Cleveland’s ‘A Christmas Story’ museum nabs the Holy Grail of artifacts, Ralphie’s Red Ryder BB gun

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By Michael K. McIntyre

Original Red Ryder BB Gun

Do you remember how badly Ralphie wanted that Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle with a compass in the stock and “this thing which tells time”?

Of course you do. You’re from Northeast Ohio, and Cleveland is home to the original “A Christmas Story House,” now a tourist spot in Tremont, complete with a museum dedicated to the 1983 holiday classic film, “A Christmas Story.”

We know all about pink nightmares and drinking our Ovaltine and the physics involved when tongue meets frozen flagpole.

We know about the soft glow of electric sex, the harsh taste of Lifebuoy soap and the blazing speed required when fixing flats, fuses and furnaces.

And we know all about the BB gun that Ralphie so coveted.

But he’s not the only one who longed for it.

Brian Jones founded the Christmas Story House & Museum because he was a big fan of the film. He lived in San Diego at the time, now Jacksonville, Florida, and bought the house in 2004 because he thought it was a shame the house had become anonymous.

He restored the place to its “A Christmas Story” splendor by peeling off vinyl siding, swapping out the replacement windows and renovating it inside and out. The gift shop sells plenty of fra-gee-lay leg lamps, and the museum features little brother Randy’s restrictive snowsuit and Miss Shields’ imposing chalkboard.

But like Ralphie, Jones’ mind was always on that BB gun.

“It’s the Holy Grail,” he said.

For Ralphie, it was the Holy Grail of Christmas gifts, and, for the museum, it’s the Holy Grail.

The gun doesn’t exist in real life. It was made special for the movie because the gun that author Jean Shepherd described wasn’t real. It had elements of different BB guns.

So Daisy, the company that makes Red Ryder BB guns, created six special models for the film, said Jones. In addition to the compass and the sun dial, the guns were customized for actor Peter Billingsley, who is left-handed.

One day not long ago, Jones was alerted to an Internet auction site where one of the guns, which belonged to the production asset manager for the film, was up for sale through a reputable film collectibles auction site, thepropmaster.com.

He snapped it up for $10,000, a price that surely would have sent Ralphie’s old man into a rage. It wasn’t such a big deal for Jones, a huge fan of the film who’d paid $150,000 for the house, sight unseen, in an eBay acution.

“I think Peter Billingsley has one (of the guns). And we’ve tried to find one before. This one found us,” said Jones.

“It’s what the movie was all about. He says it over and over. He calls it the Holy Grail of Christmas gifts,” said Jones. “For Ralphie, it was the Holy Grail of Christmas gifts, and, for the museum, it’s the Holy Grail. It was just kind of missing something without it.”

The BB gun will be displayed in the museum in a special case.

But does it actually fire? Jones found the question intriguing and said he might just head out behind the house, where the old shed still stands, and test it out before the gun goes into its case.

Be careful!

“I know, I know,” he said. “I’ll shoot my eye out.”

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