Eclec­tic Cleve­land tour makes for a per­fect week­end get­away

The Citizens' Voice - - TRAVEL - BY ALEXAN­DRA PECCI

A blond, be­spec­ta­cled boy of about 6 stands alone on a wooden stair­case, his arms and legs swim­ming in an over­sized, bright pink bunny cos­tume, com­plete with long ears that stick straight up from a fuzzy hood pulled over his head. He’s look­ing around im­pas­sively, when . . .

“Give me a pink night­mare!” his mother calls from the foot of the stairs, her cell­phone cam­era at the ready, and the boy im­me­di­ately folds his arms against his chest and pulls his face into a petu­lant frown, scowl­ing at his mother over the top of his wire-rimmed glasses.

If this scene feels fa­mil­iar, it’s for good rea­son. We were in Cleve­land, Ohio, in­side the house where they filmed parts of the 1983 cult clas­sic “A Christ­mas Story,” and I was watch­ing a dop­pel­ganger for the main char­ac­ter, Ral­phie, re-en­act one of the film’s most fa­mous mo­ments. This die-hard lit­tle fan wasn’t the only per­son in cos­tume, how­ever, as we spot­ted least six pink bun­nies (mostly adults) over the course of our visit.

“The house is fully in­ter­ac­tive,” our tour guide, Paige, told the roughly 25 peo­ple who had crowded into the house’s small liv­ing room. “You can try on hats, you can pick up that ‘ma­jor award’ like you won it, you can hide un­der the sink.”

I didn’t ex­pect that watch­ing my hus­band climb glee­fully into a wooden cab­i­net un­der a kitchen sink would be a high­light of my sum­mer va­ca­tion, but I guess Cleve­land is noth­ing if not sur­pris­ing. Af­ter all, when fam­ily and friends heard that our big sum­mer plans con­sisted of a week­end trip to Cleve­land, they all asked the same thing: Why?

It was a valid ques­tion with an easy an­swer. My hus­band, Brian, turned 40 ear­lier this year, so I wanted his Christ­mas gift to re­flect the mile­stone. When I saw that “A Christ­mas Story House” had be­come a tourist at­trac­tion ded­i­cated to the movie, a leg lamp il­lu­mi­nated in­side my brain. I re­al­ized that Cleve­land might just pro­vide his ideal week­end, one filled with base­ball, brew­eries, rock ’n’ roll and a heavy help­ing of child­hood nos­tal­gia.

Af­ter a quick, non­stop flight from Bos­ton, we dropped our bags at our ho­tel and walked a halfmile to the shore of Lake Erie and the glass pyra­mid of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where we found the flag at half-staff and Aretha Franklin songs blar­ing in the out­door plaza. The Queen of Soul — the first woman in­ducted into the Rock Hall — had died just hours be­fore our ar­rival.

Her mu­sic ac­com­pa­nied us through­out the day, play­ing in all of the mu­seum’s com­mon ar­eas as we wound through the sev­en­level shrine to rock. The mu­seum’s hold­ings are ex­ten­sive and of­ten jaw­drop­ping, rang­ing from the iconic (Michael Jack­son’s rhine­stone-en­crusted glove, Elvis’s army uni­form, John Len­non’s round, wire-rimmed glasses); to the os­ten­ta­tious (David Bowie’s Ziggy Star­dust cos­tumes, Flava Flav’s clock neck­lace, the Supremes’ feath­ered and se­quined gowns). And there was one item that made a tan­gle of con­flicted emo­tions bub­ble up in my stomach: Kurt Cobain’s death cer­tifi­cate. Tak­ing a pic­ture of it didn’t feel right, but I also couldn’t help get­ting down on my knees to read it more closely.

But per­haps noth­ing tugged at my writerly heart­strings more than see­ing hand­writ­ten lyrics to songs like “Lon­don Call­ing,” “Pur­ple Haze,” “God Only Knows” and “Lucy in the Sky with Di­a­monds,” marred with cross-outs and re­vi­sions and scrib­bled on pa­per that was crum­pled, stained or ripped hastily from note­books.

