Monday, October 2

Navy veteran serves as ‘steward’ of famed ‘A Christmas Story’ house – Entertainment

When people ask former sailor Brian Jones what he does for a job, he often responds,  “I’m a leg lamp salesman.” Or perhaps, “Have you seen the movie ‘A Christmas Story?’”

Jones, in fact, owns Ralphie Parker’s iconic home from the 1983 cult hit, as well as the film’s museum on the same property and other related buildings. But his commercial and personal connection to ‘A Christmas Story’ predates his purchase of the house on eBay in 2004.

“I’ve always seen myself as a steward of the house,” Jones said. “The film is a family favorite.”

Online shopping for ‘A Christmas Story’

It all started, ironically, with some failed eyesight. Not quite as bad as the bespectacled Ralphie, of course, but Jones’ vision couldn’t pass the test to become a naval aviator like he had long dreamed. He left flight school after finishing the Naval Academy, feeling demoralized.

Thankfully, his parents knew how to put a smile on their son’s face. They crafted him a replica leg lamp, just like the one in the film (“Why, it’s a major award!”), and mailed it in a wooden crate ― complete with “FRAGILE” stamped across it.

The lamp not only cheered Jones up, it attracted plenty of positive attention from friends. Its popularity eventually influenced Jones to start Red Ryder Leg Lamps in 2003. The website sells not only the lamps, but BB guns, bunny suits and “Oh Fudge” treats, among other ‘A Christmas Story’ collectibles.

Courtesy of Brian Jones

It wasn’t long before Jones’ wife, also a sailor, was on deployment and heard that the film’s house in Cleveland was for sale online, with a starting bid of just under $100,000. She jokingly emailed her husband about it.

“It was a long email, like four of five paragraphs down, when she said, ‘Oh, they’re selling the house.’ I stopped reading,” Jones said. “I called the guy up and offered $150,000 right there and then. So yep, I bought it sight unseen on eBay.”

Fixer upper

Jones was not a Clevelander; he had never even visited the city where ‘A Christmas Story’ had been filmed. But the Floridian certainly was a mega-fan of the movie, and that was enough to convince him to juggle through multiple credit cards and a home equity line to fix up what he called a “beat-down rental property.” He put approximately $250,000 into renovations for the house, which had been turned into a duplex.

He hired contractors to fix the furnace, a move that surely would have pleased Ralphie’s obscenity-flinging father. Jones also had them install hardwood floors, cut a ceiling hole to put the staircase back to its movie location, move windows and even reinforce the cupboard doors to the kitchen sink while removing the plumbing. That way, guests could crawl inside and moan “Daddy’s gonna kill Ralphie!” just like Randy, the little brother ― Jones’ favorite tradition from the movie.

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“The whole house is interactive,” Jones said.

He opened the ‘A Christmas Story’ museum on the property in 2006, and since then, more than 1 million people have visited. Visitors can even stay overnight, at the main house’s third floor or at the Bumpus home next door (no hound dogs allowed; they might steal your turkey). Jones himself stays at the main house three to four times a year.

That’s all coming to an end soon, however. Jones has placed the entire Christmas Story property ― 1.3 acres including five buildings on seven parcels ― for sale.

Courtesy photo

“It’s just time for me,” Jones said. “It feels like the right time to find the next adventure in life.”

For Jones, a father of two high schoolers, those adventures might include more skydiving and refreshing his pilot’s license. His military experience certainly came in handy while managing the property, he said, giving him plenty of opportunities to demonstrate effective leadership over the thousands of small decisions that came with owning such an iconic piece of cinematic history.

And he’s certainly going to miss it.

“This has been an amazing adventure,” Jones said. “But I’m trying to tee it up so the next owner can take it to the next level.”

Hopefully without shooting their eye out, of course.

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