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‘A Christmas story’ comes home for 40th anniversary of the movie

Fans of the movie flock to Indiana Welcome Center to meet cast

HAMMOND, Ind. (December 20, 2023) – They came from miles around. They stood outside in the rain. Some waited for hours. It was all for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to meet members of the cast of A Christmas Story, the classic holiday movie that holds a special place in the hearts of those in the region.

Movie Anniversary

Released on November 18, 1983, A Christmas Story wasn’t a big box office hit. But it later earned a following of fans who watched it repeatedly on cable television during the holiday season – those who could relate to the premise of the movie of a young boy’s strong desire for one coveted Christmas present. It centered on one holiday season in the life of young Ralphie Parker, who wanted nothing more than a Red Ryder BB gun from Santa.

The movie was based on a story written by humorist and author Jean Shepherd, which included bits of his real childhood memories of growing up in the Hessville neighborhood of Hammond, Indiana. In the movie, his fictional hometown is called Hohman, Indiana (a nod to one of Hammond’s main corridors).

This year as the movie celebrated its 40th anniversary (as did the South Shore Convention & Visitors Bureau, which operates the Indiana Welcome Center), plans were made for a reunion of several actors.

Eight of the original cast were in attendance, including Peter Billingsley, who played Ralphie Parker, and Ian Petrella, who played his brother, Randy Parker. Additional actors who were part of the reunion event were Scott Schwartz (Flick), Yano Anaya (Grover Dill), R.D. Robb (Schwartz), Drew Hocevar (Male Elf), Patty LaFountain (Female Elf), and Dwayne McLean (Black Bart).

A Christmas Story
A sign directs visitors to meet Peter Billingsley. (Photo: Carrie Steinweg)

According to Heather Beccera, Chief Marketing Officer with the South Shore CVA, Peter Billingsly hadn’t appeared with the cast in over two decades until appearing with them at the Indiana Welcome Center over the weekend.

Fan Encounters

Kristine Melago and Jamie Slachta of Winfield, Indiana walked away with a big smile after meeting some of the movie actors and getting autographs. Melago was dressed in a pink bunny onesie like the one that Ralphie donned near the end of the movie.

A Christmas Story
Jamie Slachta and Kristine Melago of Winfield, Indiana, waited in line for 3 hours to get the stock of a BB gun signed. (Photo: Carrie Steinweg)

Melago said they’d arrived about an hour before the event began and waited in line for three hours to get the stock of a B.B. gun signed. They had plans to make a day out of their visit. “She’s going to be in the mashed potato eating contest,” said Slachta.

She wasn’t the only one wearing that familiar pink bunny suit. The Sanchez family of Chicago was there with all four members wearing those Pepto-Bismol-hued outfits. “We watch the movie every year and before the pandemic, we’d go to Cleveland for the Christmas Story 5K and 10K run that would finish off at the Christmas Story house,” said Jesus Sanchez.

A Christmas Story
The Sanchez Family of Chicago attended Saturday’s event at the Indiana Welcome Center all wearing the pink bunny onesie worn by Ralphie Parker in the movie. (Photo: Carrie Steinweg)

Although set in Indiana, the exterior home and some interior scenes were filmed in Cleveland, and the house there has become a big tourist attraction.

It’s also been tradition for the Sanchez family to come every year to get pictures atop Santa’s Mountain at the Indiana Welcome Center – a recreation of the department store scene in the movie.

Edward Winecki of Des Plaines, Illinois, and his son Tom were there for autographs and a photo opportunity with the cast. Their experience for all the autographs and photos cost over $700.

“We’re big fans of the movie,” said Edward. “We attend a lot of different conventions and we’ve been doing it for over 10 years. It’s nice father and son time that we enjoy.”

Although the cost was high and the wait line was long, it was worth it in the eye of Tom Winecki, who had already been standing in line for more than two hours at the time he commented. “We’ll never be able to do this again,” he said. “Not with the full cast in one place.”

Keith and Ramona Currier of Hammond didn’t have to go far to celebrate their favorite Christmas movie. The couple scored an autographed photo, signed by Billingsley.

A Christmas Story
Keith and Ramona Currier of Hammond scored an autographed photo of Peter Billingley at the 40th-anniversary event celebrating the movie, A Christmas Story. (Photo: Carrie Steinweg)

Keith has been watching the movie multiple times each year since he was about 10 years old. “He introduced me to it,” said Ramona. “We watch it on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day each year and whenever there are reruns of it.”

He was in awe of being able to meet the movie star in person. “He looks exactly the same as he did in the movie,” Keith commented. “And he was really sweet in person,” added Ramona.

While pink bunny onesies were all over the place, the Parkinson-Thorne family took a different approach. Dressed in character as the Parker family, seven-year-old Spencer, and 10-year-old Preston looked like they’d stepped back in time about 80 years. “This is a once-in-a-life experience and we’ve been waiting all their lives for it,” said mom Kaelah Parkinson. “We’ve probably watched the movie hundreds of times.”

A Christmas Story
Preston Parkinson-Thorne (left) and his brother Spencer dress as Ralphie and Randy Parker. (Photo: Carrie Steinweg)

Exhibit and Other Activities

While the majority of visitors to the Indiana Welcome Center were there in search of autographs and cast meet and greets, there were other activities going on. Santa’s Mountain was open for kids to see Santa – spilling out their heart’s desires and smiling for photos.

Visitors had the opportunity to climb Santa’s Mountain, just like Ralphie in A Christmas Story. (Photo: Carrie Steinweg)

Another highlight of the weekend was the Mommy’s Little Piggy Contest where hungry contestants sat at a table challenged to eat a plate of mashed potatoes at lightning speed without using their hands. The contest was held several times for different age categories with some of the movie actors joining in.

The exhibit remains open through December 30 and includes animatronic movie scenes that originally appeared in the windows of Macy’s Department Store in New York. For more information, visit achristmasstorycomeshome.com.

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Carrie Steinweg
Carrie Steinweg
Carrie Steinweg is a freelance writer, photographer, author, and food and travel blogger who has lived in Lansing for 27 years. She most enjoys writing about food, people, history, and baseball. Her favorite Lansing Journal articles that she has written are: "Lan Oak Lanes attracts film crew," "Why Millennials are choosing Lansing," "Curtis Granderson returns home to give back," "The Cubs, the World Series, fandom, and family," and "Lansing's One Trick Pony Brewery: a craft beer oasis."