‘A Christmas Story’ and the race to save a Cleveland neighborhood

Proceeds from the annual 5K/10K help restore and maintain the area where the 1983 holiday classic was filmed.
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The home in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood where exterior scenes from “A Christmas Story’ were shot.

We had barely started the third annual A Christmas Story 5K/10K Run — I had six miles ahead of me — when over the music on my iPhone emerged two words you never want to hear during a race.

“Bunny down!” a woman quipped.

Fortunately, it appeared to be only a modest fall by a competitor no doubt unfamiliar with running in a pink bunny suit.

How many adults even have a pink bunny suit, much less exercise in one?

Well, if you were in Cleveland on Dec. 5, you would have seen quite a few people in bunny suits, as well as wooden crates, sexy leg lamps and other costumes that paid homage to the 1983 holiday classic, “A Christmas Story.”

Higbee’s to the house

All proceeds from the race benefit the Christmas Story House Foundation, a nonprofit whose mission is to help restore and maintain the neighborhood surrounding the Christmas Story House and Museum.

The yellow clapboard house with green trim where Ralphie and Randy Parker lived in the fictional town of Hohman, Ind., actually sits in the real Cleveland neighborhood of Tremont.

In its first two years, the race raised $112,500 for the neighborhood (I haven’t seen a figure for this year), helping homeowners fix gutters, porches, fences.

Some 6,000 of us (also including my wife and son) entered the race, which starts downtown in Cleveland’s Public Square near the old Higbee’s department store, now a casino.

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It’s a casino now, but the former Higbee department store is remembered with a plaque.

As we learned from our Christmas Story House tour guide, Cameron, the filmmakers chose Higbee’s because the store’s owner was willing to keep Christmas decorations up until spring to accommodate the filming schedule.

In the movie, Ralphie wants a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. But his parents, his teacher, and the Higbee’s Santa insist that it’s a bad idea: “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid,” they tell him.

It’s approximately three miles from Higbee’s to the house in Tremont. If you’re running a 5K, the house is your destination. If you’re running a 10K, you make a left turn at the house and head back to Higbee’s.

I have been running much of my life (from my demons, ba-dum-bum), if you want to call my slog running. But I had only run a small number of 5K races until Cleveland.

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Cleveland rocks — and races.

Anticipating colder weather than we got, I wore a zippered jacket that I didn’t need. Combined with a first-half pace that was faster than that to which I am accustomed, I hit a wall in mile four. I felt weighed down, like Randy in his snowsuit.

But unlike Randy, I could move my arms. I removed my gloves, grabbed a cup of water and walked only long enough to rejuvenate my spirit. I made it back across the bridge, took a left at Progressive Field (home of the Cleveland Indians), and did my version of a sprint to the finish line.

Bought on eBay

Brian Jones was living in San Diego, making and selling replicas of the leg lamp from “A Christmas Story,” when he purchased Ralphie’s house on eBay in 2004. He paid $150,000 for it, sight unseen.

He lives in Jacksonville, Fla., now, but he was in Cleveland for race weekend. I sought him out in his store.

He explained that he had a business making and selling leg lamps like the one Ralphie’s father won (“It’s a major award!”) when he bought the house. Matter-of-factly he suggested he had no doubt the house would become a tourist draw.

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Ralphie got a BB gun, and you can, too, at the Christmas Story House store.

I wasn’t aware until we were on the house tour that the interior you see in the movie was filmed on a set, not in the actual house.

The only exception is the scene when the leg lamp arrives; it was delivered by a guy who still lives down the street. (When the house opened to the public, a leg lamp was delivered to the man’s home. It is on the second floor of his home, encased in plexiglass, visible to passersby.)

But Jones has decorated the house to look a heck of a lot like the one in the movie, right down to the bar of red Lifebuoy soap in the upstairs bathroom.

Many of the exterior scenes were filmed at the house or in the neighborhood. Others were shot in Ontario, Canada, including the one where Flick accepts a “triple dog dare” and sticks his tongue on a frozen flagpole in a schoolyard.

But the city once ridiculed as “The Mistake on the Lake” has staked its unchallenged claim to “A Christmas Story.”

And the annual race is ensuring that the house at 3159 W. 11th St. and the neighborhood in Tremont that surrounds it will be around for a lot longer.

In the movie, Ralphie ultimately conquered the neighborhood bullies.

In real life, the movie’s legacy is helping to save the neighborhood.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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