This Place in History: Merci Train

Vermont History


At ‘This Place in History‘, we’re at the Vermont Military Museum and Library at Camp Johnson and we’re chatting all about the Merci Train. One of the cars is located here, but we’re missing the Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins. He’s actually waiting for us at the History Center in Barre.

“As those people who speak French know, Merci means thank you. So we say train. You saw the train car. There were 49 of those train cars and they were packed full of stuff as thank you gifts to the people of the United States,” began Perkins.

“We’re immediately following World War II. This train came over in 1949. Right after World War II, of course, we had everything our military did during the War, the United States sent a ton of aid to France and a lot of it came in trains. The [French] government said let’s send something to the U.S. So the government provided the trains, but the people, businesses and religious organizations of France packed it full of thank you gifts,” explained Perkins.

“There were 49 cars. There were 48 states at the time. The 49th car was split with half of the goods going to Hawaii and the other half to Washington D.C. The New England cars came up altogether and then split up as they went into each state and it came up to Montpelier. There were big receptions around the car. Local leaders came and the governor was there.”

“I don’t know how to describe it best, but everyone just sort of took something home with them. There are pieces of this Gratitude Train or items scattered all around Vermont. But when that was all done, they boxed everything up and put all that was left in the Vermont Historical Society. I’ll show you some of my favorite pieces.”

“Let’s start with this book of hours. We don’t know where this came from. It could have come from a monastery, a church or a private home. These are very rare. It’s completely hand done with gilding on it. Absolutely gorgeous,” said Perkins.

“I also like this little clock over here. What’s nice with the clock is that we still have the label from it. Here’s the logo from the Merci Train and it says who this clock is from. They lived in Paris, we can see that, and maybe a little note.”

“This is a piece of the Arc de Triomphe, which as you know is that big monument in the middle of Paris. Hitler shot some artillery at it for fun and knocked pieces off. It came in this box and you can see the label from the Merci Train on the outside of the box and then it had a note inside saying what it is.”

“As we said, individuals gave things. Churches gave things. Businesses gave things. And so the Renault Car Company, which we all know makes full-size cars, gave a whole box of toy cars into every train. These are absolutely amazing in that they’re all in their original packaging, never been opened or used and there’s a whole box of them. Just in pristine condition. It’s all the same car but in different colors. And no, I have not wound one and tried running it. I’m sure somebody would love to,” concluded Perkins.

At ‘This Place in History’!

To view a map of Vermont’s roadside historic markers, click here.

For more from our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.

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