Merci Train - Pennsylvania
Fort Indiantown Gap National Guard Post (near I-81, exit 29)
Annville, PA 17003
Rita L. Meneses - Cultural Resources Manager
PA Army National Guard - Building 0-11 - Fort Indiantown Gap
Annville, PA 17003 - (717) 861-9415 - E-mail
In April of 2012, we were excited to receive the below message about the Pennsylvania Merci Train history:
I work for The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and wanted to let you know of some archival holdings at the Pennsylvania State Archives that may provide additional information regarding the disposition of the contents of Pennsylvania's Merci Train car. The records are part of the former Executive Director's files (1946-1949). Below is a link that should help anyone visiting your website locate the files if they are interested in doing further research.
Please check the website for hours, directions and parking suggestions.
I also wanted to let you know that the State Museum of Pennsylvania has among their holdings, an album of paintings and letters from school children in France. It apparently took a route to Harrisburg, different than that of the railcar, as the album arrived after May 1949, whereas the contents of the railcar had been dispersed to communities within Pennsylvania by April 1949. Thank you for your work on this topic.
Mary Jane H. Miller
Head of Collections Management
Bureau of The State Museum
Click on the image below to view full size
A Brief Summary of the history of the Pennsylvania boxcar of the Merci Train
by Dorothy Scheele
Pennsylvania's Merci car, filled with 10,000 gifts, made only two stops before reaching Harrisburg, its final destination. Philadelphia was the first stop on February 5, 1949.
In the City of Brotherly Love, on a cold, clear day, 2,000 people greeted the bright red boxcar when it arrived at the Broad Street Station at 11:45. Legionnaires from the 40 & 8 were among the spectators, plus 1,000 school children, waving French and American flags. The Police and Firemen's Band played, and the Breen-McCracken Post of the American Legion provided the color guard.
The next morning, the train stopped in Lancaster. The city's one-half hour celebration of France's Merci train began at 9:30 a.m.
As in most states, the largest celebration was in the Capitol. Several thousand watched the parade as it wound through the downtown streets of Harrisburg. The parade ended at the State Museum where the acceptance ceremony began at 3:00.
Despite a complete inventory of the gifts, their whereabouts now are almost unknown. The most noteworthy is an automobile. An electrician in Rouen gave one of the first petroleum operated vehicles ever made in France. The whereabouts of this car is a complete mystery.
Almost certainly it is under wraps in a corner in a garage somewhere, and at the present time no one is aware of what it is or of its importance. With a prayer, it may eventually surface.
All of the state's gifts, until recently, shared this same fate. Despite the inventory of the French treasures, no record of their disposition in 1949 nor of their current whereabouts has yet been located.
However, about 50 small items in two counties have been recently located. Blair County Historical Society has 20 Merci gifts and Lycoming Country Historical Society has about 30. The latter's are mostly postcards. To date, these are the only gifts known to exist. Most likely, the institutions which received the Merci train gifts, tagged and displayed them, but as time passed, their importance and significance faded. Eventually the gifts and their origin, forgotten, became nondescript knickknacks relegated to attics, basements, and storage rooms. In all likelihood, many gifts are still in these forgotten corners, obscured under the dust of time. Searching most certainly would bring results. Perhaps if enough are found, they can be displayed for their historic and humanitarian worth.
Like the gifts themselves, Pennsylvania's Merci car eventually drifted into obscurity. The Preservation Committee and the Pennsylvania National Guard rescued the car from oblivion and raised funds to restore it. A dedication ceremony was held in November 1986. The boxcar, looking brand new and bearing shields of the French provinces on the sides, is on display at Indiantown Gap National Guard Post near Annville, PA. It is located outdoors near exit 29 of I-81.
This web site has a picture of all of the Merci boxcars except for the six. Three of these are destroyed. The fate of the other three is yet to be determined. Much thanks to Dorothy Scheele, a resident of Pa. for contributing this summary.
The two photos below added 11/02/03
All photos ©copyright Dorothy Scheele
Click on the images below to view full size
A coat of arms from an unidentified cathedral in France, originally owned by John Branyon of Harrisburg for his work with the Merci Trains.
Branyon later gave the arms to Philip Hensel of Palm Beach Gardens, FL
The Merci Artifacts below are housed in the Blair County Historical Society in Pennsylvania.
Click on the images below to view full size
Merci Artifacts in the Lycoming County Historical Society - Williamsport, PA