Novelty Monorails
Midtown Plaza's Christmas Monorail - Rochester, New York
Story by Luke Starkenburg, photos courtesy of

What a wonderful surprise! In early 2002, we learned from Luke Starkenburg that a historic department store monorail is still in existence. Luke shares his memories of this classic ride in the form of an essay that he wrote for his English class. We have since learned from Ron M., photographer of these wonderful images, that "the community sentiment demanded that they put it back up as it had been missing for some years. However, Midtown plaza is now under new ownership and is slated to be turned into a center for performing arts, so those may be the LAST [images] I get to take." Let's hope that this wonderful living memory is saved for future young riders! And now, Luke's memories of the Midtown Plaza Monorail...

I climb the steps in anticipation. Just in front of me is a little boy sucking on a sucker; behind me a girl with a bright red stocking cap. I have taken my hat off before getting in line. The forward shuffling feet of bright-eyed children reach a platform and turn, climbing another set of stairs. Dad and Mom are waving to me from the dimly lit, crowded mall floor, surrounded by many other expectant faces of parents, all watching their children make their way up towards the highest platform. My parents wrap arms around each other as they watch me take my beloved monorail ride again this year.

The monorail rolls in and stops in front of the little makeshift elevated station. "Make room for the kids getting off," a big guy in charge yells as he unlatches the clip on the bottom of the monorail. The whole chrome side of the two-car train flips up like the DeLorean car in the movie, "Back to the Future." The train load of youngsters scramble out and down the stairs as the rest of us waiting in line lunge forward to be the first to the monorail train. The front seat, the prized seat, is taken already so I jump in the next available seat. "Watch your hands," the big guy rumbles as he swings the entire left wall of the miniature monorail down into place and latches the latch. "Keep your hands inside the monorail," he thunders.

Inside the dark train, all the children glue their eyes to the windows and wait for the train to start. Some eyes reveal fright at being so high up while others reveal utter delight. The ivory seat beneath me is hard plastic and a little uncomfortable. My head scrapes the top of the little train. I'm getting too big for this ride, but I don't care. I'm in the monorail, the ultimate Christmas treat Dad and Mom plan for me each year. The monorail moves forward at a slow speed, moving unevenly, and takes a left turn.

We enter a hollow papier-mâché mountain with silver shiny stars hanging from the false top, creating a mystical setting inside the mountain. I stretch my arm through the small metal frame window and touch a star hanging close to the train. "I finally touched one this year! I'm big enough now," I scream to myself. I reach for more stars, but only touch the one before my train departs out the other side of the mountain. I can hear the wheels rolling on the track above my head over the obnoxiously loud children's Christmas music. I don't care. I love the monorail! The train takes a jerky left, and then a right, and then another jagged left making its way around the mall atrium. We rumble past the big Christmas decorations suspended from the ceiling. I feel tiny compared to them when I'm near them and am in awe that it is possible to be so close. In the middle of the center court stands an enormous bright Christmas tree; beside it sits Santa holding two little kids. Dad has run up to the second floor of the mall and is walking quickly to keep up with the monorail. He yells to me and I smile and wave back furiously. I can tell he is enjoying this as much as I am as he walks with the train until it rounds the next bend to the left.

My train stops, waiting for the other monorail to leave the station. The reaction to the pause is mixed throughout the monorail, but I'm glad for the wait. This allows me more time on the train. Fifteen seconds pass before we start rolling around the last bend and on to the station. The monorail stops, the side flips up and all the kids hop out and scurry down the rickety stairs to embrace their parents. I don't want to leave, but I'm scared of that big guy who's ushering us out. I reluctantly leave my monorail and walk down the stairs to my parents and family.

We leave the mall soon after, my dad dragging me the whole way. I love the monorails and I don't want to leave. I want to ride it again. "You can wait until next year," Mom assures me. I haven't been to that mall for eleven years now, but every Christmas the anticipation of going to the Rochester Midtown Plaza returns. I want to reach out and touch the stars again and hear the noise of the monorail wheels rolling above my head. I know the ride isn't as big and grand as I remember it those years ago, but I still want to go back to that fantasy world of my youth. As I'll look into the faces of the riders of that little old monorail, it will become real, big, and grand to me again. A memory of my childhood floods me.

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