49 satin wedding gowns... one in each state's boxcar
March 23, 2017 2:53 PM   Subscribe

The Merci Train was a train of 49 French railroad boxcars filled with tens of thousands of gifts of gratitude from French citizens sent to the US in 1949. They were showing their appreciation for the 700+ American boxcars of relief goods sent to them by Americans in 1948 via a project calledFriendship Train. Each of the 48 American states at that time received one of the gift-laden box cars. Many of those boxcars still exist. posted by jessamyn (28 comments total) 62 users marked this as a favorite
Okay, this answers a question a friend of mine and I puzzled over a long time ago. We saw the New Mexico train car at the NM State Fair a while back and could not figure out what a French train car was doing there amongst the caged bobcats and the chile relleno corn dogs.

Now I know.
posted by heurtebise at 3:13 PM on March 23, 2017 [6 favorites]

Great, now all I want for dinner is a chile relleno corn dog.
posted by hippybear at 3:16 PM on March 23, 2017 [22 favorites]

I didn't think there was anything in Woonsocket.

Knowing is half the battle, I guess.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:22 PM on March 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

The Illinois boxcar is listed as missing. Way to go, Illinois.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 3:44 PM on March 23, 2017 [4 favorites]

(Yes, yes, yes, this is Rhode Island's time!!)

Rhode Island has its Merci Train boxcar on display at the better-than-its-name-implies Museum of Work & Culture in down-on-its-luck Woonocket, RI, in the heart of the Blackstone River Valley.

The population of Woonsocket was heavily French-Canadian after the mid-19th Century, a population attracted to work in the water-powered mills on the banks of the river which was the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution.

The Museum explores this French-American culture -- and its close ties to the American labor movement -- and the boxcar is on permanent display there (yes, including the wedding dress). Kids in the town spoke French at primary school well into the 20th Century: my mother-in-law grew up speaking French at home, and my father-in-law spoke French to her her parents whenever he courted her (despite having an Irish background himself).

I grew up far from the area, but have been to the museum a number of times. It displays a typical "triple-decker" (three story) tenament house, terrifying finger-eating mechanical yarn-spinning equipment, and the bolted-down desks from a French Catholic schoolroom that features a spotter's guide worth of Know Your Nun photographs to show how many different orders were active in the area 100 years ago.

It really is a great little museum, with good stuff in the gift shop. If you are visiting the area it's not the first thing to go so, but if you are a history buff, then hit Slater Mill close to downtown Providence, then drive the 20 minutes out to see this one. (And the Olde English across the street has good fish & chip on Fridays.)

And oh, yeah, the train car is pretty cool, too.
posted by wenestvedt at 4:50 PM on March 23, 2017 [28 favorites]

(For shame, GenjiandProust!)
posted by wenestvedt at 5:00 PM on March 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm not crying, you're crying.
posted by corb at 5:14 PM on March 23, 2017 [5 favorites]

Oh yeah, I remember, this was from back when we all cared about one another.
posted by mygoditsbob at 5:26 PM on March 23, 2017 [29 favorites]

I grew up with a scuplture from one of these trains, "Ugolino and his Sons," on display in the Indiana Memorial Union of Indiana University in Bloomington since before I was born.
posted by mwhybark at 5:34 PM on March 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

The Arkansas car was evidently restored as an Eagle Scout's project. Good for that kid.

Helena is a really poor town that has had some really hard times. Does my sappy-ass heart good to see them housing and keeping up a piece of international goodwill.

This post rules.
posted by middleclasstool at 5:52 PM on March 23, 2017 [8 favorites]

Oh holy crap the Missouri one's in Sedalia! I was born there. Moderately small town with not much claim to fame beyond the state fair. This is so cool, I need to go see that next time I'm up to visit family.

I'm glad a lot of these are in small towns.
posted by middleclasstool at 5:56 PM on March 23, 2017 [4 favorites]

This is really interesting, thanks.

The Maryland one is at the B&O Railroad Museum, which is one of those Baltimore tourist attractions I always mean to go to but haven't yet, so perhaps I will eventually see it!
posted by the primroses were over at 6:21 PM on March 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

The Illinois boxcar is listed as missing. Way to go, Illinois.

