Freedom Train inside the York Fairgrounds

FTa

Northward Aerial View of the Freedom Trail within the York Fairgrounds, York, PA, on October 10, 1948 (Photo from Collections of York County History Center, Annotated by S. H. Smith, 2015)

Inside the York Fairgrounds, Yorkers saw original documents and flags such as: Thomas Jefferson’s rough draft of the Declaration of Independence, George Washington’s own copy of the Constitution, Abraham Lincoln’s draft of the Emancipation Proclamation, the documents signed by the Japanese upon their surrender during WWII and the flag raised above Mount Suribachi by U. S. Marines in the battle of Iwo Jima. These were some of 127 “documents of liberty” plus 6 historical flags displayed within the Freedom Train that was parked inside the Market Street gate of the York Fairgrounds during 1948.

In my post American Freedom Train was in York County for whole Bicentennial Weekend, I wrote about visiting the 1975-1976 American Freedom Train on July 5, 1976 during its stop at the New Cumberland Army Depot, in northern York County. That Freedom Train was somewhat similar to the earlier 1947-1949 Freedom Train which also made a stop in York County. The 1948 stop was within the York Fairgrounds, as pictured in the northward aerial view of October 10, 1948. Note that Memorial Hall, inside Gate 3 off West Market Street, was not yet built at that time. Memorial Hall was built in time for the 1955 York Fair.

The 1947-1949 Freedom Train focused on bringing the DOCUMENTS of American liberty directly to the people from the National Archives and the Library of Congress. As opposed to the 1975-1976 American Freedom Train which exhibited ARTIFACTS representative of the 200-year history of the United States of America.

Whereas the 1975-1976 American Freedom Train was pulled by one of three enormous steam locomotives; the 1947-1949 Freedom Train was pulled by a single modern locomotive throughout its run, as it visited cities throughout all 48 contiguous states. The Streamliner 2000-Horsepower Diesel Electric Locomotive was numbered 1776 and named “Spirit of 1776.” This photo, from the Collections of the York County History Center, shows the locomotive sitting within the York Fairgrounds.

“Spirit of 1776” Streamliner Locomotive within the York Fairgrounds, York, PA, on October 10, 1948 (Photo from Collections of York County History Center)

“Spirit of 1776” Streamliner Locomotive within the York Fairgrounds, York, PA, on October 10, 1948 (Photo from Collections of York County History Center)

The locomotive was built by ALCO-GE in August, 1947, as Build Number 74696. It was painted white, with an upper blue stripe and a lower red stripe and immediately placed in service on the Freedom Train. The locomotive likely still holds the distinction as the only locomotive to operate in all 48 contiguous states. The locomotive was returned to ALCO at the end of the Freedom Train run, whereupon it was sold to the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio Railroad, painted with their colors and numbered 292. However before ALCO shipped the locomotive to GM&O, Freedom Train commemorative plaques were affixed, noting:

This locomotive hauled the Freedom Train on its 37,000-mile nationwide tour from September 17, 1947 to January 22, 1949 before going into service on the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad. The first locomotive to operate in all forty eight states, it was loaned for its historic tour by its manufacturers, the American Locomotive Company and the General Electric Company.

After many years of service on the GM&O, the locomotive was retired and eventually scrapped. The plaques still remain, housed in the Casey Jones Home & Railroad Museum in Jackson, Tennessee; a former GM&O shop town.

Beside the locomotive, the Freedom Train contained an equipment car, three exhibit cars and three Pullman Cars for the staff and a detachment of marines that provided security for the historic documents. In special cases, affixed to the cars, and under bullet-proof glass, the 127 “documents of liberty” and 6 historical flags were normally open to visitors for 12-hours a day at each of the 322 stops across the nation. This photo shows the queue of Yorkers waiting to visit the exhibition cars of the Freedom Train. The wait time averaged two and one-half hours.

Queue of Yorkers waiting to enter the Freedom Train within the York Fairgrounds, York, PA, on October 10, 1948 (Photo from Collections of York County History Center)

Queue of Yorkers waiting to enter the Freedom Train within the York Fairgrounds, York, PA, on October 10, 1948 (Photo from Collections of York County History Center)

Beside the Freedom Train, York’s Car contained a display by the Historical Society of York County. This photo shows the queue of Yorkers waiting to visit York’s Car of Documents and Artifacts, while standing next to Market Street side of the Freedom Train.

Queue of Yorkers waiting to visit York’s Car of Documents and Artifacts, while standing next to Freedom Train within the York Fairgrounds, York, PA, on October 10, 1948 (Photo from Collections of York County History Center)

Queue of Yorkers waiting to visit York’s Car of Documents and Artifacts, while standing next to Freedom Train within the York Fairgrounds, York, PA, on October 10, 1948 (Photo from Collections of York County History Center)

The October 11, 1948, issue of The Gazette and Daily, reported on the Freedom Train visit. They closed their article with the following paragraphs:

At 10 a.m. gates of the fairgrounds were thrown open and Yorkers began to pour in. All day they waited in a long line. They waited quietly. Even the children—of which there were a great many—seemed to sense the dignity of the occasion.

Bands played on the platform. There were 13 bands and 1,000 musicians. Beside the Freedom Train was a car housing an exhibit sponsored by York County Historical Society. Nearby on a truck was the York Liberty Bell—brought from its customary site at St. John’s Episcopal Church on North Beaver Street.

John F. Kell, of Philadelphia—a direct descendant of Martin Brenise, York’s bell-ringer of Revolutionary days—rang a few notes from the bell to signal opening of the train to the public.

Visitors entering York’s Car of Documents and Artifacts within the York Fairgrounds, York, PA, on October 10, 1948 (Photo from Collections of York County History Center)

Visitors entering York’s Car of Documents and Artifacts within the York Fairgrounds, York, PA, on October 10, 1948 (Photo from Collections of York County History Center)

Related posts include:

Reading the HEADLINES; A Quick Index to ALL YorksPast Posts

About Stephen H. Smith

Stephen H. Smith is a design engineer who worked at York International Corp. for 33 years before retiring several years ago to research and write books full time; his second career. The initial emphasis was on family history when he won a national award during 2002 for his first book “Barshingers in America." Positive feedback and that award were influential in his decision to retire early from engineering and start a retirement career.
This entry was posted in all posts, Buildings, Pennsylvania, Railroads, Roads, York County and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.