By the time we left the Rock Hall that af­ter­noon, the mu­seum had al­ready sprung into trib­ute mode for Franklin, adding one of her glit­tered gowns to its “In Me­mo­riam” sec­tion (which it­self was added ear­lier this year as part of a mu­seum re­vamp) and play­ing host to hordes of TV news crews.

A cou­ple of days later, af­ter a tour of Mar­ket Gar­den Brew­ery in the trendy Ohio City neigh­bor­hood, we watched Cleve­landers pay trib­ute to an­other leg­end. Re­tired In­di­ans base­ball great Jim Thome was at Pro­gres­sive Field for a pregame cer­e­mony that in­cluded re­tir­ing his No. 25. All that home­town pride didn’t pre­vent the Bal­ti­more Ori­oles from beat­ing the In­di­ans, though, some­thing that we, as Red Sox fans, took in stride from our bleacher seats.

A few blocks away from the base­ball sta­dium we found our­selves drink­ing in a base­ment and on a rooftop on East Fourth Street, a pedes­trian-only thor­ough­fare lined with restau­rants, shops and en­ter­tain­ment venues. Un­der­neath white bistro lights strung across the street be­tween the build­ings, we walked among out­door ta­bles and buskers, search­ing for a place to hang out for a bit.

First, we de­scended a flight of stairs into So­ci­ety Lounge, a glam­orous throw­back to the so­phis­ti­cated “cafe so­ci­ety” of yes­ter­year. Woe­fully un­der­dressed, I en­joyed a metic­u­lously hand­crafted New York Sour cock­tail at the bar be­fore head­ing across the street to an­other nightspot, this one on a roof. From the rooftop pa­tio of The Green­house Tav­ern, I sipped a glass of rosé and watched the peo­ple am­bling around be­low us as they en­joyed Cleve­land’s laid-back nightlife.

But back to those pink bun­nies. I had al­ways thought that Brian’s fer­vent love of “A Christ­mas Story,” not to men­tion his abil­ity to re­cite Ral­phie’s en­tire plea for a Red Ry­der BB gun from mem­ory, was a quirk pe­cu­liar to him, but as we ar­rived at the house, I learned oth­er­wise.

All af­ter­noon, a steady stream of tourists filed in and out of the house, where they roamed and posed with decor and de­tails straight from the 1940s-set film. There was a hand-cranked wash­ing ma­chine in the kitchen; Ral­phie’s home­work that earned him a C+ and a Red Ry­der comic book in his bed­room; a bar of teeth-marked red soap in the bath­room like the one Ral­phie’s mother used to wash out his mouth; a Lit­tle Or­phan An­nie de­coder pin on a small ta­ble; the longed-for BB gun un­der a crooked Christ­mas tree. And of course, there was the “ma­jor award” that Ral­phie’s Old Man won: A huge lamp in the shape of a woman’s fish­net­stockinged leg, stand­ing in the win­dow.

Across the street, a mu­seum held even more movie props and mem­o­ra­bilia, in­clud­ing its many bad re­views, which are proudly hung on the walls. We also learned that diehard fans could rent the house for overnight stays (“You get free rein of the whole house overnight,” Paige said), and that its owner was also re­mod­el­ing the home next door — known to fans of the movie as “The Bum­pus House” — into overnight ac­com­mo­da­tions slated to open Oct. 1.

Just when I thought the af­ter­noon couldn’t get any weirder, we saw yet an­other bunny — this one wear­ing heavy black boots and a po­lice vest over his pink fur suit, a pair of hand­cuffs bounc­ing off his chest as he danced wildly in front of the house to the Justin Tim­ber­lake song, “Can’t Stop the Feel­ing.” The Greater Cleve­land Re­gional Tran­sit Author­ity po­lice were film­ing a “Lip Sync Chal­lenge” video. For us, it was the last of many sur­prises in a city filled with them.


Aretha Franklin is hon­ored with a low­ered flag and pho­to­graph on Aug. 16 at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleve­land, Ohio.


Out­door ta­bles line the sides of East Fourth Street in down­town Cleve­land, Ohio.

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