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“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Jackson in Hinds County, Mississippi — The American South (East South Central)
 

Merci Train Memorial

History of the Merci Train

 

— 40 & 8 Boxcar —

 
Merci Train Memorial Interpretive Marker image. Click for full size.
By Mark Hilton, July 20, 2016
1. Merci Train Memorial Interpretive Marker
Inscription.  This boxcar is one of 49 gift-filled rail cars that composed the Merci Train, also known as the French Gratitude Train, sent to the American people in 1949 by the citizens of France. The gift of the Merci Train was a spontaneous act of gratitude for France’s liberation during World War II and for the more than 700 boxcars of food and other supplies U.S. citizens donated to aid Europe’s post-WWII recovery. Millions of French families donated items to fill the boxcars to overflowing. Each of the 48 states received a boxcar, while the District of Columbia and Hawaii shared the 49th car.

Frequently referred to as "40 & 8" cars because of their capacity to carry "40 men or 8 horses," the boxcars were built beginning in the 1870s and used in both World Wars to transport troops and supplies. Each of the cars of the Merci Train was adorned with coats of arms of the provinces of France and filled with offerings from the French people as a heart-felt thank you to America for its aid to France during WWII. The 49 cars that composed the Merci Train arrived in New York harbor aboard the ship Magellan on February 3, 1949. Because the wheel-base
Merci Train Boxcar (front) image. Click for full size.
By Mark Hilton, July 20, 2016
2. Merci Train Boxcar (front)
of the French boxcars was too narrow for American rail tracks, they were transported to the various states by flatcar. This boxcar came to Jackson via a circuitous route on different rail lines through the states of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama.

Following a brief stop and transfer to the Illinois Central rail line in Meridian, Mississippi, the boxcar given to the state of Mississippi by France arrived in Jackson at 4:00 pm on February 12, 1949. Dignitaries on hand to receive the Merci train included Mississippi Governor Fielding L. Wright, Jackson Mayor Allen C. Thompson, Mississippi Department of Archives and History Director Dr. William D. McCain and the French Consul-General to New Orleans Lionel Vasse. Among the myriad gifts packed into the railcar were paintings, drawings, handmade clothing, lace, dolls, medals, musical instruments, flags, candlesticks, and letters. They were displayed for two weeks at the Central Farmer's Market on Woodrow Wilson Drive, attracting large crowds of visitors, and were later distributed to appropriate institutions and organizations throughout Mississippi. Items given to the Department of Archives and History, some of which are pictured, remain in the museum's collections.
 
Erected 2013 by State of Mississippi Department of Archives & History.
 
Marker series.
Merci Train Boxcar (rear) image. Click for full size.
By Mark Hilton, July 20, 2016
3. Merci Train Boxcar (rear)
This marker is included in the Merci Train Boxcars marker series.
 
Location. 32° 17.91′ N, 90° 10.748′ W. Marker is in Jackson, Mississippi, in Hinds County. Marker is on Commerce Street west of South Jefferson Street. Touch for map. To reach the Merci Train Boxcar, go east on Mississippi Street from State Street (U.S. Highway 51), turn right (south) on North Jefferson Street (North Jefferson changes to South Jefferson at East Amite Street). From South Jefferson Street, turn right (west) on Commerce Street (runs under the elevated East Pearl Street). Turn right (north) at the Museum Division of the Mississippi Division of Archives and History (Old GM&O Depot). Marker is at or near this postal address: 618 East Pearl Street, Jackson MS 39201, United States of America. Touch for directions.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. GM&O Depot (a few steps from this marker); Mississippi's Old Capitol (about 400 feet away, measured in a direct line); The Eagle and Bowman Hotels (about 700 feet away); Central Station (approx. 0.2 miles away); Jackson City Hall (approx. 0.2 miles away); Jackson Municipal Library Sit-In (approx. ¼ mile away); First Presbyterian Church (approx. ¼ mile away); Smith Park (approx. ¼ mile away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Jackson.
 
