Tourism Authority and Iconic Movie Share 30-Year Milestone

2013-12-08T07:00:00Z 2013-12-09T14:30:05Z Tourism Authority and Iconic Movie Share 30-Year Milestone nwitimes.com
December 08, 2013 7:00 am

After first debuting in the time-honored New York City Macy’s department store holiday windows in 2003, six animated displays depicting some of the most memorable moments from “A Christmas Story” were put into storage. A few years later, they were reassembled and featured in the windows of Macy’s Boston store.

With the displays once again relegated to storage, the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority partnered with Warner Brothers Entertainment Inc. to bring them home to Hammond’s Indiana Welcome Center in 2008. Since then, well over 200,000 people (not including this year’s attendance) from all corners of the world have seen the exhibit and/or participated in one of the “A Christmas Story” Comes Home special events.

“We have some very loyal visitors who come every year,” South Shore CVA President and CEO Speros A. Batistatos, said. “For us this is a great opportunity to show off Hammond, Jean Shepherd’s home. It’s also a very tangible experience that helps people better understand what it is we do as an organization.”

“I triple dog dare you!”

This year, in honor of the movie’s 30th anniversary, which also matches the number of years the South Shore CVA has been leading the charge to revitalize the regional economy by making Northwest Indiana a place where people want to live, work and visit for business and leisure travel, a new bronze statue of Flick’s tongue-licking flagpole “incident” was unveiled in front of the Indiana Welcome Center’s flagpole in October.

“In our 30 year history, this event generated the biggest media hit by far. Hammond, Indiana has been the focus of what is already three million in earned media hits, and that number is still growing,” Batistatos explained. “On any given day, I love coming to work. I take great pride in this role. But it’s even more fun this time of year. The other day, I was walking up to the building when a couple was photographing each other with the statue. I asked if they wanted a photo of the two of them, and they did. It turns out they were from Milwaukee and came to Hammond to specifically get this picture for their Christmas card. We’re seeing quite a bit of that this year.”

“I want an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle!”

A beloved yuletide tradition for three decades, most people can make the connection between Shepherd and the holiday classic, which is based on stories from his book, “In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash.” In addition, Shepherd provides the colorful voice-over narration as a grown-up Ralphie, and even makes a cameo appearance during the pivotal department store Santa visit in the film.

“You’ll shoot your eye out kid!”

Like many of his stories, Shepherd’s nostalgic view of Christmastime during the 1940s is based on his own experience growing up in Hammond – “a Chicago suburb in the shadow of US Steel Works on Lake Michigan.” Born in 1921, Shepherd often referred to his manic father as “the old man,” described his mother as always standing over the sink in a “yellow rump-sprung chenille bathrobe with bits of dried egg on the lapel” and recalled adventures with his kid brother “Randy” along with their neighborhood pals and bullies during a radio career that started in Cincinnati in 1948 and continued for 22 years.

“It’s a Major Award!”

His book of short stories was culled from those broadcasts and published in 1966.

“A Christmas Story” debuted on Thanksgiving Day in 1983 to mixed reviews, which resulted in a mediocre box office performance. However, once it started airing on television in 1985, “A Christmas Story” quickly attracted a growing following.

In 1997, due to its increasing popularity, TNT began airing “24 Hours of ‘A Christmas Story’,” running it nonstop from just after dinner on Christmas Eve right on through to the late afternoon of Christmas day.

Filmed in Cleveland (where the original house has been restored) and Canada (there wasn’t any snow in Cleveland at the time), “A Christmas Story” depicts a small slice of family life in pre-war Hohman, Indiana (a nod to Shepherd’s hometown since Hohman Avenue runs through downtown Hammond) that most people can relate to in one way or another.

“Growing up we all knew someone like ‘old man’ Parker (played by Darren McGavin in the film),” Batistatos said. “There are so many references specific to our area, to growing up in Hammond. I teach an events management class at Purdue Calumet, and the one thing I stress is the fact that if you’re going to host an event, you’ve go to own it. No one else could own this, and thanks to Warner Brothers, our Board and our staff, we all have something we can be incredibly proud of. This is a really great exhibit that defines us a community and as a people.”

Along with the opportunity to view five of the original six “A Christmas Story” windows – including Santa’s Mountain and a Higbee’s Department Store Window, the Major Award displayed at the Parker’s home, the Bumpus Hounds devouring the Parker’s Christmas turkey and, of course, the Triple Dog Dare scene where Flick gets his tongue stuck on a flagpole – there’s a brand new window.

“We asked visitors what new scene they would like to see as the next window, and the dream sequence where Ralphie, dressed as a cowboy, earns his parents gratitude by fending off a small army of villains with his Red Ryder,” Batistatos said. “The original sixth window was erected at Riley’s Hospital for childrenin Indianapolis and now provides comfort and distraction to the parents in the children’s cancer ward, which serves families all across Indiana. When you spend a minute there, you realize what’s important. We’re fortunate to be a community of family-oriented people, and we’re colorful like the Parkers.”

“He looks like a deranged Easter Bunny!”

Even after three decades, a well-played triple-dog dare never gets old. Along with a full night and day to enjoy Ralphie’s quest for that Red Ryder air rifle on television, you can visit all the splendor of “A Christmas Story” Comes Home at the Indiana Welcome Center from 8am to 5pm daily through January 5th.

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