December 2008 Issue
Dennison Railroad Depot Museum
Vivian Pospisil and Ilona Westfall
It’s a once-a-year opportunity to climb aboard an actual passenger train at the Dennison Depot in east-central Ohio and travel down the tracks to the North Pole (a.k.a. Newcomerstown).
While the Dennison Railroad Depot Museum offers interactive fun year-round — the children’s wing encourages youngsters to send a telegraph message, pack a hobo satchel and explore an engine house, ticket office and watchman’s shanty — The Polar Express rolls out of the station in early December with a trainload of excited, pajama-clad passengers.
As the train begins its one-and-a-half-hour journey, a storyteller pulls out a copy of the book and begins to recite the mesmerizing tale. (Many of the children bring their own copies of the book and read along.) Elves serve hot chocolate and cookies and lead the young passengers in playing Christmas games and singing carols.
A half hour later, the locomotive pulls into the North Pole, and as the youngsters peer out the windows, a wintertime tableau of brightly lit shops, including Santa’s bakery and workshop, appears.
Soon Santa and Mrs. Claus board the train and the man himself talks to each child and gives him or her a jingle bell — a gift whose significance is found in the pages of The Polar Express.
“Santa will also autograph the kids’ books,” says the Dennison museum’s Carrie Callahan. “Kids love things like that.”
Callahan says the youngsters are also impressed that Santa knows their names (even though they’re wearing name tags prepared by their parents).
After greeting all the children, Mr. and Mrs. Claus leave the train, but the excitement continues on the trip back to Dennison, accompanied by the sound of small hands shaking Christmas bells.