Merci Train - Wisconsin
Last updated 2/19/06. Note: the photo above does not reflect current location or condition of car.
Please see the below correspondence about the artifacts.
In October of 2010, I sent the below request to Mr. John Lemke at the Wisconsin Historical Society and received the reply that appears below my e-mail. It is impossible for me to travel (from Florida) to do any further investigation into the information that was sent to me; I am in hopes that someone with an interest in the Merci Train history will be able to help us by visiting the Historical society and glean more information about, and possibly photographs of, the articles that they have in their collections.
I am an amateur historian and the founder and owner of the web site mercitrain.org. I have been involved with reviving the history of the French Gratitude (Merci) train since 1994, and I am always looking for more information about the history. While visiting the National Railroad Museum in Green Bay this summer, I was shown their file of info about the history, and one of the items was note stating that an article in the July 8th issue of the Milwaukee Journal reported that the State Historical Society had a copy of the inventory of the gifts of gratitude sent, in 1949, from the people of France to the state of Wisconsin in the 40 & 8 boxcar that is now an exhibit at the Ntnl. RR Museum. I think that a copy of the inventory list would be of interest to the visitors to the Wisc. page of my web site.
A second and follow up query is; do you have any knowledge of the whereabouts of any of the artifacts from that boxcar, either at your museum or elsewhere?
I look forward to your reply with anticipation and will be grateful for any help that you may be able to give.Sincere Regards,
Merci Train Historian
******************Hello, Mr. Bennett:
John Lemke forwarded your inquiry to me for a reply. We do have some basic information about the Wisconsin Merci Train. At least some of the contents of the Wisconsin car were made mounted into display cases, which toured Wisconsin communities in 1949 along with the rail car. I think, but have not confirmed, that the cases were built by Wisconsin Historical Society (WHS) staff.
The Society has posted two images related to the train's appearance in Madison on the web (search for "merci train" at wisconsinhistory.org), and our archives has a small collection of photos of the train's appearance in Milwaukee.
There is information about the Merci Train in Box 48 folder 10 of the papers of Governor Oscar Rennebohm, held in our archives. Here is a finding aid to that collection:
If you would like to find out more, please contact our archives reference folks at wisconsinhistory.org.
In our museum files, we have some newspaper clippings about the tour and several different inventories of the contents of the car. I have not looked at the inventories closely enough to determine if they represent different objects or the same objects grouped in different ways. Very few of the gifts ended up in WHS collection. Clifford Lord, WHS Director, served on the governor's committee which oversaw the eventual distribution of the gifts to museums and public organizations throughout the state according to the wishes of the donors. (There is a chance that additional information about the Merci Train and its object dispersal exists in the WHS Director's administrative files, which would also be in the archives.)
We do have a photocopy of one of the lists, annotated with the disposition of the objects. This list is marked "incomplete". I don't know whether this refers to the objects on the list or to the disposition information, but only about 2/3 of the items have been marked with a destination. While some of these are pretty specific, others are not. The notation "Oshkosh" might mean the Oshkosh Public Museum, the Oshkosh Public Library, the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, perhaps the Paine Art Museum or an orphanage or other public institution. My guess - and it is only a guess - is that at best it might be possible to track down half of the contents of the car, and it would mean contacting several dozen institutions.
Our records show that the WHS museum has five objects confirmed or suspected to have come from the Merci Train:
- 1950.2527 - Vase, Sevres, royal blue (stolen)
- 1951.2395 - a Toy drum in wooden box
- 1953.302 - Souvenir spoon, sterling silver, in box, Puiforcat, Paris, 1948
- 1971.157.10 - Mirror, molded gesso frame
- 1998.20.1706 - Gavel, in box, carved from tree from Battle of Belleau Wood, 1918
In addition, your inquiry has prompted us to accession a batch of books and publications from the train. I can send you info on these items once we have updated our records and photographed them.
If you like, I can make copies of the inventory and the disposition list for you.
I hope this helps.David B. Driscoll
Curator of Business & Technology
Wisconsin Historical Society
816 State Street
Madison, WI 53706
Phone: (608) 264-6571
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