Home for the Holidays: Visiting A Christmas Story House

a christmas story house evening

December 12, 2023

Written by: Jim Smith

“Christmas had come officially. We plunged into the cornucopia quivering with desire and the ecstasy of unbridled avarice.”

To say A Christmas Story is my all-time favorite holiday film is not at all a stretch. It is a certain, unquestionable fact. I first saw the film with my older brother in our local theater in 1983. After laughing our butts off for an hour-and-a-half, we got ice cream sundaes at Friendly’s to cap off a perfect evening. This experience proved to be a core memory for me, and ended up being the first of dozens of times (maybe over 100?) I’ve watched this classic Christmas film.

The story of Ralphie Parker – a “boy of nine” growing up in the American Midwest – spoke to multiple generations of Americans, and hit hard on the notes of nostalgia, traditions, and family values, with a healthy dose of time-stamped (and yet timeless) humor.

a christmas story ralphie's family
Image: MGM/UA

I never realized until a few years ago that Ralphie’s house – prominently featured throughout the film – actually exists as a place to visit and celebrate the Christmas classic. Growing up in New England, I was not exactly a stone’s throw from the Midwest. I’ve passed through a few times here and there, but made a point to stop by A Christmas Story House & Museum while driving through Cleveland last summer. 

A Christmas Story House & Museum

A Christmas Story House & Museum – located in Cleveland, Ohio – boasts the actual house used in the film. Let’s just do a wee bit of geography before we continue. The film is set in the fictional town of Hohman, Indiana – with Ralphie’s house located on Cleveland Street. Writer Jean Shepherd and director Bob Clark found the house on West 11th Street in Cleveland – quite by accident – while passing through town. The neighborhood screamed “vintage American Midwest” to Shepherd, upon whose literary works the film is based. It had the thickly settled neighborhood feel, with a backdrop of industrial workings the midwest is known for.

Image: Jim Smith – Facts and Figment

While the house’s exterior captured exactly the nostalgia Shepherd was seeking, the inside proved to be surprisingly film-worthy itself.  Most of the interior house scenes were filmed in the actual house, with the exception of the bathroom scenes (“Be Sure to Drink Your Ovaltine”), which were filmed in a studio, based on the awkward layout of the house’s actual bathroom.

In addition to Ralphie’s house, Shepherd and Clark were quite smitten by the house next door, so much so that it was used in the film as the home of those hillbilly neighbors – the Bumpuses. 

Add in a museum building across the street, and you’ve got a full campus celebrating the classic Christmas film. Let’s go explore.

Ralphie’s House

We may have been visiting Ralphie’s house in the middle of a hot summer day, but that didn’t stop the “soft glow of electric sex” from “gleaming in the window.” The brightness outside made it impossible to get a decent photo of the “major award” leg lamp from the yard, but it was still fun to see such an iconic piece of cinematic history welcome us into the house.

a christmas story leg lamp 2
Photo: Jim Smith – Facts and Figment

Stepping inside the house was like stepping into one of my favorite memories. The famous leg lamp, the Christmas tree with all the familiar presents beneath, the radio playing an episode of Little Orphan Annie, and the wooden staircase – they were all here. I’m a grown adult, but my eyes literally welled up with emotion when I saw a touching selection of family photos, including Ralphie, his kid brother Randy, their mom, and of course, the “Old Man.”

A Christmas Story House welcomes guests in groups at regular intervals throughout the day, with each group accompanied by a knowledgeable and caring guide. Shortly after entering the house, our guide took a few minutes to share stories about the making of the film, including notable facts and trivia tidbits behind the selection of the house, specifics of certain scenes, and a few fond memories of his own regarding the film.

After spending a few minutes with our guide, we were invited to explore the house ourselves. However, our guide remained nearby throughout our visit – offering information and stories, and answering questions – in the house, the backyard, and the museum across the street.

