The Freedom Train


During its 15-month tour, the Freedom Train visited Huntington on Sept. 26, 1948.


HUNTINGTON — On Sept. 26, 1948, more than 10,000 Huntington area
residents stood in line to view the treasured American documents
 aboard the Freedom Train, then touring the nation.

The train had started its journey in Philadelphia on Sept. 17, 1947. Huntington
 was the 288th city visited by the gleaming red, white and blue diesel streamliner.
 Aboard the train were important artifacts of American history: the newly iconic
flag from Joe Rosenthal’s Iwo Jima photograph; the Emancipation Proclamation
and Gettysburg Address; a letter from Christopher Columbus;
George Washington’s original copy of the Constitution;
 and the Declaration of Independence itself. The train
even carried an original of the Magna Carta of 1215.

The idea to send a history-filled train around the country came from
 William Coblenz, an assistant director at the Department of Justice
in Washington, D.C. Coblenz regularly took a lunch-time walk
 that often took him to the nearby National Archives, where he
 enjoyed perusing the historic documents there. Many
 Americans, he figured, would never get the chance
 to visit such treasures. Why not bring
 the treasures to them?

Coblenz shared his idea with his boss, Attorney General Tom Clark,
 who in turn took it to President Truman, who endorsed it and set in
motion a private fund-raising drive to make the train a reality.

In Huntington the train was positioned on a roped-off Chesapeake and
Ohio Railway siding in the 1200 block of 8th Avenue. The train was
welcomed by the usual public officials and the Huntington High
School band. Boy Scouts helped manage the waiting crowd,
which stretched for blocks, all day and into the night.

Footnote: A second train, the steam-powered American Freedom Train,
 toured the country in 1975-76 to commemorate the nation’s Bicentennial.
 When it visited Huntington for two days (Sept. 25-26, 1976), it attracted
 a crowd of more than 31,000 visitors — easily dwarfing the crowd
of 10,000 or so who visited the original 1948 train during
its one-day Huntington stop.


Note:  This Article and picture appeared in the Herald-Dispatch Newspaper on Feb. 11, 2020.


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