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Any day with a set of Legos is a good day for 11-year-old James Groccia of Boylston.
That simple philosophy was demonstrated in a homemade YouTube video that has now gone viral. In the video, the fifth-grader reacts with unfettered joy when he opens a mysterious package and finds it contains a rare Lego set: the Emerald Night Train.
“Yessss! The Emerald Night Train! I finally have it! Whoooooo!” James shouts, grinning ear-to-ear, jumping up and down, and happily waving the box above his head. By Wednesday afternoon, the video had been viewed more than 1,040,000 times.
To understand his joy, you need to know that James, a rosy-cheeked kid with braces and infectious smile, had been pining for the Emerald Night Train for more than two years. He is such an aficionado that he can recite serial numbers off an endless list of Lego specialty sets.
James, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, first asked his parents, Jay and Karen Groccia, if he could get the $100 set when he was 8 years old.
Even though he’d demonstrated a proficiency and extreme fondness for Legos, his parents declined.
“Since he was very young — a toddler, really — he has taken to Legos,” Jay says. “We saw them as a toy, maybe something that he’d have a passing interest in at first, but then it continued. And Legos became so much more to him.”
Indeed, James participates in an Asperger’s therapy group that uses Legos, and since the age of 4, he has been building progressively more detailed Lego models of the Titanic — “his other obsession,” Karen calls the famed ocean liner.
Still, they were unsure about the Emerald Night Train. “We thought it might have been a little too mature for him, in terms of difficulty level,” Karen says. “After all, it was designed for children ages 14 and up. It is very mechanical in nature, has lots of moving parts. And frankly, it looked very daunting. We didn’t want him to get frustrated with it.”
So James patiently waited, saving his allowance and birthday money and even money he earned by participating in a research study that tested the hearing of children with Asperger’s.
Several months ago, James finally convinced his parents to let him buy the train set. But there was a problem. Lego had stopped making it, which changed its status from a retail item to a collectible.
“Suddenly, the only place you could find it was on eBay and auction sites,” Karen says. “It went from $100 retail to $250, $500, whatever people wanted to sell it for, because it was a collector’s item now.”
Undeterred, James wrote a heartfelt letter to Lego, sending copies to the company’s headquarters in Billund, Denmark, and its US base in Connecticut. He called himself Lego’s biggest fan and asked if someone could double check to see if any Emerald Night Train sets remained. Perhaps, he suggested, there was a set that had been overlooked at headquarters?
“I have brick sets, Hero Factory, Creationary, Lunar Limo and more . . . I play with them every day,” James’s letter read. “A couple of years ago I saw the Emerald Night Train set (K10194) and fell in love with it . . . ”
Lego let him down gently but firmly, insisting the Emerald Night Train was no more.
Then, three weeks later, on Oct. 17, a brown-paper package arrived from the company.
“I have to confess, when I saw it was from Lego I was caught off guard,” Karen says. “I thought maybe they’d sent him something different as a consolation prize. But I didn’t want him to be let down so I opened it first to check.”
It was the beloved Night Train. So Karen resealed the box and waited till after school when James and his brother Michael, 10, would be home. Then dad turned on the family video camera to record his son’s joyous reaction.
Lego Systems did not set out to get public recognition for fulfilling James’ wish, but Connecticut-based brand director Michael McNally said in a statement: “We’re really humbled by the family’s gesture to share this moment, and we’re happy to see joy-filled news spread so far.” Still, McNally declined to be interviewed, because his company did not want to give the impression that they make a habit of surprising children with freebies.
“I still don’t know what to say about it,” James says. “I was shocked. But you have to understand the Emerald Night Train and lots of other Lego sets are comprised of my two favorite topics — math and science. You need both to understand these sets.”
So, how well did James do putting together the tricky Emerald Night Train set?
“Are you kidding?” he says. “That same night I started assembling it. It took a little work with some of the mechanisms, but I had it finished by 5 o’clock the next morning.”