After taking big steps up into the train, they found their seats and pressed their noses to the window.
The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, which runs through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, offers free tickets each year for Akron Children’s patients. This is a much appreciated offer for an event that always sells out quickly.
The CVSR Polar Express closely follows the 1986 Caldecott-winning book by Chris Van Allsburg and the 2004 Warner Brothers movie – complete with hot cocoa “as thick and as rich as melted chocolate bars,” a stop at the North Pole and, of course, an encounter with Santa Claus himself.
Fans of the book cherish the details: the conductor with a gold chain pocket watch, pajama-clad children and, of course, the gift of a silver bell that will always yield a sweet ringing sound for those who still believe.
Car 4 was led by Elf Larry, Elf Mike and Sprinkles, a bubbly confection in a tulle skirt and apron with pockets stuffed with all the tools of the trade – a wood train whistle, bells, and a smartphone equipped with an app that sorts out those on the “naughty” or nice list” with a simple fingerprint scan.
The elves read and enacted the Polar Express story, sang songs, recruited volunteers for reindeer games, and pointed out passing landmarks.
“Now, we are in the suburbs of the North Pole, kids,” said Elf Larry. “We will soon be seeing stores and restaurants because North Pole elves get hungry too. Over there … that’s the post office. It used to get a lot of mail but now you all are emailing and texting Santa.”
In short order, he boarded the train and made his way down the aisle, taking time to sit and talk to each child individually.
“This train is magical because it can stop and go,” said Joslyn Livers, 3, who was on the train with her mom, grandmother and aunt.
The foursome clearly enjoyed every minute of the trip.
“Joslyn is our miracle baby,” said grandmother Stephanie Livers. “She has had brain tumor surgery twice.”
For Lisa Fitzgerald-Green, the outing was bittersweet.
She was able to enjoy the trip with sons Sylas, 12, and Aiden, 3, but her 5-year-old, Landen, was unable to leave the hospital. He was diagnosed in March with cancer and is fighting an infection.
“Thank you so much for doing this,” she said. “This is wonderful.”