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All aboard the Polar Express

Seeing is believing.

That’s true for everyone that is attending the Monticello Train Museum for the Polar Express event.

The museum does this every year as a fundraiser to keep the museum running. They make about 80-90 percent of their funds from the Polar Express. They sell tickets the first Saturday of June. This year they had 8,000 tickets and they all sold out in 15 minutes.

This year, they decided to add a 9 p.m. ride for some trains and were able to sell an additional 2,000 tickets a couple of weeks ago. Again, those tickets were sold in just a few minutes.

“It has expanded over the past couple of years because the demand is so great,” said Dan Wormhoudt, a volunteer and conductor for the Polar Express for about eight years. “This event gets sold out very quickly. Some people get upset, but a lot of the same people come back every year as a tradition.”

The museum has to pay a royalty to Warner Brothers because they own the rights to the movie.

“Tom Hanks hasn’t shown up yet,” Wormhoudt said jokingly. “But we have had a couple people from Warner Brothers come to make sure everything is running properly.”

Just like the movie, all of the guests wear their pajamas and the conductors punch a hole in each of their tickets.

“I love seeing the joy and smiles on everyone’s faces. It’s very satisfying,” said Sylvester Keller, co-chairman of the Polar Express since it started nine years ago.

“I must still be a child because Christmas is still my favorite time of year,” added Dennis Sloan, a volunteer at the museum since 1986. “It’s fun to experience the Christmas experience with the kids.”

After the conductors punch the tickets, they serve hot chocolate and cookies to all of the guests. While this is going on, the train is slowly moving to its destination -- the North Pole. The guest will see other characters from the movie appear and disappear from car to car.

Once they arrive at the North Pole, which is only one to two miles away from the museum, Santa comes on board and gives everyone the gift of magic. Once the train leaves, everyone sings Christmas songs and then they arrive back at the station.

Last year, Wormhoudt had a once-in-a-lifetime experience with a little boy attending the Polar Express. He had his conductor’s uniform and hat on. He was also holding a lantern and this little boy asked if he was Tom Hanks.

Wormhoudt chuckled and asked the boy if he wanted him to be. The boy smiled and said ‘yes,’ so naturally, Wormhoudt said “Okay. I’m Tom Hanks and welcome to the Polar Express.”

“When the boy got off, I got down on his level and I looked at him and said – “The one thing about trains, it doesn’t matter where they are going. What matters is deciding to get on,” Wormhoudt said.

He had memorized that line from the film. The little boy’s face lit up and he was so immersed in the whole event the museum had put together.

“It’s a magic train. It doesn’t matter what your age is,” Wormhoudt said. “Really, it’s all about the kids and making a memorable Christmas experience they won’t ever forget.”

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