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updated: 1/11/2014 7:32 PM

Warner Bros. earns lump of coal from local Santas

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  • John Sullivan of Streamwood holds up the "Lump of Coal Award" that will be mailed to Warner Bros. by the Santas and Mrs. Santas of Illinois. The group met in Aurora to say goodbye to "Polar Express" events like the one at Blackberry Farm.

       John Sullivan of Streamwood holds up the "Lump of Coal Award" that will be mailed to Warner Bros. by the Santas and Mrs. Santas of Illinois. The group met in Aurora to say goodbye to "Polar Express" events like the one at Blackberry Farm.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Bill Wilson of Beloit, Wis., holds up the "Lump of Coal Award" that will be mailed to Warner Bros. by the Santas and Mrs. Santas of Illinois. The group met in Aurora to say goodbye to "Polar Express" events like the one at Blackberry Farm.

       Bill Wilson of Beloit, Wis., holds up the "Lump of Coal Award" that will be mailed to Warner Bros. by the Santas and Mrs. Santas of Illinois. The group met in Aurora to say goodbye to "Polar Express" events like the one at Blackberry Farm.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Jeff Curtis of Bartlett and John and Dorothy Medley of Normal make out name tags during the gathering of Santas and Mrs. Santas Saturday in Aurora. Due to the flooding from melting snow, the event was moved from Blackberry Farm, home of a popular "Polar Express" event, to the nearby Orchard Valley Golf Course.

       Jeff Curtis of Bartlett and John and Dorothy Medley of Normal make out name tags during the gathering of Santas and Mrs. Santas Saturday in Aurora. Due to the flooding from melting snow, the event was moved from Blackberry Farm, home of a popular "Polar Express" event, to the nearby Orchard Valley Golf Course.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • John and Dorothy Medley of Normal, left, talk with Bob Ross of Elgin during a gathering of Santas and Mrs. Santas from around Illinois to say goodbye to "Polar Express" events.

       John and Dorothy Medley of Normal, left, talk with Bob Ross of Elgin during a gathering of Santas and Mrs. Santas from around Illinois to say goodbye to "Polar Express" events.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • John Medley of Normal arrived in full costume for the gathering of Santas and Mrs. Santas of Illinois Saturday in Aurora. Medley has been Santa for 38 years and his wife Dorothy has been Mrs. Claus for 32 years.

       John Medley of Normal arrived in full costume for the gathering of Santas and Mrs. Santas of Illinois Saturday in Aurora. Medley has been Santa for 38 years and his wife Dorothy has been Mrs. Claus for 32 years.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Daily Herald reporter Dann Gire talks with Santas Bill Wilson of Beloit, Wis., left, and John Sullivan of Streamwood at the gathering of Santas and Mrs. Santas from around Illinois to say goodbye to "Polar Express events.

       Daily Herald reporter Dann Gire talks with Santas Bill Wilson of Beloit, Wis., left, and John Sullivan of Streamwood at the gathering of Santas and Mrs. Santas from around Illinois to say goodbye to "Polar Express events.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Jeff Curtis of Bartlett looks through the photo collage book of fellow Santa Sean Callaghan of Chicago, seated, during a gathering of Illinois Santas and Mrs. Santas Saturday in Aurora. Curtis has been a Santa for 15 years and Callaghan has been doing it three years.

       Jeff Curtis of Bartlett looks through the photo collage book of fellow Santa Sean Callaghan of Chicago, seated, during a gathering of Illinois Santas and Mrs. Santas Saturday in Aurora. Curtis has been a Santa for 15 years and Callaghan has been doing it three years.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Charlie Miehle of Carol Stream was at the gathering of Santas and Mrs. Santas from around Illinois Saturday in Aurora to say goodbye to "Polar Express" events.

       Charlie Miehle of Carol Stream was at the gathering of Santas and Mrs. Santas from around Illinois Saturday in Aurora to say goodbye to "Polar Express" events.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Jeff Curtis, left, of Bartlett and Charlie Miehle of Carol Stream pose for photos at a gathering of Santas and Mrs. Santas from around Illinois Saturday in Aurora.

       Jeff Curtis, left, of Bartlett and Charlie Miehle of Carol Stream pose for photos at a gathering of Santas and Mrs. Santas from around Illinois Saturday in Aurora.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Santas and Mrs. Santas from around Illinois met Saturday in Aurora to say goodbye to "Polar Express" events.

       Santas and Mrs. Santas from around Illinois met Saturday in Aurora to say goodbye to "Polar Express" events.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Video: "The Polar Express" trailer

  • Video: Santas of Illinois

 
 

They expressed feelings of disappointment. Charges of un-Santa-like behavior.

"It's going to hurt the children," Charlie Miehle of Carol Stream said. "They're going to miss out on something that is very, very special."

"It's kind of Scrooge-ish," Judy "Mrs. Claus" Broderick of Beloit, Wis., said.

Call it the case of the "Polarizing Express."

About 30 Santa Clauses and a few Mrs. Clauses sat down at long table at the Orchard Valley Golf Course restaurant in Aurora Saturday morning. They had gathered for an annual plan meeting of Chicago-area residents who've answered the call to take on the roles of Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus every holiday season.

This year, the regular agenda items -- whether to meet monthly or bimonthly topped the list -- were dwarfed by a legal block preventing organizations from operating "Polar Express" train rides, such as those at Aurora's Blackberry Farms on South Barnes Road.

The legal department at Warner Bros. studios last year issued cease-and-desist orders for all organizations, many of them local park districts, using the trademarked "Polar Express" on popular train rides.

Warner Bros. is demanding that organizations -- at least 67 as listed on a Santa Claus website -- pay for licenses to use the "Polar Express" moniker. Instead, most are dropping the name. The studio and Rail Events Inc. own licensing rights to the "Polar Express" title. The studio released Robert Zemeckis' movie version of Chris Van Allsburg's children's book in 2004.

In a letter to the Arlington Heights Park District -- one of many districts offering a "Polar Express" ride -- Warner Bros. Entertainment Anti-Piracy Director Susan Proctor wrote, "Your use of Warner Bros. intellectual property dilutes the distinctiveness of 'The Polar Express' property by trading upon the goodwill and reputation which the public associates with the property."

Streamwood resident John Sullivan, a practicing Santa for 23 years, offered a special recognition for Warner Bros. during the Saturday meeting: An official "Lump of Coal Award" from the Illinois Santas for ending Chicago area Polar Express events, many of them run by nonprofits.

"We'll send this to Warner Bros. head office," he said. "We're sure they'll find some prominent place for it."

Caroline Curtis of Bartlett, a second-generation Mrs. Santa married to Jeff Curtis, a second-generation Santa, took a pragmatic view of the situation.

"If they want to pull it, that's their choice," she said. "It ruins all the stories on the trains for us. But we can still offer train rides with Santa. We'll just call it 'Santa on a Train' and go on. We'll be fine."

The gathering of Santas and Mrs. Santas also took time to remember two of their peers who recently died: Jim Lellman of Buffalo Grove and Dave Hoopes of Carpentersville.

"If you're a Santa, you're a Santa," said Jeff Curtis. "It's in your heart."

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