“A Christmas Story”—Ralphie’s Real Home

It’s the holiday season, time for the annual broadcasts of A Christmas Story.

If you’ve somehow missed this movie, it’s a tale set a fictitious Midwestern city, in an unspecified year around 1940, centered around the everyday adventures of nine-year-old Ralphie Parker. The hook is Ralphie’s ongoing yearning for a particular Christmas present, namely an Official Red Ryder Carbine Action Two-Hundred Shot Range Model Air Rifle.

Radio raconteur Jean Shepherd’s short stories are the inspiration for the movie.  When filming began in 1983, Shepherd scouted out locations that reminded him of his boyhood in Hammond, and settled on a house in Cleveland.  A few years ago that house was purchased by an enterprising entrepreneur, who converted it into the Christmas Story Museum. Across the street is a gift shop that sells such artifacts as bunny playsuits and electric-sex leg lamps.

Jean Shepherd's cameo in "A Christmas Story"

Jean Shepherd’s cameo in “A Christmas Story”

But if you’re looking for a closer connection to the real events behind the story, you can join the fans who make a drive-by pilgrimage past Shepherd’s boyhood home. The frame bungalow still stands at 2907 Cleveland Street, just off Kennedy Avenue in Hammond.

Jean Parker Shepherd Jr. was born on Chicago’s South Side in 1921—about ten years before Ralphie Parker—the son of a dairy clerk. He grew up in Hammond, attending Warren G. Harding Elementary School, and graduated from Hammond High School in 1939. During World War II he served stateside in the U.S. Army.

After the war Shepherd began his career as a radio broadcaster in Hammond. He moved up through several larger markets, finally landing in New York in 1955. All the while he was establishing himself as a storyteller, gentle yet biting. Before there was Garrison Keillor, there was Jean Shepherd.

Shepherd also began writing short stories for magazines. The first collection of his tales, titled In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, appeared in 1966. Many of the incidents in the movie are drawn from this book. At various times he hosted different idiosyncratic series on public TV, most memorably Jean Shepherd’s America. By the 1980s he had a nationwide cult following.

 Jean Shepherd's Hammond home

Jean Shepherd’s Hammond home

Yet it was A Christmas Story that introduced Shepherd to the greater population. Though he continued to churn out stories and do the occasional radio or TV gig, the movie’s popularity fixed his reputation. When he died in 1999, the lede sentence of his obituaries usually referred to him as the “author and narrator of the beloved holiday film . . .”

The Shepherd family lived in various places around Hammond during the 1930s. They moved into the house at 2907 Cleveland Street in 1935. A carving in the attic contains the autographs “17 yrs. old. Jean Shepherd. 2/18/39” and “15 yrs. old. Randall Shepherd. 2/28/39.”

Unlike the museum in Cleveland, this is a private residence, and does not welcome visitors. However, the City of Hammond does recognize its favorite son with the Jean Shepherd Community Center a few blocks away in Dowling Park.


3 Responses to ““A Christmas Story”—Ralphie’s Real Home”

  1. 1 terrinschmidt2013 November 28, 2016 at 6:42 am

    Nope, you’re not getting “the lamp” this year either.

  2. 2 Kinger November 28, 2016 at 9:58 am

    Come on the Leg lamp is the perfect gift for Jake…lol

  3. 3 benson November 28, 2016 at 1:46 pm

    My kids, Bless ’em, got me a plug in night light in the shape of the leg lamp. I believe it was made in Italy, as it was marked “fragile”.

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