‘Polar Express’ event may change name

A 20-year State College tradition that helps jump-start the holidays soon may have to rethink its name.

The Polar Express, an event that begins at Schlow Centre Region Library with a reading of the famous book from which it takes its name, and is followed by a trolley ride to Santa’s Workshop at the Penn State Downtown Theatre, provides holiday-themed entertainment for hundreds of children each Christmas season.

But Warner Bros., which owns the rights to the name of the 1985 book and 2004 animated movie, has notified many communities around the country that they cannot legally use the name without its permission. The studio claims that any use of the name could mislead people into thinking it is affiliated with the events, according to an Associated Press report.

The Polar Express event in State College takes place during the first and second weekends in December.

George Arnold, executive director of the Downtown State College Improvement District that created the event in partnership with the Schlow Centre Region Library in the early 1990s, said no one has officially contacted him yet, but he did receive an email of notice on Tuesday about the possibility.

Arnold would not say who the email came from, but said he would address the issue with the board if changes need to be made.

“It’s one of those events that gives people the chance to spend time together, celebrate the holidays and see what we have going on downtown,” said Anita Ditz, head of children’s services at Schlow.

If it came to making changes due to copyright infringements from the use of “The Polar Express” name, Ditz said a name change might be considered, but nothing to change the vision of the event.

“We have not been approached by anyone yet. I don’t think that if we had to change the name, it would have an impact on the actual event,” she said. “Either way, it’s a family driven event and truly the kickoff to the holidays.”

A similar event is held in Bellefonte each holiday season called The Santa Express. It takes place the weekend before Christmas.

The Bellefonte Historical Railroad Society will offer train rides Dec. 20 to 22 for a one-hour trip from Bellefonte to Pleasant Gap and back. Santa Claus will visit as well.