Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Merci Train Tapestry

There are a lot of things to be thankful for in 2015. Gas prices are down, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is finally in theatres, and the panning stream at the Gold Rush Museum is working without leaks.

Of course gratitude doesn’t have to be reserved only for momentous occasions. It is very beneficial to those who practice it on a regular basis, and according to studies it makes you feel more alive, sleep better and have a stronger immune system.

People show their appreciation in different ways, but one of the most common is gift giving. In 1949, The Placer County Museum received a beautiful tapestry from the French Gratitude Train. The train, also called the Merci Train and the Train de la Reconnaissance, was filled with tens of thousands of gifts of gratitude from French citizens. It was a “thank you” gift to the United States for relief supplies collected by the Friendship Train as it traveled across the United States, passing through Roseville on its way to New York. The supplies and millions of dollars in aid sent to France and Italy in 1947 were indispensable during severe food shortages that followed the end of WWII.

The idea of the Gratitude Train came from Andre Picard, who was a French railroad worker and WWII veteran. The train cars were decorated with the coat of arms of the 40 provinces of France. One car was sent to each of the 48 states with the 49th shared by Washington D. C. and the territory of Hawaii. An estimated 6 million French families contributed something of value, and the train arrived in New Jersey on February 3, 1949.

The tapestry that became part of the Placer County Museums Collection was donated to the Merci Train by Madame Juliette Morreton from the city of Beauvais in northern France. Made by an unknown weaver, it depicts Comtesse Du Barry, courtier and mistress of King Louis XV, who was guillotined during the French Revolution. Beauvais was extensively damaged during the German advance on Paris in 1940 and later liberated by British troops in August 1944. The tag that was attached to the tapestry reads: “To our American friends with hearty gratefulness for all that they have done for France and French people.”

The scale of destruction after WWII was enormous. As people began to deal with the consequences of war and focused on rebuilding their lives and cities they, like Juliette Morreton, found a lot to be thankful for.

Kasia Woroniecka, Curator of Collections