Author Archives: Alan Barnett

Evidence From A Transatlantic Friendship

A Thank-You Gift from France

In 1949 a small boxcar arrived in Salt Lake City, a gift from the people of France.  Just after the end of World War II a train had traveled across America, collecting donations for war-devastated Europe.  Several years later, as a token of appreciation for the American assistance, a collection of boxcars known as the “Merci Train” arrived from France, filled with gifts.  The 49 boxcars had been used in World War I and were known as “Forty and Eights” because they could be used to transport 40 men or 8 horses.  One boxcar was to be sent to each of the 48 states and the remaining car was to be divided between the District of Columbia and the Territory of Hawaii.

Union Station in Ogden.

When Utah’s boxcar arrived, Governor J. Bracken Lee formally accepted the gift on behalf of the people of Utah.  The varied contents, including dolls, folk costumes, embroidery work, wine, books, crystal, and artwork, were placed on display for the public to see.  Today, a small collection of gifts from the boxcar is held by the Utah State Archives. 

Most of these items are currently on display at the Utah State Railroad Museum in the Ogden Union Station.  The items include a number of books relating the history, scenery, and culture of France.  The collection also includes medals, artwork, and a number of felt stars embroidered with the names of French and American cities.

What Happened to Utah’s Merci Train Boxcar?

After the Utah boxcar was emptied of its treasures, it ended up on display in Salt Lake City’s Memory Grove.  Over the years exposure to the elements took its toll.  In order to protect the car, it was repainted, but the original colorful detailing was covered over.  As part of the restoration of Memory Grove following the tornado that tore through the area in 1999, the Merci Train boxcar was removed from the park.  In 2006 volunteers completed a restoration of the boxcar and it was placed on the grounds of the Ogden Union Station, where it can be seen today.

The restored Merci Train boxcar.

The Mystery of the Remaining Merci Train Gifts.

The committee appointed by Governor Lee to oversee the contents of the Merci boxcar decided that after the initial public display in Salt Lake, the gifts would be divided up and dispersed among the state’s 29 counties so that more people would be able to see them.  The final fate of these dispersed gifts is unknown.  The gifts sent to the counties were presumably displayed for a time, but have been lost since then.  Perhaps some ended up in the collections of local museums or were distributed to residents.  Furthermore, the records of the Merci Train Committee have been lost as well, so there is no known inventory of the contents of the boxcar or any documentation of how the items were dispersed.  The only Merci Train gifts known to survive in Utah are in a the collection held by the Utah State Archives, but the most significant and expensive of the gifts are not among them.  Undoubtedly, many of the finest gifts are still out there, perhaps unidentified or in private hands.

Do You Know Anything About the Lost Merci Train Gifts?

Have you ever seen anything in some scattered corner of the state that might have come from the Merci Train?  If you have, we would love to hear about it.

More Information

For more information about the Merci Train and the gifts that have survived, you can visit the exhibit at the Utah State Railroad Museum, peruse the inventory of items held by the Utah State Archives at http://archives.utah.gov/research/inventories/20732.html , and read an article about Utah’s Merci Train boxcar in Beehive History 23 at http://utah.ptfs.com/awweb/main.jsp?flag=browse&smd=1&awdid=1 .


Police Evidence of Extortion in Ogden

Letter to Mrs Eccles

Letter from J. H. Martin to Mrs. David Eccles demanding a "small donation of $1000". (Click on image to see full size)

Writing Sample

Sample of Martin's handwriting on Police Department letterhead. (Click on image to see full size)


Recently, as the Archives staff was working with Ogden City to review historic records from Ogden held in the Archives, we ran across some mysterious records. The records were in the format of 24 large glass negatives, 11” x 14”. They had been identified simply as documents from the Ogden City Police Department. In order to determine more exactly what the documents were on these glass negatives, the Archives staff made digital images of the negatives and transcribed the handwritten documents. It soon became clear that the documents were from a criminal investigation.

They date from 1911-1913 and include letters from a dark anonymous figure who signed one of them with the title “The Tall and Short Man”. The letters were addressed to members of some of Ogden’s leading families and included demands for money, arrangements for late-night meetings, and threats of harm. In addition to letters, there were handwriting samples comparing writing from the anonymous letters to known writing of a man named Joseph Henry Martin.

Further investigation into court records, prison records, and newspapers revealed the broader story. Joseph Henry Martin was the apparent ring leader of a gang that targeted wealthy Ogdenites (especially widows), stealing and ransoming expensive jewelry and eventually extorting money with threats of violence. At one point, when the gang felt their demands had not been met adequately, they planted explosives at the house of a member of the Eccles family.

Utah State Prison Photo of Joseph Henry Martin (Click on image to see full size)

At one of the late-night meetings, police and a Pinkerton detective showed up. A gun battle ensued and the detective and Martin were both shot. Martin escaped, but his injuries gave him away and he was arrested. The police gathered known examples of his writing to compare with the extortion letters. Handwriting experts from out-of-state were called in to testify. In the end, Martin was convicted of assault for the shooting of the Pinkerton detective and sentenced to 5 years in the State Prison. In a second trial he was convicted for robbery and given a life sentence. Despite the life sentence and having escaped from the prison for a time, Martin was paroled in 1920 and he eventually left the state for California.

While much of the story is revealed in newspaper reports of the time, the documents found on the glass negatives are perhaps the most interesting evidence of the events. The letters allow us to hear the voice of Joseph Henry Martin and give us the clearest window into his schemes and the workings of a criminal mind in the early 20th century.


Mysterious 1880 U.S. Census records solved

List of Persons

List of Persons Cover

List of Persons

List of Persons, Page 1

A researcher recently requested to look at an obscure record series described simply as “Census records, 1880” (Series 5269).  After retrieving the records, Archives staff became curious and set about trying to figure out what the records really were.  The records include five booklets that were clearly standard forms (form 7-392) printed for the 1880 Federal Census and have notes indicating that they had been filed with the Weber County Clerk.  They are titled “List of Persons” and each booklet lists the names, color, sex, and age of all the inhabitants of a given census enumeration district in Weber County, including Ogden 2nd and 3rd (municipal) Wards, Huntsville, Mound Fort, Lynne, Marriott, Riverdale, and Uintah.  Archives staff searched available published sources for some reference to these forms, but couldn’t find any information. So what was their purpose, why were they filed with the county clerk, and why did only five booklets survive?

Archives staff next contacted the National Archives to see what information they might have.  Initially National Archives staff members were both puzzled and excited.  They had never seen an example of this kind of record before, but soon they responded with an answer. Apparently, for earlier censuses enumerators were required to submit a full second copy of their population schedules in order to receive payment for their work.  By 1880 the process was simplified somewhat.  According to The History and Growth of the United States Census (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1900):

the enumerator was directed to forward the original schedules, duly certified, to the supervisor of his district, but before doing this, he was required, under the terms of section 6 of the act of April 20, 1880, to make and file in the office of the clerk of the county court or in the office of the court or board administering the affairs of the county to which his district belongs, a list of the names, with age, sex, and color, of all persons enumerated by him, which he shall certify to be true, and for which he shall be paid at the rate of 10 cents for each 100 names.

These lists apparently served as a type of invoice for services and made it possible for the census enumerators to get paid for their work. Because the records were probably not of much use to the county clerk once payment had been made, most of them would have been discarded. Somehow these five booklets from Weber County survived as rare evidence of how the census was conducted in 1880.

Related records:

United States. Department of the Interior


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