CLEVELAND — Even when it’s closed, they come, lured by “the soft glow of electric sex gleaming in the window.”
Up the front steps they bound, cameras in hand, giggling. Then they stop on the porch, transfixed, before the familiar-looking window.
There it is!
Their holy grail.
The Major Award!
THE LEG LAMP!
If your reaction is, “Huh?” then you must be one of the three people in the world who have never seen “A Christmas Story.” The 1983 movie has become a cult classic to the point that the TBS cable channel every Christmas broadcasts it continuously for 24 hours.
Of course, if you’ve seen the movie as many times as I and millions of others have, you know that the film’s main character is Ralphie, the 9-year-old who spends the movie plotting how to get an “official Red Ryder, Carbine Action, Two-Hundred Shot Range Model Air Rifle” for Christmas. And you know that Ralphie, his mom and dad, and brother Randy live in Hammond, Ind. And that Ralphie’s dad won the Leg Lamp, a large, gaudy, mesh-stockinged gam topped with a tassled shade, in a newspaper contest.
So, why are all these people going gaga over this house built in 1895 in Cleveland?
Because it’s the Christmas Story House, the house the movie’s creators chose when they were scouting for the 1940s feel they wanted, according to Steve Siedlecki, executive director for the house and accompanying museum.
Truth be told, though, most of the movie was shot on a soundstage in California that was built to mimic much of this house’s interior. Exterior shots of the house and back yard, location of the famous Black Bart shootout, were done here, though fake snow had to be brought in because of a scarcity of the natural stuff the year of filming. And scenes such as the tongue-frozen-to-the-pole and tire-changing were filmed in Canada.
But walk into this house, sit down on the couch, and you’ll feel as if you’re in the movie. Tucked away in a corner is the shipping box, labeled Fragile — “That must be Italian,” said Ralphie’s dad — that held the Leg Lamp.
Check out the upstairs bathroom and, of course, you’ll find a bar of Lifebuoy soap, just like Ralphie had to chomp on after uttering the dreaded f-word.
Californian Brian Jones bought the house, which had been “modernized” and was a rental duplex, in December 2005 after it was listed on eBay, and by the time he was done putting it back into a state that moviegoers would recognize, he had more than $400,000 into the project, according to Siedlecki. It opened Thanksgiving weekend 2006, and in August of this year it surpassed the 100,000 mark for attendance (which doesn’t take into account the hundreds of people who stop by during off-hours to peek through the front windows.
When the house first opened, it had plenty of “Don’t Touch” signs, Siedlecki said. But those signs have come down. “We encourage people to do what they want to re-enact the movie,” Siedlecki noted.
So, if you want to hide under the sink like Randy and have your photo taken, do it.
Just don’t be like Ralphie’s mom and break the Leg Lamp.
If you go Getting thereA Christmas Story House & Museum is at 3159 W. 11th St. in Cleveland, about 345 miles from Chicago via Interstate Highway 90. Get directions on the Web site (below), and don’t think you’re lost when you find yourself driving through a nondescript neighborhood.
VisitingThe house is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. Until Dec. 31, it’s also open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays and until 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. It’s closed Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
Tours run every half-hour, with the last tour at 4:30, and if you miss the guided tour, you can do a self-guided tour. Tickets must be purchased prior to the last tour at the gift shop. 216-298-4919; achristmasstoryhouse.com
In the vicinity On your way to or from A Christmas Story House, make a stop at the West Side Market, at West 25th and Lorain streets. The market has been operating since 1840 and is filled with tons of produce, spices and more sausages and other meat than you ever knew existed. Open 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays and 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. 216-664-3387; westsidemarket.org
And, don’t miss the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum downtown, whose big exhibit until spring is “From Asbury Park to the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen.” The hall is open 363 days a year from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and until 9 p.m. Wednesdays. Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas. 216-781-7625; rockhall.com
— Phil Marty, Special to Tribune Newspapers