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The Gertrude Warner Museum



Find Us Next To Former Railroad Station At Main Street & Union Square

Gertrude Warner Boxcar
Museum Dedicated

By Linda Lemmon, Putnam Town Crier Editor
July 2004

PUTNAM --- Showing the same tenacity as the Boxcar Children, Putnam July 3, dedicated the Gertrude Chandler Warner Boxcar Museum near Union Square.

The idea for using a boxcar to honor Putnam&##39;s famous first grade teacher and author of the Boxcar Children book series sprang up years ago. But hard work and donations from every corner, in addition to grants and more hard work, applied over the last year and one half, bore fruit when the museum officially opened..

Inside is the desk that had belonged to Edgar Warner, Gertrude&##39;s father. It was donated by Ruth Robinson Warner, a family member from Louisville, Ky. She rented a van to bring it personally. The ink stains and the secret quotes written on the desk stay. Gertrude wrote her first story, "Gollywog at the Zoo," at age 9, on that desk.

More family and student memorabilia also packs the boxcar. Also inside is a representation of the Boxcar Children, in silhouette. The train and its surroundings are true to the books that Warner wrote.

Fred Hedenberg, president of the Aspinock Historical Society, project manager and lightning rod for the years-long project, said the society is building up its manuscript display and has on the drawing boards a creative writing program built around Warner. He added there may be a contest and they would try to get the winning book published.

Eleven volunteers are already trained and the museum will be open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekends May through mid-October. The September and October open dates will allow for school trips and Hedenberg said several schools have already lined up to bring students to the museum.

The project started with a $25,000 grant from the town of Putnam and the Connecticut Humanities Council kicked in $4,500. Citizens National Bank donated $2,500 and $5,000 came from the state. But the donations wowed even the committee. The Connecticut Trolley Museum donated the boxcar and the crane to load it onto two flatbed trucks to bring it to Putnam. Donations or for-cost breaks were given by LaBossiere Builders, Chace Building Supplies, River View Landscaping, Deary Unfinished Furniture, Front Street Rental, Crabtree Electric & Construction, Michael and Robert Swenson (who painted it), Hull Forest Products, John Knierim, Jeff Kreyssig, the Putnam Rotary Club, Central Construction Industries, Sign Designs by Chace, the Providence and Worcester Railroad, and many more.

State Representative Shawn Johnston, D-District 51, at the dedication ceremonies said a little government money, lots of donations and the Gertrude Warner Museum makes Putnam more vibrant. "It fits with us," he said. State Senator Donald E. Williams Jr. said the project is an important historical preservation and honors Putnam.

Ruth Flagg, a former first grade student of Miss Warner&##39;s, recalled that she was one of more than 1,000 students blessed by having Gertrude Warner as a teacher. Flagg said Warner loved adventure and she could just imagine Warner leaning on the window sill at her home near the railroad tracks, watching the trains go by as a child. No wonder she picked a boxcar as a setting for her children&##39;s stories years later. "She believed that imagination is beginning of everything and allows us to expand ourselves," Flagg said.

Speaking to her former teacher, Flagg said "Your dream became our dream. We will pass it on to another generation."

Color photographs provided by Linda Lemmon.

Born In Putnam

Gertrude Chandler Warner was born in Putnam, Connecticut, on April 16, 1890, to Edgar and Jane Warner. Her family included a sister, Frances, and a brother, John. From the age of five, she dreamed of becoming an author. She wrote stories for her Grandfather Carpenter, and each Christmas she gave him one of these stories as a gift. Today, Ms. Warner is best remembered as the author of The Boxcar Children Mysteries.

As a child, Gertrude enjoyed many of the things that girls enjoy today. She loved furnishing a dollhouse with handmade furniture and she liked to read. Her favorite book was Alice in Wonderland. Often on Sundays after church, Gertrude enjoyed trips to visit her grandparents&##39; farm. Along the way, she and Frances would stop to pick the wildflowers they both loved. Gertrude&##39;s favorite flower was the violet.

Her family was a very musical one. They were able to have a family orchestra, and Gertrude enjoyed playing the cello. Her father had brought her one from New York¡ªa cello, a bow, a case and an instruction book. All together, he paid $14.00. Later, as an adult, she began playing the pipe organ and sometimes substituted for the church organist.

Due to ill health, Ms. Warner never finished high school. She left in the middle of her second year and studied with a tutor. Then, in 1918, when teachers were called to serve in World War I, the school board asked her to teach first grade. She had forty children in the morning and forty more in the afternoon. Ms. Warner wrote, "I was asked or begged to take this job because I taught Sunday School. But believe me, day school is nothing like Sunday School, and I sure learned by doing¡ªI taught in that same room for 32 years, retiring at 60 to have more time to write." Eventually, Ms. Warner attended Yale, where she took several teacher training courses.

Once when she was sick and had to stay home from teaching, she thought up the story about the Boxcar Children. It was inspired by her childhood dreams. As a child, she had spent hours watching the trains go by near her family&##39;s home. Sometimes she could look through the window of a caboose and see a small stove, a little table, cracked cups with no saucers, and a tin coffee pot boiling away on the stove. The sight had fascinated her and made her dream about how much fun it would be to live and keep house in a boxcar or caboose. She read the story to her classes and rewrote it many times so the words were easy to understand. Some of her pupils spoke other languages at home and were just learning English. The Boxcar Children gave them a fun story that was easy to read.

Ms. Warner once wrote for her fans, "Perhaps you know that the original Boxcar Children¡­ raised a storm of protest from librarians who thought the children were having too good a time without any parental control! That is exactly why children like it! Most of my own childhood exploits, such as living in a freight car, received very little cooperation from my parents."

Though the story of The Boxcar Children went through some changes after it was first written, the version that we are familiar with today was originally published in 1942 by Scott Foresman. Today, Albert Whitman & Company publishes this first classic story as well as the next eighteen Alden children adventures that were written by Ms. Warner.

Gertrude Chandler Warner died in 1979 at the age of 89 after a full life as a teacher, author, and volunteer for the American Red Cross and other charitable organizations. After her death, Albert Whitman & Company continued to receive mail from children across the country asking for more adventures about Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny Alden. In 1991, Albert Whitman added to The Boxcar Children Mysteries so that today&##39;s children can enjoy many more adventures about this independent and caring group of children.

Reprinted from the website of the Albert Whitman & Company, publisher of the Gertrude Warner Boxcar Children Mysteries.

Links To Gertrude Warner Related Sites

Kids Read All Aboard for the Boxcar Mysteries!
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