Let Freedom Ring: The American Freedom Train

*Post written by Mikayla Hanks, student assistant of the University Archives and Special Collections.

American Freedom Train, steaming around a bend after crossing a bridge. A man watches from the side. "The triumph of the steam-powered American Freedom Train was, indeed, the only nationwide celebration of the Bicentennial. It was pulled by steam locomotives in the age of the diesel, and would improve on the three display cars of its predecessor, the 1947 Freedom Train. The American Freedom Train would feature twelve display cars, ten that visitors would go aboard and pass through and two to hold large objects that would be viewed from the ground through huge "showcase" windows. The display cars were filled with over 500 precious treasures of Americana. Included in these diverse artifacts were George Washington's copy of the Constitution, the original Louisiana Purchase, Judy Garland's dress from The Wizard of OZ, Joe Frazier's boxing trunks, Martin Luther King's pulpit and robes, and even a rock from the moon. The American Freedom Train (AFT) was a 26-car train led by one of three enormous steam engines restored just for the occasion. Over a 21 month period from April 1, 1975 to December 31, 1976 more than 7 million Americans visited the train during its tour of all 48 contiguous states. Tens of millions more stood trackside to see it go by." (http://www.freedomtrain.org/american-freedom-train-home.htm) The Freedom Train's only visit to Evansville was June 15-17, when it was parked behind the Civic Center/Vanderburgh Auditorium at 715 Locust St., 1976. Source: Gregory Smith Collection (MSS 034-0594)

American Freedom Train, steaming around a bend after crossing a bridge in Evansville, Indiana in June 1976. Source: Gregory Smith Collection, MSS 034-0594.

In 1975, an air-conditioned, twenty-six car train made its way on a journey of a lifetime. More than 7 million Americans visited the train during its tour throughout 48 states and 138 cities. Tens of Millions would stand trackside just to catch a glimpse of the extravagant American Freedom Train. The locomotive had twelve display cars filled with over 500 artifacts from around the world. You may ask who would be the one to come up with such an idea. Ross Rowland Jr did, Rowland who was a New York commodities broker and a team of corporate sponsors brought the American’s Bicentennial Celebration to the people. By the time the corporate sponsors signed on to help Rowland with the restoration there was barely enough time to build the train, but they finally pulled it together just in time. The train cars were restored in 30 days, which was led by Doyle McCarmack, at a site called Cameron Station, Virginia and were essentially converted into environmentally controlled, fireproof, rolling museums.

Looking down the side of the American Freedom Train, showing one of the display cars, which has the dates 1776 1976 on it. "The triumph of the steam-powered American Freedom Train was, indeed, the only nationwide celebration of the Bicentennial. It was pulled by steam locomotives in the age of the diesel, and would improve on the three display cars of its predecessor, the 1947 Freedom Train. The American Freedom Train would feature twelve display cars, ten that visitors would go aboard and pass through and two to hold large objects that would be viewed from the ground through huge "showcase" windows. The display cars were filled with over 500 precious treasures of Americana. Included in these diverse artifacts were George Washington's copy of the Constitution, the original Louisiana Purchase, Judy Garland's dress from The Wizard of OZ, Joe Frazier's boxing trunks, Martin Luther King's pulpit and robes, and even a rock from the moon. The American Freedom Train (AFT) was a 26-car train led by one of three enormous steam engines restored just for the occasion. Over a 21 month period from April 1, 1975 to December 31, 1976 more than 7 million Americans visited the train during its tour of all 48 contiguous states. Tens of millions more stood trackside to see it go by." (http://www.freedomtrain.org/american-freedom-train-home.htm) The Freedom Train's only visit to Evansville was June 15-17, when it was parked behind the Civic Center/Vanderburgh Auditorium at 715 Locust St., 1976. Source: Gregory Smith Collection, MSS 034-0598.

Looking down the side of the American Freedom Train, showing one of the display cars, which has the dates 1776-1976 in Evansville, Indiana, 1976. Source: Gregory Smith Collection, MSS 034-0598.

The military reservation in Virginia was the ideal place for the restoration to take place; it was safe, secure, and close to the artifacts and institutions that the artifacts were coming from. The steam engine locomotive opened to a sellout crowd of 40,000 people at Delaware Park. The journey started at 8 AM, Tuesday April 1, 1975 in Wilmington, Delaware. The American Freedom Train would travel the country until December 31, 1976. The museum on wheels was made of 12 display cars. Visitors would go through by a moving sidewalk that would make the process go faster because no individuals could stop or go backwards. An estimated 1,800 visitors could tour the train each hour. Two cars held large objects that were viewed from the ground through showcase windows. Some of the artifacts that the American Freedom Train held were George Washington’s copy of the constitution, the original Louisiana Purchase, Judy Garland’s dress from the Wizard of Oz, Joe Frazier’s boxing trunks. Martin Luther King’s pulpit and robes, a rock from the moon, Civil War artifacts, astronaut Alan Shepard’s Apollo space suit, and Benjamin Franklin’s handwritten draft of the Articles of Confederation.

Looking down on the American Freedom Train, steaming down the tracks. "The triumph of the steam-powered American Freedom Train was, indeed, the only nationwide celebration of the Bicentennial. It was pulled by steam locomotives in the age of the diesel, and would improve on the three display cars of its predecessor, the 1947 Freedom Train. The American Freedom Train would feature twelve display cars, ten that visitors would go aboard and pass through and two to hold large objects that would be viewed from the ground through huge "showcase" windows. The display cars were filled with over 500 precious treasures of Americana. Included in these diverse artifacts were George Washington's copy of the Constitution, the original Louisiana Purchase, Judy Garland's dress from The Wizard of OZ, Joe Frazier's boxing trunks, Martin Luther King's pulpit and robes, and even a rock from the moon. The American Freedom Train (AFT) was a 26-car train led by one of three enormous steam engines restored just for the occasion. Over a 21 month period from April 1, 1975 to December 31, 1976 more than 7 million Americans visited the train during its tour of all 48 contiguous states. Tens of millions more stood trackside to see it go by." (http://www.freedomtrain.org/american-freedom-train-home.htm) The Freedom Train's only visit to Evansville was June 15-17, when it was parked behind the Civic Center/Vanderburgh Auditorium at 715 Locust St. in Evansville, Indiana, 1976. Source: Gregory Smith Collection, MSS 034-0604.

Looking down on the American Freedom Train, steaming down the tracks, 1976. Source: Gregory Smith Collection, MSS 034-0604.

By the end of the two-year journey, the American Freedom Train had traveled 25,833 miles across the United States. On June 15, 1976, the American Freedom Train rolled into our very own Evansville, Indiana. Evansville was the 89th display city on the 25,833-mile journey of the American Freedom Train. The train stayed in Evansville, from June 15th through the 17th.  In Miami, Florida on December 31, 1976 Rowland announces the American Freedom Train officially closed.

References

The 1947 – 1949 Freedom Train | The 1974 Preamble Express | The 1975 – 1976 American Freedom Train. (n.d.). Retrieved October 04, 2017, from http://freedomtrain.org/

American Freedom Train. (n.d.). Retrieved October 04, 2017, from http://www.westernspringshistory.org/

This entry was posted in American history, American Revolution, Americana, Evansville, Indiana. Bookmark the permalink.

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