All board as Polar Express visits Lansdale
An express train heading north visited vis Lansdale Dec. 14, but it skipped the borough’s train station and headed much farther north than Doylestown.
Several dozen young y passengers instead spent their night at the Lansdale Public Library for a reading and film showing of the holiday classic “The Polar Express.”
“It’s an excellent children’s book, it’s gotten to be a big Christmas tradition here at the library. We sell tickets for big dollars, $1 per ticket, and everyone must have a ticket. You don’t get in without one,” said Bill Henning.
Wearing a blue jacket with gold buttons and a matching blue and gold rail conductor hat, Henning spent the night playing the conductor from the children’s novel, making sure every rider on the express paid for their ticket as they entered the library’s Lynn Janoff Community Room.
In the 1985 novel by Chris Van Allsburg, a young boy hears a train whistle outside his house and boards a train headed for the North Pole. On the way, he sees elves waiting for Santa and asks for a silver bell from one of the reindeer as his first gift. When he returns home, the bell is lost, but a red box beneath his Christmas tree contains one that rings, along with a note signed by “Mr. C.”
About 40 kids and almost as many parents listened intently as the conductor read the story and showed its illustrations, and after a snack break, most stuck around for a showing of the 2004 animated film version.
“It’s amazing. When you get a room full of kids like this, and we’re reading the story, how well-behaved they are. They just sit there in awe watching the story, they really enjoy it,” he said.
The silver bell in the story is meant to symbolize the boy’s belief in the holiday, and each young passenger on the express received their own silver bell for attending the reading, as well as a souvenir ticket punched by Henning with shapes mentioned in the film. All proceeds from tickets were donated to the library, and Henning said he had printed over 100 ride tickets, which sold out for the third straight year.
“I’m a railroad person, a train person, as most people know, so trains and Christmas just go hand in hand,” he said.
“This conductor hat, I actually found on the railroad tracks here in Lansdale when I was about 10 years old. I was walking along the tracks, found it, took it to my mom and sold it to her for $5, and here I am, 35 years later, I bought it back from her,” Henning said.
As children received their bells and enjoyed hot chocolate and cookies — also mentioned in the novel — they shared their thoughts on the deeper meanings behind the story. When asked why the boy wanted the silver bell, one shouted, “to impress his girlfriend.” Several children commented on the similarities between the train horn from the express and those they hear in downtown Lansdale frequently.
Perhaps the biggest draw of the night was a Lionel O-gauge model train set, based on the novel, that was raffled off after the reading. A young express rider picked the winning ticket of Susan Veasey, who won a train set donated by Henning’s Trains.
“All of the raffle tickets are $1 per chance and every dollar goes back to the library. The set’s worth almost $400, so it’s a good prize. You can’t beat that for $1,” Henning said.
A total of 270 raffle tickets and roughly 100 reading tickets were sold for the event, leading to a total of roughly $370 raised for the library, he said.
“One mother said she was so happy to finally be able to get tickets to bring her children this year. The last two years sold out before she was able to get them,” said Henning.
FROM TOP: Bill Henning portrays the train conductor as he reads “The Polar Express” to children and their families gathered at the Lansdale Public Library Dec. 14. Children raise their hands to try and answer a question during the event at the library. Henning takes tickets from young visitors to the library during the event. Young members of the audience think they have the answer to a question during the reading of the story.