Kansas Merci Boxcar Museum & Veterans Memorial ParkrnAt the close of World War II the French nation was devastated. Reconstruction was a slow process. Farmlands had been ravished. War-damaged factories had to be rebuilt and retooled before industry could begin the production of civilian goods. By 1947, two years after the war ended, France had not yet sufficiently recovered to provide food and other necessities for her people.
Drew Pearson, a well known radio commentator and Washington Post columnist, suggested the American people do something to help ease the hunger. That was on October 11, 1947. Mr. Pearson suggested we send a boxcar filled with donated food to their former ally. Immediately the American people began to act; donations began pouring in from every state. Just three short weeks later an engine pulling 11 filled boxcars left L.A. bound for New York. Trains were added along the way, by the time it arrived in New York, 700 cars filled with tons of food, clothing, and medical supplies were lined up to be loaded on the S.S. American Leader.
To express their gratitude, the French people collected over 50,000 gifts ranging from Sevres pottery, Limoges porcelains, Baccaret crystal, engraved woodwork, church bells, bonnets, peasant costumes, and simple drawings from the children of France. The gifts were delivered using France’s infamous boxcars.
These boxcars were built in France between 1852-1885 for use of shipping freight, horses, cattle and other domestic animals and troops during the two wars. Forty-nine of these cars were located, one for each state and the District of Columbia. The boxcars were repaired, painted and then filled with the gifts and called the “Gratitude Train.”
The boxcars arrived in the United States early February, 1949. The Kansas Merci Boxcar was accepted by “MERCI GIFTS FOR KANSAS, INC.” After being on display in Topeka, the car made a 140 day tour of Kansas visiting 120 towns. Ending on Armistice Day, November 11, 1949, the boxcar was placed next to the library on the campus of the then Fort Hays State College.
The restored Kansas Merci Boxcar Museum and the Veterans Memorial Park can be seen at the Hays American Legion Hall.
Admission: Free Admission rnHours: Guided tours available by appointment. rnAddress: 1305 CanterburyrnPhone: 785-625-9681 rnWebsite: www.haysusa.net