When our family was planning our latest road trip, there was one “must see” on my list – the A Christmas Story House in Cleveland, Ohio.
There are some sounds that unmistakably mark the coming of the Christmas season. The “ho ho ho” of a department store Santa, the clanging of the bells by the Goodwill workers on every street corner, the hum of a choir practicing the chords of an old-fashioned Christmas carol.
And for an entire generation, the sound of Christmas can be summed up in that age-old warning, “You’ll shoot your eye out!”
Even if A Christmas Story wasn’t aired 24/7 beginning on Christmas Eve each year (and it is), it would still be considered one of the classics of our generation. The late 1930’s tale of a young Midwestern boy and his quest for a Red Rider Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle didn’t score in the box offices when released in 1983, but it has been a part of our Christmases ever since. And since I’m such a huge fan of all things nostalgic and pop culture – not to mention a big fan of anything Christmas – it was a natural for my family to plan a visit to the Christmas Story House and Museum during our Ohio road trip this year.
The Real Christmas Story House
Yes, that’s right, I said Cleveland, Ohio. Even though the movie is set in the fictional town of Hohman, Indiana (which was based on author Jean Shepherd’s hometown of Hammond), the real Christmas Story house is tucked away on a small back street in the Tremont section of the West Side of Cleveland, Ohio. Many of the movie’s exteriors were filmed at this site, and the entire house was purchased by a fan, who restored and remodeled the interior so that it matched the interiors used in the movie.
As we lined up on the wrap around porch for our tour, I studied to see the attention to detail that was given to the restoration. Leaning next to the front window was an old wooden Flexible Flyer sled, circa 1939, looking like Ralphie and his little brother Randy had just finished riding the snow covered hills and were just inside, waiting for hot cocoa.
Once inside, our guide explained that Cleveland was originally chosen as the movie site because it was the location of Higbee’s Department Store, a downtown emporium that allowed the filmmakers to shoot there. Unfortunately, Higbee’s had been sold to Dillard’s in 1992 and eventually closed its doors in 2002, so I couldn’t head over there for a nostalgia fix.
Fortunately, the Christmas Story house provided me with all the nostalgia I needed. The rooms were masterfully recreated, so that mom’s ironing board was still out in the kitchen, the Christmas tree still sparkled by the fireplace, and the blocks in the boys’ room spelled out sayings from the script. Most importantly, the Old Man’s “major award” – a leg lamp, complete with fishnet stockings – is proudly displayed by the front window. It’s a must-do photo opportunity for visitors, and our guide was happy to snap a couple of our family posed by the lamp.
I have to be honest here – even though I was psyched to visit the house, my sons are not quite as into nostalgia or pop culture as I am. I believe the term, “Corny,” was used more than once, just like it was when I made them visit the homestead of Earl Hamner, creator of The Waltons. But as soon as they got their hands on the BB gun and checked out the “major award,” they began quoting lines from the movie. Steven even “double dog dared” Max to find a flagpole and stick his tongue on it. (Fortunately, the weather prevented a potential disaster with that one!)
The Back Story
Actually, the leg lamp played a vital role in the revitalization of the Christmas Story house. Long-time fan Brian Jones of San Diego owned a business – appropriately named The Red Rider Leg Lamp Company – which made and distributed replicas of the infamous “major award.” Jones used his earnings from the leg lamp sales to make the down payment when he purchased the home for $150,000 on eBay.
Unfortunately, the purchase wasn’t as much of a bargain as Jones had hoped. After watching the movie frame by frame to assure authenticity, Jones spent an additional $240,000 to gut and remodel the house so that it matches the interiors, which were actually filmed on a Toronto sound stage.
A Christmas Story House Museum
Across the street from the house, Jones also owns A Christmas Story House Museum, which is filled with memorabilia from the actual movie and, of course, a gift shop. We had a blast playing around in the shop, modeling the stocking caps for each other and trying to convince Libby she’d look great in the pink bunny pajamas. (She liked them about as much as Ralphie did.)
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Of course, the memorabilia collected in the museum is under glass – no touching allowed. But it’s a great place to gaze at the genuine movie scripts, the Old Man’s overcoat or brother Randy’s oversized snowsuit. Plenty of movie stills grace each room and a collection of antique toys that appeared in Higbee’s window are a must-see for anyone seeking an old-fashioned Christmas display.
Info for Visitors
The A Christmas Story House and Museum are located across the street from each other at 3159 W. 11th Street, Cleveland, Ohio.
- The house and museum are open seven days a week all year round, except for major holidays. The hours of operation are Monday through Saturday 10 am – 5 pm, and Sundays noon – 5 pm.
- Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, $6 for children 7-12 and free for those six and under. One ticket gets you the interactive tour of the house as well as admission to the museum.
- Tours run every half hour beginning at 10:15 (or 12:15 on Sundays). The last tour is at 4:15.
- A couple of the more entrepreneurial neighbors offer paid parking on their property, but we had no problem finding free street parking on 11th St.
- A bigger Cleveland attraction, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, is a quick drive from this site. We did them both in the same day – with a brunch in between – and felt it made an enjoyable, though eclectic, combination.