On the surface, the house has an endearing quality of a snapshot in American time. But to deeper fans of the film, the house is chock full of iconography – from the obvious highlights to the deepest Easter Eggs.

Wandering the First Floor

In the house’s main floor, the feel was so real, you could almost catch “a quick whiff of ozone” from the fabled tangle of electrical cords.

a christmas story house christmas tree
Photo: Jim Smith – Facts and Figment

The family tree with the unmistakable crooked star shone brightly in the corner of the living room (you may recognize a familiar present next to the tree).

image 1
Photo: Jim Smith – Facts and Figment

“Kids, it’s Little Orphan Annie time, brought to you by Rich, Chocolatey Ovaltine.” The classic stand-alone radio furniture proudly displays the Old Man’s bowling trophy on top.

a christmas story can of simoniz
Photo: Jim Smith – Facts and Figment

“A can of Simoniz…” Every parent gets those little everyday gifts from their kids under the tree, and Simoniz was a classic staple for every mid-20th century guy who truly loved his car. Simoniz still exists today!

a christmas story fragile 1
Photo: Jim Smith – Facts and Figment

At long last, I got to appreciate the Old Man’s “Major Award” – fresh out of the crate. “Fra-gee-lay – that must be Italian!” Can you see the excitement in my eyes?!

a christmas story house kitchen sink.jpg
Photo: Jim Smith – Facts and Figment

“Daddy’s gonna kill Ralphie!” I mean, what kid wouldn’t want to hang out in Randy’s famous hiding spot? My sons got to do just that. I was a little too big to comfortably fit under there. (believe me, I tried!).

Let’s Go Upstairs

Heading up those beautiful wooden stairs, much like Ralphie and Randy on Christmas Eve, we continued to explore the upper level of the house.

a christmas story ovaltine
Photo: Jim Smith – Facts and Figment

“BE-SURE-TO-DRINK-YOUR-OVALTINE. A crummy commercial???” Ralphie’s Little Orphan Annie secret decoder pin would be a great stocking stuffer! A Christmas Story House Museum gift shop sells them for ten bucks. That’s much easier than “drinking gallons of Ovaltine!”

a christmas story you'll shoot your eye out
Photo: Jim Smith – Facts and Figment

“Oh no, it can’t be!…Was there no end to this conspiracy of irrational prejudice against Red Ryder and his Peacemaker?” Ralphie’s glasses emphasize the contention the “boy of nine” battled throughout the Christmas season! In the background, enjoy a sneak peek of the museum across the street.

a christmas story house phone
Photo: Jim Smith – Facts and Figment

Remember when phones actually had cords, and were mounted on walls? This is not just a prop phone. When you pick up the receiver, you’ll hear a special message (hint: it has something to do with when Ralphie got his mouth washed out with soap.)

a christmas story house red ryder bb gun
Photo: Jim Smith – Facts and Figment

Ralphie’s “official Red Ryder, carbine action, 200-shot, range model air rifle, with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time.” This is no doubt the most famous BB gun of all time. Red Ryder himself graces the poster above Ralphie’s bed.

Ralphie’s Backyard

a christmas story house backyard
Photo: Jim Smith – Facts and Figment

This is Ralphie’s backyard, complete with the fence that Black Bart and his minions scaled in order to invade Ralphie yard in one of his famous daydreams. It’s a little hard to see, but the industrial skyline beyond the yard still beats today (I’m sure it’s much easier to see in the winter).

a christmas story bumpus house
Photo: Jim Smith – Facts and Figment

Next door, the Bumpus House celebrates those never seen but still famous next door neighbors (and their “785 smelly hound dogs”). Note the adorable hounds frolicking at the bottom of the sign. The Bumpus House is not open to guests, but it is available to stay in as a bed & breakfast (as is a portion of Ralphie’s house, which is off-limits to visitors). Availability for both are on the website. As you might expect, availability is tight (and the price increases) at Christmastime. 