More about this marker. Photographs on the historical marker are captioned as follows: “40 & 8 rail car being hoisted off the French ship in New York Harbor;” “Boxcar shown with French crests leaving North Carolina on flatcar for other southern states;” “Seal of the City of Rouen, France, one of many donated;” “A hand-wrought candlestick;” “A still-life painting, one of several donated works of art;” “A child’s doll, one of many donated;” “French children donating artwork at one of the rail cars.”
 
Also see . . .
1. Merci Train Boxcar website for Mississippi. (Submitted on August 7, 2016, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama.)
Merci Train Boxcar (side view & view of old train depot) image. Click for full size.
By Mark Hilton, July 20, 2016
4. Merci Train Boxcar (side view & view of old train depot)

2. State of Mississippi website about Boxcar & Train Depot. (Submitted on August 7, 2016, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama.)
 
Additional comments.
1. Merci Train
Thank you so much for taking the time to write about the Merci Train and boosting its presence on the internet.

"Each of the cars of the Merci Train was adorned with coats of arms of the provinces of France and filled with offerings from the French people as a heart-felt thank you to America for its aid to France during WWII."

Much is yet to learn about the Merci Train and proper wording is extremely difficult when it comes to describing the unknown. I humbly want to clarify the above in order to provide a better understanding of the factual Merci Train.
1. The French provincial system was abolished at the French Revolution (1789). Although it might have remained in the heart of the French people for a few decades, it is fairly unlikely that it was known well enough in 1947-1949 to represent France. Especially, it is extremely difficult to find a list of 40 French Provinces as a representation of France at any time in history.
2. In addition, one of the coat-of-arms represented Navarre which is now in current Spain, South of the Pyrenees and clearly
Boxcar prior to restoration located behind the War Memorial Building. image. Click for full size.
Courtesy: State of Mississippi Department of Archives & History., 2010
5. Boxcar prior to restoration located behind the War Memorial Building.
out of the French boundaries of the 20th century. Navarre was however part of the kingdom of France but only until Louis XVI (French revolution period). Indeed, Louis XVI is King of France and Navarre while Louis Philippe (1845) is King of the French.
3. When looking at the Merci Train project, one should be quite cautious to separate the boxcars and the gifts. Indeed, the boxcars were the gift of a very specific, institutionalized group (mostly French veterans, and mostly from WWI) whereas their content carried the randomness of the individual experience.
3.1 Boxcars:
It is still unclear why they were really given. But the usual 3 reasons are WWI (message printed on a plaque affixed to the boxcar), WWII and the Friendship train (wording appearing in documents sent during the period of collection of gifts).
3.2 Gifts:
We can recover individual Merci Train items accompanied by notes explaining clearly that the gift expresses gratitude for WWI, WW2 or the Friendship Train. Yet, the nature of individual experience increases the scope of reasons given. Within them, a recurring reason is the American Revolution and, to be fully accurate, the friendship that was born of it. French people gave in 1948 because they believed it to be natural to celebrate that friendship and they clearly worded it that way (e.g. Marquise de Sercey's letter, Arizona Capitol Museum collection).
Merci Train Boxcar being placed at final location next to GM&O Depot. image. Click for full size.
Courtesy: State of Mississippi Department of Archives & History., 2011
6. Merci Train Boxcar being placed at final location next to GM&O Depot.
Note To Editor only visible by Contributor and editor    
    — Submitted August 8, 2016, by Alexis M. of Ewa-Beach, Hawaii.

 
Categories. Railroads & StreetcarsWar, World IWar, World II
 
Closeup of some of the gifts included inside the boxcar. image. Click for full size.
By Mark Hilton, July 20, 2016
7. Closeup of some of the gifts included inside the boxcar.
 

More. Search the internet for Merci Train Memorial.
 
Credits. This page was last revised on February 9, 2019. This page originally submitted on August 7, 2016, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama. This page has been viewed 403 times since then and 131 times this year. This page was the Marker of the Week February 10, 2019. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. submitted on August 7, 2016, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama.   7. submitted on August 9, 2016, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama.
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