Soldier home on leave surprises family while they ride Polar Express

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 19 December 2021 at 9:55 pm

Medina RR Museum welcomed 20,000 riders past three weekends

Photos by Ginny Kropf: Nineteen-year-old Robert Kennedy of Rochester surprises his grandfather James Kennedy during a ride on the Polar Express Saturday. Robert was in basic training at Fort Benning, Ga. and told his family he wouldn’t be able to make it home.

MEDINA – The 2021 run of Polar Express at Medina Railroad Museum is one for the record books.

Nearly 20,000 people rode the train during the past three weekends, taking passengers to the “North Pole” and back. Along the way they enjoyed hot chocolate, a train Christmas cookie, Christmas carols and a visit by Santa, who gave every child a bell.

During this year’s event, one family held a surprise birthday party on the train and one man proposed to his girlfriend, but it was on the last train Saturday the biggest surprise took place.

The Kennedy family from Rochester has traveled to Medina to ride the train every year. This year, however, was going to be different. Nineteen-year-old Robert Kennedy had joined the Army in September and was in basic training at Fort Benning, Ga.

Robert Kennedy, center, poses with his parents Jaime Kennedy and Matt Peer after surprising the family on a ride on the Polar Express at Medina Railroad Museum Saturday.

He decided to surprise his family, telling them he wouldn’t be able to make it home and they would have to ride the train without him. But, in fact, he did finish basic training, and he shared that news with his parents. His father drove to Georgia and brought him home, not telling the rest of the family.

Robert rode the next-to-the-last train of the day, then hid in the storage room on his family’s coach. After they boarded and the train was headed to the North Pole, Robert got in line behind the staff serving hot chocolate. As they served his family, Robert popped up and revealed himself.

Robert Kennedy’s brother and sister were among nearly a dozen family members he surprised during a ride on the Polar Express Saturday.

There were a lot of gasps and cheers as one-by-one, the family realized it was really Robert.

First to get a hug was his grandfather James Kennedy, himself a veteran, who was Robert’s inspiration to join the military. Then there were hugs from grandma Rosann, his parents, brother and sister, aunts uncles and cousins.

Robert said he always wanted to be like his grandpa and serve his country. He plans to make a career of it.

The Polar Express is an attraction owned by Rail Events. They hold 45 Polar events annually throughout the United States, 10 in the Ukraine and a new one this year in Australia, according to Edward Rozycki, licensing manager, who visited Medina Railroad Museum on Saturday.

Some railroads have been doing Polar Express events since the book came out in 1985, Rozycki said. The movie came out in 2004, and Rail Events received a license from Warner Brothers to run events in 2007.

Most events were canceled in 2020 due to Covid, but in 2019, nearly 1.4 million people rode the Polar Express, Rozycki said.

The Medina Railroad Museum will be closed until March 1 as it makes upgrades and repairs to the building and coaches.

The Museum has already scheduled a return of Day Out with Thomas for June 10, 11 and 12 and tickets will go on sale online after the first of January.  The event will have a new look and new features.