[No, loyal MCC readers, you didn’t sleep through a few missing weeks like Rip Van Winkle, and I haven’t deleted any entries lately. I’ve chosen to warp space-time with a very special flash-forward for the sake of holiday synchronicity. We’ll backtrack for the intervening installments in due time.]
When we told friends and family we would be spending an entire day of our vacation in Cleveland, they thought us mad. In the old days Cleveland was a frequent punchline whenever a movie or TV show needed a throwaway reference to someplace vastly inferior to a given cast’s current setting. Nowadays they’re more likely to use Detroit or New Jersey, but Cleveland suffered that role on numerous occasions. Exhibit A: all of Howard the Duck.
In the course of our research, we were surprised at how many geek-based tourist attractions the city had to offer. We eventually concluded that it deserved much more than a lunchtime layover. Thus were we compelled to spend all of Day Eight driving around the city in a carefully mapped arc, beginning with our south-side hotel, looping around and northward toward Lake Erie, and back around again.
First stop: the house where several key scenes were filmed for that beloved American holiday juggernaut, A Christmas Story — an underdog flick that changed the course of millions of lives in my generation and monopolizes the TBS airwaves for twenty-four hours out of every year, much to the chagrin of the generations before and after us.
Fans will be thrilled to note one of the first items that greets you upon approach is a Major Award. It looks seriously weird in daylight.
The original stories on which the movie was based were set in author Jean Shepherd’s hometown in northern Indiana. Our home state likewise has its own A Christmas Story house up in Hammond (which, curiously, we’ve not yet visited), but none of the movie was filmed there. Many scenes, particularly those set at school, were shot in Canada, but the filmmakers chose an innocent little house in Cleveland as the basis for Ralphie’s domicile. Not all the home scenes were shot there, but more than enough to lend it street cred.
It’s squarely in the middle of a residential neighborhood, where the neighbors cheerfully charge you a few bucks for the privilege of parking on their lawn, even if it means sandwiching everyone in like sardines and making it impossible for a guy driving a rented van to back out in less than five moves. (Remember, by this time roadway vicissitudes had consigned us to an unwieldy slab of a vehicle…)
Before entering the House, visitors must purchase tickets at the gift shop across the street, which has a wide variety of A Christmas Story merchandise, aptly displayed. Think of any given object in the film, and chances are they’re either selling copies or showcasing the original in glass cases.
One wing of the gift shop contains a smattering of authentic movie props, including but not limited to the original jackets worn by the Chinese waitstaff caricatures.
Select cases present authentic Red Ryder merchandise, teaching newcomers that Red Ryder was a real-world thing — a comic strip (1938-1964) that was later adapted into radio dramas, movies, serials, comic books, and Christmas movie MacGuffins.
Also on hand: one (1) genuine cast member! Local man Jim Moralevitz, who played the leg-lamp delivery man, frequently hangs out in the gift shop, signs autographs, offers his testimony, and sells DVD copies of An Untold Christmas Story, a making-of documentary…which, come to think of it, I forgot is still in our viewing pile and should probably be moved to the front of the line sometime before Christmas Day.
Caveat: most of the furniture and props in the A Christmas Story House proper are not the original movie artifacts. The owner(s) spent several years amassing identical items to refurnish the place, pretty much as you see it in the film, albeit minus careful Hollywood lighting. Also, if you visit in July as we did, there’s no snow outside. Some props are sadly beyond their budget.
Fans will nonetheless recognize the gifts under the tree — the Old Man’s debilitating new bowling ball, and, of course, a Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot Range Model Air Rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time. Longtime MCC readers may recall us brandishing these items in the photo that accompanied the entry celebrating our ninth wedding anniversary. (If you remember that far back without clicking the link, kudos! You’re officially an MCC Superfan! Remind me to make up some privileges for you sometime.)
Also in the living room: an old-time radio not unlike the device on which Ralphie and family would listen raptly to the radio adaptation of Harold Gray’s comic strip Little Orphan Annie and use their secret decoder rings to reveal cleverly masked product placement. This device was a primitive precursor to today’s QR codes, except you had to wait several weeks for it to arrive by mail, and it didn’t take a dozen tries before it finally worked. Then, as now, kids apparently loved product placement.
Tourists are allowed to wander upstairs, which is largely a couple of plain-looking bedrooms and that dank, retro bathroom where Ralphie was punished with a mouthful of Lifebuoy soap for the thoughtless sin of not saying “fudge”.
Just as important as the living room: that cramped kitchen where Mom would prepare the turkey and the Old Man would work on the puzzles in today’s newspaper. In our gender-swapped alt-universe version, the turkey is perfectly roasted, the puzzle that won the Major Award was never finished, Christmas dinner went off without a hitch, and they all lived happily ever after, except for those blasted Bumpus dogs, who were securely locked outside and staged their mangy home invasion elsewhere. Also, the Chinese waiter caricatures spent their whole evening crying because of loneliness and boredom.
To be continued!
[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for previous and future chapters, and for our complete road trip history to date. Thanks for reading!]