By ALGIS J. LAUKAITIS / Lincoln Journal Star
CLEVELAND — Christmas memories are as unique as snowflakes.
But there is one Yuletide memory that millions of Americans share: watching “A Christmas Story” during the holiday season.
Ring a bell? Just think of Ralphie (You’ll shoot your eye out!) Parker and his relentless quest for a Daisy Red Ryder BB gun from Santa Claus.
Depending on where you live, the film is hard to miss. Some TV stations show the film continuously for 24 hours. Its popularity is right up there with “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
If you’re crazy about the movie, you’ll want to visit Cleveland and see the house where the film was made in 1983. Yes, it’s there, fully restored to its movie splendor and open for tours year-round.
Since its opening in 2006, more than 156,000 people have stopped by to see the house with its “Major Award” shining in the living room window, according to a tour guide.
The Old Man, played by Darren McGavin, won the award, a garish lamp in the shape of a woman’s leg. Mrs. Parker was not amused and “accidentally” broke it.
A replica is in the house now, and if that one gets knocked over, there are plenty more leg lamps across the street in the gift shop. They range from a full-size model for $199 down to a night-light model for $14.99. (For $239 they will ship it in a wooden crate.) You also can find the shapely legs on Christmas ornaments, key chains and tacky ties.
Like the pink rabbit pajamas from Aunt Clara that Ralphie wore on Christmas morning? You can buy a pair in the adult size for $99.99. They come in women’s and children sizes, too.
But the real draws are the house and the museum, featuring original props and costumes and memorabilia from the film and hundreds of rare behind-the-scenes photos. You’ll find the red snowsuit, worn by Ralphie’s little brother, Randy, and also his silver zeppelin. There’s also the ratty coat that McGavin wore while he changed the flat tire. The family car is parked in a garage next to the gift shop.
Remember the scene in the bathroom, where Ralphie had to put a bar of Lifebuoy soap in his mouth for using a cuss word? You can do the same. Lifebuoy soap bars are available from the gift shop.
Kids also can crawl under the sink, just as Randy did when he was scared that “The Old Man” was going to kill Ralphie for getting into a fight with the neighborhood bully, Skut Farcus.
But the big draw is the living room, where a Red Ryder BB gun sits in its box in the corner behind the desk — just like in the movie. And McGavin’s blue bowling ball rests under a Christmas tree. Visitors like to pose with both the gun and bowling ball — along with the leg lamp.
After touring the rest of the house, which includes Ralphie and Randy’s bedroom (check out the original wallpaper) and the old-fashioned kitchen complete with a plastic turkey, visitors can go into the backyard to see the garden shed that the bad guys crawled over.
Depending on the time of year, you might find a BB gun range in the backyard, where you can practice with a Red Ryder. But be careful so you don’t shoot your eye out!
But if you’re looking for the Bumpus hounds next door, they’ve been replaced by pit bulls.
“A Christmas Story” has become so popular that annual conventions are staged in Cleveland. This year’s convention was held Nov. 26-27 and featured appearances by seven original cast members — Randy, Flick, Scut Farkus and toady Grover Dill, Miss Shields the teacher and the two evil elves from Higbee’s department store.
The great thing about visiting the house and museum is that you might get to ask questions and learn interesting facts about the movie.
Like how they made Flick’s tongue stick to the flagpole. They used an air compressor and hose that created the needed suction through a small opening in the flagpole.
Or how “His End Up” got labeled on the wooden shipping crate containing “The Major Award.” It seems the union carpenters made the box too big and it wouldn’t fit through the door, so they had to saw off 2 inches. And that’s how the letter “T” disappeared.
And the reason they chose Cleveland? Many of the scenes were shot in Toronto, Ontario, but director Bob Clark was looking for a friendly department store to shoot the Santa Claus scenes.
They found Higbee’s in Cleveland and a house in a blue-collar neighborhood near downtown. The rest is ‘Christmas Story” history.