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Climb aboard the National Railroad Museum’s “Polar Express”

Jade Herrscher, Entertainment Writer
December 4, 2012
Filed under Entertainment

Each year, children send letters to Santa, set out cookies and await the pitter patter of hooves on their rooftops. The magic and wonder of the holidays sparkles in the eyes of children, and the marvel of Christmas is awaited year round.

Visitors could relive the childlike excitement of the holidays at the National Railroad Museum  on Nov. 23 to Dec. 2 with The Polar Express.

The event was based on the book “The Polar Express,” by Chris Van Allsburg, which follows a boy who has doubts about Christmas. He boards a magical train, the Polar Express, and arrives at the North Pole where he meets Santa Claus and receives a special gift.

In 2004, Warner Brothers released a movie based on the book. The next year, Rail Events Inc., located throughout the U.S., brought the story to life with train rides traveling to their own rendition of the North Pole .

In 2006 the National Railroad Museum climbed aboard, bringing the Christmas spirit to Green Bay. The event has been a growing success, selling out every year, each year a little earlier than the last.

With the contract between the museum and Rail Events Inc., there are certain rules the museum must follow to go above and beyond what is expected, according to Jacqueline Frank, executive director of the Railroad Museum.

“The elements at their museum are little different. They have a building that passengers go inside, whereas most of the other locations consist mainly of a train ride,” Frank said. “Our museum features hot chocolate dancers, as seen in the movie serving hot chocolate to passengers.”

According to Bob Lettenburger, director of education of the Railroad Museum, the event is a volunteer opportunity, with as many as 125 volunteers each year, some from UW-Green Bay.

Green Bay native and volunteer Gary Kerner, plays the conductor of the Polar Express. Kerner assists passengers on their trip to the North Pole, helps serve hot chocolate, sings carols and punches tickets.

Kerner’s favorite part of the event is talking with children and sharing the Christmas spirit with them.

“I just enjoy being able to do things I might not normally be able to do,” Kerner said. “It’s like a big family. We all get together and have a good time.”

Frank loves the atmosphere as well.

“The thing I like best about The Polar Express is it’s the type of event to really bring families together. Everyone has pajamas on and has a good time. Family interaction is really heartwarming this time of year.”

Along with The Polar Express, the Railroad Museum hosts Festival Trees where nearly 40 businesses decorate local trees, Day Out with Thomas the Train in June, a World War II event in July, and Rails and Ales, a wine and beer tasting event in September. All events are annual and profits go to educational funding and preservation of the trains and artifacts.

“Children come in with certain expectations of The Polar Express from reading the book or seeing the movie,” Lettenburger said. “When you combine those elements with a full-size train, the lights and the music, you get some interesting reactions from the children. When we see smiles and everyone having a good time that is when we know we have done our job.”