Jean Shepherd fans could be lured to region

Doug Ross' column
2006-12-24T00:00:00Z Jean Shepherd fans could be lured to region nwitimes.com
December 24, 2006 12:00 am

My Christmas gift to the region this year is an idea for honoring someone from Hammond who made the big time.

Let's unwrap this idea.

Tonight at 7 begins the 24-hour marathon on TBS of "A Christmas Story," which as any good region rat knows was set in Hammond. Sure, the movie was shot in places like Cleveland and Toronto, but the story itself was based on the book "In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash," a story about Jean Shepherd's childhood in Hammond.

That 1983 movie was the first one I ever bought, back in the days when a VCR cost about $500 and buyers had to choose between VHS and Betamax.

It's a wildly popular movie -- and for good reason.

Who can forget the scene where Flick gets his tongue stuck to the flagpole?

Or where Ralphie tells Santa he wants a Red Ryder Daisy BB gun with a compass in the stock, only to have Santa tell him, "You'll shoot your eye out, kid," and then put his boot on Ralphie's head to send him down the slide from the platform Santa is using at the former Goldblatt's Department Store?

Or the moment when The Old Man, Ralphie's father, gets a crate marked FRAGILE -- Darren McGavin says, "Fra-gee-lay. It must be Italian!" -- and the crate turns out to contain a hideous, kitschy leg lamp?

Jean Shepherd was a literary giant, and the popularity of this movie based on his childhood offers Hammond and the rest of Northwest Indiana an opportunity to celebrate that fame and cash in on it in the process.

Chesterton got put on the map with the Wizard of Oz festival that honors a movie with which Chesterton had no connection, other than a collectibles store owner's imagination. And yet the festival grew so large it even outgrew its host community.

Hammond is large enough that a festival to honor Jean Shepherd and his signature movie ought to be easily hosted. Host it in November or December, and the event could be housed at the Hammond Civic Center and the Jean Shepherd Community Center and elsewhere.

The festival could bring people from across the country to see the community where all these humorous events in the movie and book happened. It could offer a chance to celebrate the community that gave birth to a comedic genius and learn more about his childhood and his stellar career.

Today The Times offers readers a look at significant places and people connected with that movie. I had the good fortune to accompany Times columnist Mark Kiesling on a tour of Shepherd's old neighborhood and to leaf through the Jean Shepherd photographs at the Hammond Public Library.

I even got to see the leg lamp at the library and hear why a small shrine to Shepherd was created at the library.

So why not build on this idea? Why not create an event to bring people from far and wide to Hammond? We'll share our heritage -- and the visitors' money.

So there's my gift to the region this year -- the idea for an event that Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. and Lake County Convention and Visitors Bureau President and CEO Speros Batistatos could turn into a money-maker and attention-getter for Northwest Indiana.

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