Back to the days of the Liberty Train in Montclair (History and Heritage)
By MARISA SHAARI
For the Montclair local
On Thursday, October 21, 1948, the Freedom Train passed through Montclair as it toured the country to promote the history of American democracy in the postwar period.
The slogan of the seven-car train, sponsored by the American Heritage Foundation, was “Freedom is everyone’s job.” The train contained a mobile exhibit of important documents of American history and offered Americans the opportunity to view these historical treasures.
The photograph of the train in the Montclair Public Library’s Local History Collection is in black and white, but the train was painted white with red and blue stripes, and on each car there was an eagle painted in gold.
The Freedom Train stopped at Montclair Heights station on Normal Avenue in Upper Montclair and was on display from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. that day. The then Mayor of Montclair, Howard N. Deyo, officially designated the week as Re-inauguration Week and proclaimed “… a week of re-commitment to American ideals and principles for Montclair … and I hereby wish to the Freedom Train warmest welcome from Montclair. “
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Documents on display included the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation, a letter written by Christopher Columbus, the Mayflower Pact, and documents related to the German and Japanese surrenders of World War II.
A total of 133 Americana articles were posted, 127 documents and six flags. Most were on loan from the National Archives, but others were from the Library of Congress, other museums and private collections.
According to an article published at the time, “extraordinary measures have been taken to protect the nation’s most valuable papers.” The train is described as being of all-metal construction, with the most modern fire prevention systems.
Historical records themselves had to be protected from physical damage from fire, theft, water, and even sudden changes in temperature, which can have a disastrous effect on paper artifacts. Customized display cases were used to display documents, and temperature and humidity were strictly regulated.
The first three cars on the train housed the exhibit, and the other four provided space for staff on tour with the train. There were 37 people on board, including 24 enlisted men and three Marine Corps officers who protected the train and its contents at all times.
With the help of major railroads across the country, the Freedom Train traveled to over 300 cities in the 48 contiguous states, covering 23,000 miles from September 1947 to January 1949.
During his tour, more than 3.5 million Americans saw the documents on board the train. The Freedom Train exhibit has been integrated, allowing black and white viewers to mingle freely inside to view the materials on display.
As the train traveled south, segregation caused significant controversy. City officials in Birmingham, Alabama and Memphis, Tennessee refused to allow integration into the train. As a result, the Freedom Train skipped scheduled tours to these two cities.
A second Freedom Train exhibit toured the country in 1975-76 to celebrate the bicentennial of the United States. This train has been visited by over 7 million Americans but bypassed Montclair on its tour, stopping in Morristown, Newark, New Brunswick, Trenton, Asbury Park and Atlantic City.
To see more historical photographs of Montclair, visit The history of Montclair online To digifind-it.com/montclair/home.php. In partnership with the Center d’histoire de Montclair, the library offers the public more than 13,000 digitized photographs, maps, city directories, deed books and more.
To use other archival resources available for research, contact the library to make an appointment to use the local history room, [email protected], or call 973-744-0500, ext. 2235.
Marisa Shaari is the Local History Librarian at the Montclair Public Library.
“History & Heritage” is a series on the history of Montclair written by representatives of the Montclair History Center and the Montclair Public Library.