Two years ago, it was decorated snowmen sculptures.
Then, last year, gingerbread men invaded downtown Naperville for the winter holidays. Simple, ornate or even resembling Mayor George Pradel, the cookie sculptures were a hit and ensured the continuation of an outdoor public art display to attract even more holiday shoppers.
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This winter, trains will roll into town.
Fifteen steam engines will grace the downtown area in the city's third annual winter sculpture promotion, sponsored by the Downtown Naperville Alliance. Following the tradition of gingerbread men and snowmen, the trains will be sponsored by local businesses and will be painted and decorated by area artists.
The engines, now arriving from Chicago in their pure-white state, will be decorated and placed downtown beginning Nov. 7 to provide unique advertising vehicles for businesses and child-sized seats perfect for family photo-ops.
"Our community loves these so much and they're really a highlight of our holiday decorations," said Katie Wood, executive director of the Downtown Naperville Alliance. "People love to have these back."
Naperville's history of temporary public art displays began when the city's United Way chapter put baby giraffe sculptures on display during the summer of 2001. Decorated by local artists, the giraffes were auctioned that September to raise money for the organization.
When the Naperville United Way merged with DuPage County's, the tradition of decorated dragons and bears ended in 2008.
The Downtown Naperville Alliance started a similar program in 2012 -- this time based around the Christmas holiday season -- and seems to have started a new tradition.
"The town really loves it and gets invested in it as a community," said Gail Niermeyer of returning sponsor Coldwell Banker. "People love games and searches for entertainment, and this is a great for seasonal marketing."
During last year's displays, Niermeyer even integrated social media into the project, letting families and visitors post their pictures next to "Gingerbread Kid" on Coldwell Banker's Facebook page. Other businesses got similar visibility, and now only three of the 15 train engines still need sponsors.
"It was really successful," Niermeyer said. "And we're already starting to with our designer, Angela Graefenhain, on this year's train."
When the trains make their debut on Nov. 7 they'll be competing with that weekend's Naperville Marathon and the lighting of the downtown's holiday displays. But Wood isn't worried.
"People just love these trains," Wood said. "It showcases the great artists of our town and adds some real fun to the season."