A New Home for the Holidays


The impetus for moving the Duke Holiday Trains is the preservation of a local tradition. Finding qualified volunteers and hiring people to manage and maintain the trains became a challenge each year. Further, many model train enthusiasts would agree dismantling the trains annually makes them vulnerable to wear and tear. As a preserver of history or historical artifacts, not to mention the home of a grand rail station, the Cincinnati Museum Center is the best home for the holiday trains. Even if you’ve seen the Duke Energy Holiday Trains in the past, you must see them again this year in their new digs at the Cincinnati Museum Center. As fond as your memories may be of heading downtown and lining up at Duke Energy to snowy holiday on the rails, you will be awed by its presentation as a focus of three histories.

As part of a holiday tradition since 1946, the Duke Energy Holiday Trains are now and will remain displayed in the Cincinnati History Museum located on the lower level of the museum. Getting to the trains in a wonderful walk through Cincinnati’s history from Cincinnati in Motion through Cincinnati Goes to War, to the Early Settlement, with the fun Flatboat Gallery and the Public Landing with recreations of an old firehouse, machine shop, general store and more. This really is my favorite part of the Cincinnati Museum Center and as a parent, I am simply elated to be able to use the Duke Center Holiday Train display as an excuse to by-pass the Children’s Museum…this once.

As expected, the galleries housing the trains are decorated for the holidays. Though moving the trains to Union Terminal permits some wonderful exhibited surprises. “Toys Through Time” is a small and memory-filled exhibition of childhood toys, including the first edition Monopoly set, original Star Wars toys and historic dolls. This exhibition links itself to the Duke Energy trains with a display of Cincinnati’s own Carlisle and Finch trains, considered the first true electric model trains.

Historic paintings from the Pennsylvania Railroad Calendar Series dated between 1928 and 1958 hold a prominent place in the galleries. These paintings were commissioned to foster the railroad company’s image as one of the nation’s most powerful. Not only do they present the railroad industry as strong and fast, these paintings are truly a celebration of progress, technology, mechanics, and industry in general. The grand trains are depicted in beautiful American landscapes. The billowing smoke and exhaust upstage the green meadows and blue waters as if to celebrate our control over nature. At least once of the paintings includes the working smokestacks and hot furnaces of the steel mill. Some may not see these paintings as beautiful landscapes, and many may even be critical of such blatant posturing over Mother Nature. This is where art history, rather than aesthetics is a friend to the beholder of beauty. These paintings not only celebrate the Pennsylvania Railroad, but mark a time of pride and progress in America’s history. The steel mill, the train, and Cincinnati’s own Union Terminal are part of that history, part of the pride. In fact, rail is still seen as a symbol of progress as places throughout the states see the light rail as a sign for a promising future.

Finally, the Duke Energy Holiday Trains seem more easily accessible is this larger space. Viewers will still have the opportunity to get up close to see the details of the trains and the snowy villages and towns through which they pass. The challenge to see the trains downtown included the great crowds and the slow lines (or perhaps being pushed too fast through to view the trains. Like any museum faced with controlling and engaging crowds, the Museum Center has was appears to be a wonderful solution. The final stop is Holiday Junction. This Museum Center annual tradition includes examples of popular “N” and “L” scale layouts, a collection of Lionel trains and an exact reproduction of the Lionel dealer display layout of the Super “O” track with interactive buttons. Kids can also play on Brio trains, tracks and houses to create their own train display. Along with seeing Santa Clause, children will be able to ride through a wonderland scene on a kid-size train.

The popularity of the Duke Energy Holiday Trains is seeped local holiday traditions and in these histories of toys, rail, progress, and industry. Duke Energy has provided vouchers for all of its customers to visit the Cincinnati Museum Center during this holiday season and to continue the tradition and become part of these histories of Cincinnati.

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2 Responses to “A New Home for the Holidays”

  1. Anne says:

    The move makes me realize how few stores there are downtown now — part of the reason (I suppose) for it to be at “CG&E” (this place you call “Duke!”) was because it was but one stop during downtown holiday shopping. There was also the talking reindeer in the arcade at Pogue’s, the exhibits and Santa at Shillito’s, misc. store windows, lights, etc. Now, not so much.

    But yes, it does make sense to have trains at a train station! Now, if only they would get more real ones there…

  2. Model layout says:

    This is terrific. I sheepishly admit that I have never been to downtown Cincinnati before, only through it on my way to Kentucky. Now I will have to check out the Holiday Junction as an excuse!

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