|The Gifts of Healing: 1945-1949 exhibit at Nevada State Museum, Carson City displays 21 French travel posters, given as gifts to the United States on board the Merci Train of 1949.|
BY ADAM ROBERTSON
It’s 1945, and World War II has just ended. France is in shambles, having been devastated by the German invasion and fighting across its countryside. Then, a train bearing gifts of friendship and healing arrives from America, the 700 boxcars loaded with food, clothing, supplies, and other items that would be of use to the war-torn French people.
In response to the Friendship Train, the French sent a train of their own in early 1949—called the Merci Train—bearing thank-you gifts to the people of the United States. The train had 49 cars, one for each state in the union at the time (Washington D.C. and Hawaii shared a car), and provided a look into the lives and indomitable spirit of the post-war French and the gratitude felt towards their allies.
The Nevada State Museum, Carson City has recently opened an exhibit featuring artifacts that were on board the Merci Train’s car bound for Nevada. The exhibit, Gifts of Healing: 1945-1949, features 21 hand-painted travel posters of various areas in France such as Normandy, Paris, Dauphiné, Provence, and the Ile de France. The posters were commissioned by the Société Nationale des chemins de fer Français (the National Society of French Railways) as a way to encourage post-war travel.
Also included in the exhibit are pieces of a more personal nature: medals of soldiers from both World Wars, books, a cherished set of toy soldiers sent by a 10-year-old-boy, dolls, and family heirlooms. These cherished items were sent, with a personal letter beginning “To my American friend,” by French citizens in hopes that they would find a home with those who helped them in their hour of need.
Monsieur Trocme, the French delegate who presented the Merci Train car to Nevada, had this to say in 1949: “The car and its contents bring this message from the French people. We thank you, friends of Nevada, for the help you have given us. We cannot give you material goods commensurate with what you have given us, but we can show our gratitude in this manner.” This quote originally appeared in the story, “French Show Gratitude by Merci Train Gifts to Nevada,” in the June-September 1949 issue of Nevada Highways and Parks (now Nevada Magazine).
The posters and about 200 other assorted artifacts, including a one-of-a-kind wedding dress made in Lyon specifically for the Nevada car, are a testament to the friendship and gratitude expressed by France to America. The emotion within the exhibit is palpable and awe inspiring when considering what the French, who already had so little, were willing to give away to say, “Thank you.”
The Gifts of Healing exhibit will remain in the museum until mid-August, when it will come down briefly in preparation for the Carson City Mint Coin Show, August 24-25. It will be put back on display indefinitely starting in September. More information about the Merci Train, plus other exhibits at the Nevada State Museum, can be found at nevadaculture.org.
A short drive from the Nevada State Museum, at the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Carson City, sits the actual Merci Train boxcar (see photo below) that was sent to Nevada; a perfect accompaniment to visiting the exhibit of artifacts.