Merci Train - Washington D.C.

In 1948 there were only 48 states, since Alaska and Hawaii had not yet attained statehood. However, the Hawaiians contributed a significant amount of good to the supply train that was sent to France in 1946, as did the residents of Washington D.C. So, in gratitude, the French sent the residents of both locations a boxcar to share, which ultimately ended up in Hawaii.

April 2012

I (Earl Bennett) have recently rediscovered, in my files, some copies of documents from a Mr. Olson (whom I apologize to for misplacing his contact information and who I hope will see this notice and contact me to refresh my memory on that subject).

The above mentioned Mr. Olson is the grandson of the late Mr. Salvind Olson, a prominent citizen of Washington who was chosen to be Chairman of the 1949 Committee charged with the responsibility of selecting recipients for the Merci Train gifts that the people of France sent to the people of Washington, DC in February of that year. The father of the grandson Mr. Olson recently had passed the file of documents on to him. The younger Mr. Olson graciously contacted me and asked if I would be interested in receiving copies of several pieces of the documents, which included some letters from the National U.S.A. Merci Train Chairman, Mr. Drew Pearson, as well as other pieces of information about activities which took place in connection with the arrival and opening of the little French boxcar in Washington, DC, before the boxcar was sent on to Hawaii with the gifts for its people who had donated large amounts of sugar to the U.S. Friendship Train of 1947. Some of the documents name institutions that were receiving specific pieces of art, and we are currently contacting those institutions to try to determine if they still possess the items.

As we receive replies to our queries, we will post what we learn on this page; we may also post images of some of the documents.

All of the top row of photos are of artifacts from the DC/Hawaii Merci Train, which are still in the possession of the Olson family, passed down to them by Mr. Salvind Olson, the 1949 chairman of the committee handling the distribution of the DC Merci Train gifts to that city. Those photos are, from left to right:

1) What is believed to be one of two medallions from a horse's bridal.
2) Mr. Larry Olson, Salvind's son, holding a collector's shotgun, of which the next two photos show some of the decorative etching and carving on the gun.
3) The final photo is of a silver tea service.

The first photo in the second row is of a draft of the program for welcoming and receiving the gifts there in DC. Next is a digital photo of a letter concerning the satin wedding gown that I read (in another document) would be worn by a woman who would win an essay writing competition. I have yet to find out who the winner was.

Third to the right is a letter of thanks from the president of Benjamin Franklin University for the gift of a bust of Benjamin Franklin (crafted by the 17th century sculpture Houdon). We also have a photo of a copy of the invitation to the presentation ceremony to be held on Feb. 6th 1949 at the university. Dozens of congressmen, foreign ambassadors, and administration officials received copies of the invitation.

To the right of the above photo is a photo of a letter from George Washington University about their receiving a sculpted statue of George Washington. I have been in contact with both universities asking for information as to the whereabouts of the sculptures today. I am waiting while they try to locate such information for me. The final photo in that row is a copy of a letter of thanks from the DC Superintendent of Schools to the organization in France, which donated the etching described in the letter.

The first image, on the left, in the third row is from The Smithsonian Institute listing the artifacts that the Institution received from the Merci Train. Next, to the right, is a photo of one of the boxcars being carried on a flatbed trailer truck with an honor escort of National Guardsmen. It could be presumed to be the DC boxcar, but if so it would have to have been after the welcoming ceremony as the two boxcars shown in another of the photos here was still mounted on railroad flatbed rail carriers.

Next is the afore mentioned photo at the D.C. Pennsylvania Railroad Station with the platform erected for the welcoming ceremony. To the right of that photo is one of four men who are from left to right an unidentified man, Mr. Drew Pearson, a man I believe to be one of the French dignitaries who accompanied the boxcars as they were delivered to their designated U.S. states, and fourth is Mr. Salving Olson the D.C. chairman of the committee in charge of the distribution of the boxcars gifts.

Finally, the photo in the fourth row is of a group of French war medals, mounted in a frame, that were presented to Mr. Olson (center) with Drew Pearson (left) and Senator John Connally of Texas admiring the gift

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