bicycle and a wedding dress grace the Merci Train Exhibit in the Arizona Capitol Museum. The following items also can be seen in the exhibit: a crystal ashtray, paintings, a commemorative medal, a glass hand mirror, handmade stars, tourist publications, books, souvenir postcards, hand-painted postcards, a religious medal, a Napoleon Medal, and children's clothing and toys.
In 1947, a well-known journalist Drew Pearson proposed the "Friendship Train" to help provide food and supplies to the people of France and Italy. Through his broadcasts, Pearson urged Americans to donate food to assist starving citizens of France and Italy rebuild their countries. Pearson's Friendship Train concept inspired many journalists to also broadcast the message asking Americans to donate foods and supplies. Families, schools, churches, businesses, and various organizations responded with contributions. On November 7, 1947, the Friendship Train began its 11-day journey from Los Angeles, California, proceeding through Nevada, Utah, Colorado, South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York. Arizona and other states outside the route sent their boxcars directly to New York.
The Friendship Train reached its final U.S. destination, New York City, on November 19, 1947. The 700-boxcar train filled with $40 million worth of food and supplies, including fuel, clothing, and medicine was shipped off to France to arrive on December 18, 1947. Two years later, the gratitude of the French was shown by giving thousands of gifts to the American people. Andre Picard, a French railroad worker and war veteran, suggested the creation of the French Gratitude (Merci) Train. He suggested the use of 49 WWI era boxcars, known as 40 & 8s. The 40 & 8 boxcars were used as transportation for the American and French soldiers during World War I. The boxcar had the capacity to carry 40 men or 8 horses.
In 1949, over 250 tons of gifts were sent on the French "Gratitude" Train to America aboard the ship Magellan to Weehawken, New Jersey, docking on February 2, 1949. The words "Merci America" were painted on both sides of the ship. The boxcars were then loaded on flatbed cars for shipping to their final destinations in the United States. The boxcars were adorned with forty coat-of-arms, each representing one of the forty provinces of France. A banner ran across both sides of the boxcar, marked "Train de la Reconnaissance Francoise" and "Gratitude Train." Each state received one boxcar, with one boxcar split between the territory of Hawaii and Washington, D. C. Many cultural institutions and museums displayed the gifts for public viewing before gifts were distributed to individual citizens as requested by those who donated items to the train.
Arizona's boxcar arrived in a Phoenix railway yard on February 17, 1949. The Arizona boxcar was transported by a National Guard Tank Recovery Trailer to the State Capitol. The following day, the boxcar was presented by Drew Pearson, along with several French and American dignitaries, to Arizona Governor Daniel E. Garvey, Mayor Nicholas Udall, and Lt. Col. Frank E. Fraser, Executive Chief of the Arizona National Guard.
Governor Dan E. Garvey wrote a letter to the French citizens thanking them for the gifts. Arizona displayed its gift collection to the public on the State Fair Grounds; however, the gifts were never distributed to the community. Arizona is the only state to have its gift collection intact. Several items from the gift collection are on exhibit at the Arizona Capitol Museum. Arizona's 40 & 8 boxcar has been restored and is displayed at the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park in Scottsdale, Arizona. The boxcar has been a backdrop for Scottsdale's Veterans Day Celebration.