by Steve Stephens
CLEVELAND — First of all, you probably won’t shoot your eye out.
Although A Christmas Story House and Museum is delightfully interactive — and Ralphie’s Red Ryder BB gun is sitting on the hearth right next to the Christmas tree — the gun isn’t loaded.
But you are certainly welcome to pick it up and take aim at an imaginary Black Bart.
Or you can hide under the kitchen sink a la Randy when he feared that “Daddy’s gonna’ kill Ralphie.” Or you can don a bunny suit and become, in the words of Ralphie’s father, “a pink nightmare.”
The 1983 movie “A Christmas Story” recounts the childhood memories of author Jean Shepherd in 1940s Indiana. The story is told through the character of 9-year-old Ralphie Parker, a kid who just wants a BB gun for Christmas, despite every warning — including one from Santa — that “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!”
The movie didn’t get rave reviews when it was released, but it has become one of the most-beloved Christmas classics, on par with “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Fans who visit the house and museum will undoubtedly find themselves recalling favorite scenes and reciting favorite lines.
After a search by director Bob Clark through likely cities in the Great Lakes region, the house in Cleveland’s working-class Tremont neighborhood became the Parker house for the filming of the movie.
The house was used for exteriors and some interior shots, including the famous uncrating of the “ major award,” the delightfully tacky and alluring leg lamp (Ralphie notes the “soft glow of electric sex”) won by Ralphie’s father, “The Old Man.”
Today, major awards abound at the site: in the house, in the museum and especially in the expansive gift shop, where lamps of every shape, size and configuration are for sale, along with pink bunny jammies and, of course, Red Ryder BB guns.
Ralphie’s original bunny jammies and cowboy suit are still owned by Peter Billingsley, the actor who portrayed Ralphie. But the museum has dozens of other props and mementos from the movie, with souvenir versions of most for sale in the gift shop.
The founder of the museum, Brian Jones, began his obsession with the movie by re-creating leg lamps and selling them on eBay. He later bought the house at auction and put together an attraction that now hosts tens of thousands of visitors a year. A Christmas Story House and Museum, which opened in 2006, attracted 30,000 visitors last December alone.
The museum also has established a nonprofit foundation that raises funds to provide grants to public and private projects that help preserve the surrounding neighborhood.
The house has been restored with rooms that replicate the movie sets. And guests are free to roam from the kitchen table where Randy showed his family “how little piggies eat” to the bathroom where Ralphie decoded the vital message “Be sure to drink your Ovaltine.”
The Little Orphan Annie decoder is there next to the toilet, for anyone who wants to try themselves, as is a bar of vintage red Lifebuoy soap like that used to wash out Ralphie’s mouth.
Visitors also can listen to Ralphie’s favorite radio shows and, speaking of Lifebuoy, eavesdrop on the phone call between Ralphie’s mother and that of the unfortunate Schwartz, who was framed for teaching Ralphie “the queen mother of dirty words.”
Guests who take a guided tour will hear delightful anecdotes from the neighborhood and the movie’s filming. According to one tale, actress Melinda Dillon, who portrayed Ralphie’s mother, didn’t have the real script for the Chinese-restaurant scene, making her reaction at seeing the duck dinner’s beheading all the more spontaneous and hilarious.
After a visit, true fans might, like Ralphie, find themselves in a reverie, “pranging ducks on the wing and getting off spectacular hip shots.”
If you go
“Christmas Story” house
A Christmas Story House and Museum near downtown Cleveland is at 3159 W. 11th St., where parts of the beloved movie were filmed.
In addition to the house, the site includes a large museum and gift shop across the street.
The house is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except major holidays, with extended hours some days during November and December. Guided tours begin every half hour starting at 10:15 a.m.
Admission is $11 for adults and $7 for children ages 3 to 12. Younger children are admitted free.
For more information, call 216-298-4919 or visit AChristmasStoryHouse.com