Maine Roots

A blog about all things Maine

Portland’s ‘Polar Express’

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Who doesn’t love The Polar Express?  Deep down, we’re all children who want to believe – in magic, in Santa Claus, in the impossible.  Published in 1985 and made into a feature film in 2004, The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg, offers a chance to suspend reality as you join the main character, a young boy, on his journey to the North Pole aboard the Polar Express.

Each year from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve, The Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Company & Museum brings the Polar Express experience to life by transforming their train ride around the eastern waterfront into an adventure to the North Pole.  The journey begins at the Ocean Gateway and ends at the “North Pole” (in this case, a location just past the East End Beach).  It even includes a stop for hot chocolate along the way!  Check out this article from the Portland Press Herald Maine Sunday Telegram for feedback from the riders themselves – children and adults alike seemed to embrace and enjoy the experience.

For those unfamiliar with the story (in which case you should certainly read it – it’s a favorite of mine), the boy, who feels the magic is gone from Christmas, hears a train whistle roar outside his window at night. To his astonishment, he finds the train is waiting for him. He runs downstairs and opens the door. The conductor asks him “Well? Are you coming?”  He asks, “Where?” and the conductor replies “Why, to the North Pole, of course!”

As the train reaches the North Pole, the boy and the other children who were also on the train, see the elves gathered at the center of town waiting to send Santa Claus on his way. The boy is handpicked by Santa to receive the first gift of Christmas. Realizing that he could choose anything in the world, the boy asks for one bell from one of the reindeer’s harnesses.

On the train ride home, the boy discovers that the bell has fallen through a hole in his pocket. The boy arrives home and goes to his bedroom as the train pulls away. On Christmas morning, his sister finds a small package for the boy under the tree, behind all of the other gifts. The boy opens the box and discovers that it is the bell, delivered by Santa who found it on the seat of his sleigh. When the boy rings the bell, both he and his sister marvel at the beautiful sound. His parents, however, are unable to hear the bell and remark that it must be broken. The book ends with a famous quote:

“At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who
truly believe.”
Ticket prices for the train ride range from $20 – $40 – a real bargain for the long trip to the North Pole.  For $40, you can enjoy first class seating, which includes hot chocolate served in a ceramic mug that is yours to keep as a souvenir.  The entire atmosphere is festive – including decor at the Ocean Gateway and in the train cars – as well as holiday music, a visit from Santa, and carol singing.

This event is the year’s major fundraiser for the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Company & Museum, a non-profit organization committed to the preservation of Maine’s two-foot gauge railway for the education and enjoyment of the public (per their website).  They are open from May 1st – October 31st and seasonally for the special events – like The Polar Express!  Please visit the event page for more information: or contact the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Co at 207-828-0814.  They are located at 58 Fore Street, Portland, ME 04101.

One thought on “Portland’s ‘Polar Express’

  1. Oh my! How wonderful and a beautiful synopsis of this lovely story.

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