The bronze statue of Flick from "A Christmas Story" getting his tongue "stuck, stuck, STUUUCK" to a flagpole outside the Indiana Welcome Center in Hammond turned out to be a big hit that made international headlines.
The quirky sculpture earned an estimated $3.8 million worth of media coverage, including in Canada and Great Britain, and helped draw a record 32,289 visitors to the South Shore and Convention Visitors Authority's annual "A Christmas Story" Comes Home exhibit.
That does not include all the drive-by visitors who stopped outside just to snap a quick picture of the oft-quoted "triple-dog dare" scene from beloved holiday classic, which was authored by Hammond native Jean Shepherd.
Flick might soon get some company, because SSCVA president and CEO Speros Batistatos wants to capitalize more off the popular film's Northwest Indiana origins. He is pricing two other statues, of Flick's teacher Miss Shields and the fireman who helped unstick Flick's tongue.
Eventually, Batistatos hopes to recreate the entire flagpole scene from the movie in bronze statues outside the Welcome Center. He and the SSCVA board were interested in starting with a Miss Shields sculpture because the actress who portrayed her, Tedde Moore, is still alive and making movies.
He also would like to partner with the city of Hammond to bulk up "A Christmas Story" tourism in Lake County. He proposed ideas such as a Jean Shepherd museum, a Jean Shepherd trail that would highlight important sites, a history tour and bronze historical markers outside Shepherd's home and the Warren G. Harding Elementary School that is immortalized in the movie.
The SSCVA and city of Hammond could even look into whether the owner of Shepherd's childhood home on Cleveland Street would be willing to sell.
"I think there's some real opportunity," he said. "With the help of appropriate departments, we could further explore this."
"A Christmas Story" already accounts for a significant amount of the tourism to Lake County. Last year, the visitors center drew 96,000 people and the South Shore and Convention Visitors Authority picked up $7.2 million total worth of international media coverage, up from $1.4 million in 2012, said Heather Berreca, SSCVA director of sales & marketing.
The Christmas Story exhibit, which runs between November and early January, drew about a third of the Welcome Center visitors and accounted for more than half of the media coverage. Batistatos envisions the possibility of turning "A Christmas Story" into a year-round attraction, the way entrepreneur Brian Jones has with the Christmas Story House and Museum in Cleveland.
"We could do a Jean Shepherd trail or a history tour," he said. "There's a lot of low-hanging fruit to make this a year-round attraction."
The SSCVA has spend hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last several years on its exhibit, but it's paid off in attracting visitors and media attention, Batistatos said. The agency however would likely need a better and deeper partnership with the city and others in order to pursue bigger projects.
The Christmas Story House and Museum in Cleveland attracts 50,000 visitors annually, but Hammond brought in 32,000 in just 40 days for its seasonal exhibit, Batistatos said.
"The movie was filmed there, fine," he said. "They've built a great location, taken over a whole block and created changing property values. But we own this. It's our history. We can do a lot more than 50,000 visitors in a year."