A Christmas Story Museum

After exploring the nooks and crannies of Ralphie’s house, we were treated to an amazing amount of additional nostalgia in the museum across the street.

a christmas story the old man's oldsmobile
Photo: Jim Smith – Facts and Figment

The Old Man’s 1937 Oldsmobile Six touring sedan is proudly parked in a garage adjacent to the museum.

a christmas story hohman fire truck
Photo: Jim Smith – Facts and Figment

A Hohman, Indiana fire truck (the same make and model as the one seen responding to poor Flick while his tongue was stuck to that metal pole) rests gently in the adjacent garage bay. Fun Fact:  The actual fire truck used in the filming of this scene belonged to the Chippawa Volunteer Fire Fighters Association in Niagara Falls, Canada, nearby to where the outdoor school scenes were filmed. Look closely at the crest on this truck’s door for a couple fun surprises.

a christmas story house red ryder quote
Photo: Jim Smith – Facts and Figment

“There it is!” One of the six actual Red Ryder guns used in the film is displayed proudly in the museum, along with a bit of fascinating background of the make of the gun, and the tale of the gun’s acquisition by the museum.

a christmas story black bart
Photo: Jim Smith – Facts and Figment

“Okay Black Bart, now you get yours.” An homage to Red Ryder’s sworn enemy is just one of many unique pieces found on the walls throughout the rooms of the museum. Other fun pieces include movie posters, related art, and some costumes and props seen in the film.

a christmas story good morning miss shields
Photo: Jim Smith – Facts and Figment

“Good morning Miss Shields!” For a brief moment after an impressively coordinated classroom prank, that desk drawer full of confiscated gags sees the light of day. The teacher was not amused (but we sure were). Several of those pieces from Miss Shields’ classroom drawer can be found in the museum space. 

jean sheppard scut farkus story
Photo: Jim Smith – Facts and Figment

Jean Shepherd’s book titled In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, is a collection of nostalgia-based short stories upon which A Christmas Story is based. Many of Shepherd’s short stories also appeared in magazine publications. Ralphie’s nemesis, Scut Farkus, was first created by Shepherd in a story for Playboy magazine, in a story called Scut Farkus and the Murderous Mariah. The “Scut Farkus Affair” is one of the film’s most memorable moments.

Nostalgia for Sale

When we first pulled up to A Christmas Story House & Museum, I was horrified to see a giant “FOR SALE” banner, advertising the availability of the entire campus, including Ralphie’s House, the Bumpus House, the Museum, and several other adjacent parcels. “Oh, fudge!” My heart sank, thinking that such a beloved piece of American cinematic history could be in jeopardy. For a fleeting, unrealistic moment, I wondered if there was any way I could consider purchasing the house to preserve the memory of something I love so dearly.

a christmas story house for sale
Photo: Jim Smith – Facts and Figment

How much do you think the entire property would cost? Maybe a couple million bucks? The purchase price was never publicly listed, but Yano Anaya, the child actor who played Grover Dill (Scut Farkus’ bully sidekick) in the film, said in January 2023 that owner Brian Jones wanted $15 million for the properties. At the time, Anaya was part of an investment group that was considering buying the property, according to Cleveland.com.

Fans of the film and its sacred Cleveland neighborhood setting can breathe a sigh of relief. Just a couple weeks ago, on November 28, 2023, the A Christmas Story House & Museum announced that Joshua Dickerson, the operation’s current CEO, will be “taking an equity stake in the company” and will become the managing partner. Dickerson has been involved with the house and museum for nearly sixteen years, so it’s safe to say the iconic house will remain open for business. Phew!

I hope you have enjoyed this trip to Ralphie’s house. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and yours, and a Happy New Year too!

What’s your favorite moment from the film? See my list of Ten Memorable Moments from A Christmas Story.

Also, you might be surprised to learn how many connections exist between A Christmas Story and Disney.

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