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Union Station to commemorate 75th anniversary of Utah’s Merci Car

By Ryan Aston - | Feb 17, 2024

Ryan Aston, Standard-Examiner

Utah's "Merci Car," photographed Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024, is on display near Ogden's Union Station.

OGDEN — Union Station is set to host an event recognizing a unique piece of American history this month, which marks the 75th anniversary of the arrival of Utah’s “Merci Car” — one of 49 train boxcars gifted to the United States by France in the wake of World War II.

The event happening Thursday will begin with an outdoor reception near the boxcar at 5 p.m. That will be followed by a ceremony with guest speakers in Union Station’s Browning Theater at 6 p.m., as well as live music and light refreshments in the Grand Lobby at 7 p.m.

Speakers include Judy Lewis, the widow of Byron Lewis (who spearheaded past renovation work on the boxcar); Ogden Mayor Ben Nadolski; University of Utah professor and Utah’s Honorary Consul of France Anne Lair; and others.

Guests will be admitted free of charge.

“We are very proud to be home to the Utah Merci Car and are excited to be able to share its story with the next generation,” Hope Eggett, Union Station’s museum curator, told the Standard-Examiner.

The Merci Car, which was originally constructed during the late 19th century, is a forty-and-eight boxcar — a name denoting the number of men (40) or horses (eight) that could be contained inside for transport. The boxcars were used by the French Army during both World Wars to transport troops, horses and freight. During World War II, the German forces that occupied the country used them to move prisoners of war and captured civilians to concentration camps.

In this case, the boxcars were loaded with thousands of gifts and delivered to American states as thanks for donations sent to France in the war’s aftermath via the U.S. “Friendship Train.”

On Nov. 7, 1947, the Friendship Train left Los Angeles and made its way across the country to New York, gathering those donations of food, clothing and fuel as it went. The goods were later distributed throughout Europe. France reciprocated with its “Merci Train” two years later, designating a boxcar for each of America’s then-48 states, as well as one to be shared by the District of Columbia and the Territory of Hawaii.

Merci is French for “thank you.”

As part of the anniversary event at Union Station, some of the gifts that were contained in the state’s Merci Car will be on display, courtesy of the Utah Division of Archives and Records Service. Artifacts include artwork, war medallions and hand-sewn stars embroidered with French and American place names.

The Merci Car was brought to its current home in Ogden in 2002 after having fallen into disrepair due to weather and vandalism while residing for decades at Salt Lake City’s Memory Grove Park. Although restoration work has been performed previously, the boxcar is in the midst of a renewed preservation effort.

Christy McBride, manager of Ogden’s Arts, Culture and Events Division, told the Standard-Examiner that Ogden City has funded $100,000, while the Union Station Foundation has raised $75,000, for another restoration and permanent covering for the Merci Car.

A company already has been selected for the latest restoration project, which is targeted for this spring at an off-site location. The boxcar will be returned to Union Station in its original 1949 colors and emblems.

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