Thursday, October 1, 2009

“Merci” car restoration celebration at the railway village on October 10th

All photos by Don Gaither, from the collection of Chris Allen.

The historic “Merci” Car, also known as the 40&8 Car, is a French railroad boxcar built in France in 1886, and is now part of the collection at the Boothbay Railway Village museum. The Car, filled with over 1,000 personal gifts from French citizens to the citizens of Maine, arrived in Maine in 1949 as part of The Gratitude Train, a French response -- a collective “merci,” or thank you -- for 700 box cars, called the Freedom Train, filled with relief supplies from the people of the United States. The relief supplies in the Freedom Train were sent to France in 1947 to help alleviate the devastation caused by the ravages of the Nazi occupation in World War II.

The Gratitude Train, or “Merci” Train, was also a response of the French people to the sacrifices made by Americans to protect France in WWI, and to liberate France from the Nazi occupation in WWII. Most of the gifts contained in the Maine Merci Car are preserved at the Maine State Museum in Augusta.

2009 marks the 60th Anniversary of the arrival of the Maine Merci Car in Maine. This historic boxcar was one of a 49 car railroad train, one for each of the then 48 States and one for the “territories” sent by the French people in February of 1949. It is only one of 39 such cars known to exist today. To mark the 60th Anniversary, the Boothbay Railway Village, with the help of volunteers and over twenty individual and organizational donors, is restoring the superstructure of the boxcar to look as it did when it arrived in 1949. The car was festooned with 46 plaques and banners, including the crests of each of the 40 French provinces that existed in 1949. The Railway Village is also launching a donor drive to raise additional funds to build a protective pavilion for the Maine Merci Train and a small endowment for its future preservation and for educational programs. A list of current donors may be found on the Railroad Village website,

The restoration unveiling and ceremony on Saturday, October 10th at 1 pm, will open with a presentation of the flags of the United States, France, Maine and the “La Societe des Quarante Hommes et Huit Chevaux,” (the 40&8 Society) a philanthropic organization of American veterans organized after WWI in 1921, by an honor guard of the Society. The “40&8” designation refers to the fact that the boxcar could carry forty men (“hommes”) or 8 horses (“chevaux”).

The Honorable, M. Christophe Guilhou, Consul General of France in Boston, will greet the attendees in French and English.

Mr. Joseph R. Phillips, Director of the Maine State Museum, where the gifts from the people of France to the people of Maine are preserved, will also speak on the history of the Maine Merci Car. Photos of some of the gifts will be available for viewing.

Mr. Earl Bennett, of Florida, a catalyst behind the restoration of the Merci/40&8 Cars throughout the United States, and founder of the website, will also talk about the history of the Merci and Gratitude Trains.

The ceremony is expected to last forty minutes and will take place during the first day of the annual Fall Foliage Festival and Fair, considered one of the top Fall Fairs in the northeast. Gates to the Railway Village on Rte 27 South in Boothbay open at 9:30 am, and there is a nominal admission charge of $2.00, which supports the work of the Boothbay Civic Association and the Boothbay Railway Village. Additional contributions are welcomed.

The Boothbay Railway Village is a non-profit, 401 3(c) cultural and historical organization, located at 586 Wiscasset Road (Rte 27 South), Boothbay, Maine. To find out more about this event, or the work of The Railway Village, see their website,, or call 207-633-4727.

The plaque of the crest of the Province of Maine, France, one of forty provincial crests, which will adorn the historic, restored Maine Merci/Forty&8 Railroad Car being restored at the Boothbay Railway Village. Mr. Severin Beliveau, Honorable Consul of France for the State of Maine, sponsored this crest. Details of this and all sponsors of this restoration effort may be viewed on The Village website,

L'Ecole Française du Maine was happy to contribute to this project through the sponsorship of a plaque of the Brittany region of France, a replica of the original plaque which decorated the "Merci Car" upon its arrival to the United States.