Well, for once Idaho finally got it's feces (mostly) in a pile.

After dumping it to the National Guard--who put it out in a horse pen to feed horses out of the open doors and store old paint cans and crap in the back of it, Boise finally got it restored and put inside the Old State Penitentiary. Unfortunately, much of the content was lost, and much of what was retained or regained is in poor archival condition. The items must be stable to be displayed.

Oh yeah, I remember, this was from back when we all cared about one another.
and our history.
posted by BlueHorse at 6:29 PM on March 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

My whole incentive for this post was that I am working in a public library all week (not my usual thing) and they have this glass sconce thing on the wall that has a little handwritten note in it, in a frame, that says "Gift to Chelsea from the Merci Train" and a date. Which... I did not know what it was but I figured Google could help me. And it did, it so did.
posted by jessamyn at 6:36 PM on March 23, 2017 [15 favorites]

The 49th box car was shared by Washington D.C. and the Territory of Hawaii.

Rough luck, Alaska.
posted by tobascodagama at 7:01 PM on March 23, 2017

Woot, the top two photos on the Merci Trains page are both from the one in Oregon. I can't wait to visit this the next time I'm down in Coos Bay.
posted by mathowie at 7:07 PM on March 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

It's sad and kind of puzzling that a lot of Americans are down on the French when the French, for whatever faults they have, have always worn their heart on their sleeve about liking Americans and being very grateful for all the help in the war.
posted by GuyZero at 7:40 PM on March 23, 2017 [18 favorites]

God dammit, Massachusetts.
posted by bondcliff at 7:49 PM on March 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

My birth state (CO) apparently lost theirs (how do you lose a boxcar? Whose couplers are incompatible with the others on your area?). But the state I'm moving to (AZ) has got a nice museum around theirs! Definitely will go check it out once I get there.
posted by nat at 8:24 PM on March 23, 2017

I've barely begun prodding these links but OMG, how amazing. Thanks for posting.

New Jersey: Destroyed by fire

posted by Miko at 8:32 PM on March 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

i adore train geeks
posted by PinkMoose at 9:20 PM on March 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

The Illinois boxcar is listed as missing. Way to go, Illinois.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 5:44 PM

Sorry to dwell on this, and I apologize about commenting on my own comment, but, now that I've thought about it a bit, I bet one of our former Governors stole it. That fits the Illinois politician profile quite well.

posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 9:24 PM on March 23, 2017 [4 favorites]

Also how many of the boxcars are currently occupied by runaway children?
posted by GuyZero at 9:55 PM on March 23, 2017 [12 favorites]

Washington's is in an outdoor cage in yakima, which must be some kind of metaphor.
posted by lkc at 10:35 PM on March 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

What kills me the most about the Illinois boxcar being missing is that there's a picture of it on the seriously nerdy link. I don't know how I can miss something I didn't know existed 24 hours ago so much, but I do.

i adore train geeks

Me too! Despite loving train travel of all kinds, it is not my personal geekery but I appreciate their work so much and found myself reading so many of the links last night that I started to wonder if maybe it should be my personal geekery. (My geekery bandwidth is pretty loaded, probably for my lifetime alas.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:55 AM on March 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

When I was in the fourth grade I lived for a while next to Roeding Park. Parked in the park was "the French boxcar," replete with medallions. We climbed around, on, and under it until the park authorities put a chain-link fence around it. We knew it was from France, but until this morning I had no idea why it was in Fresno.

I was smeared in history, one grease-stained shin at a time.
posted by mule98J at 10:07 AM on March 24, 2017 [5 favorites]

OOOOH, the Michigan one is stored in an outdoor cage at an American Legion post/archery/rifle range near my parents' house! I am so excited to go back and visit this summer.
posted by holyrood at 8:56 PM on March 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Why are the outdoors ones in cages (WA, MI)? Do they have a history of running away (CO, IL)?
posted by nat at 9:27 PM on March 24, 2017

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