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10 Important Facts About A Christmas Story's Leg Lamp

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When A Christmas Story was first released in 1983, it was a sleeper that attracted only a small (but quite cultish) following. Over the past three decades, however, the film has steadily become a holiday staple on par with classics like A Charlie Brown Christmas and Miracle on 34th Street. And as the film itself has grown in popularity, so has one of its most recognizable props: the leg lamp, that glowing gam otherwise known as “A Major Award.”

1.THE LEG LAMP WAS INSPIRED BY AN OLD-SCHOOL SOFT DRINK

Before A Christmas Story was a movie, it was a series of short stories that appeared in two different volumes by the late writer and radio personality Jean Shepherd. The books, In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash and Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories and Other Disasters, were fictionalized accounts of Shepherd’s childhood in Depression-era Indiana (though the movie was filmed mostly in Cleveland). Shepherd describes the leg lamp and his father’s obsession with it in a 1966 story titled “My Old Man and the Lascivious Special Award that Heralded the Birth of Pop Art.” 

According to A Christmas Story House and Museum (yep, there’s an entire museum dedicated to the subject), Shepherd imagined the leg lamp after seeing an illuminated Nehi Soda advertisement, which featured two shapely disembodied legs up to the knee. Shepherd gave cloaked credit to Nehi by writing that the Old Man’s crossword contest was sponsored by an “orange pop” company whose name “was a play on words, involving the lady’s knee.”

When the lamp finally arrives in Shepherd’s essay, he writes, “From ankle to thigh the translucent flesh radiated a vibrant, sensual, luminous orange-yellow-pinkish nimbus of Pagan fire. All it needed was tom-toms and maybe a gong or two. And a tenor singing in a high, quavery, earnest voice: ‘A pretty girl/Is like a melody…’”

2. BUT IT WAS IMMORTALIZED BY PRODUCTION DESIGNER REUBEN FREED

Uncertain of just what a leg lamp should look like, A Christmas Story’s production designer Reuben Freed created a quick sketch and showed it to Shepherd, who surprisingly approved it right away. “I immediately thought of something I had seen in my mother’s front room, which was sort of a gold-colored silk lampshade, pleated with fringe around it,” Freed told Cleveland magazine in 2009. “I thought of it immediately and never thought of anything else—just that classic, big ugly shape.”

3. THE “ORIGINAL” LEG LAMP NO LONGER EXISTS

Finding an original leg lamp is considered the ultimate feat for A Christmas Story aficionados, according to Caseen Gaines in A Christmas Story: Behind the Scenes of a Holiday Classic. But “the likelihood of finding one is about as great as locating Pee Wee Herman’s bicycle in the basement of the Alamo.” Freed produced three leg lamps for the movie, but none of them survived the production. All three were broken during filming.

4. THERE’S A SIMPLE EXPLANATION FOR “HIS END UP” (THOUGH NOT FOR THE OLD MAN’S MISPRONUNCIATION OF “FRAGILE”)

When the leg lamp arrives at Ralphie’s house in the movie, it’s in a crate labeled not only with the infamous “FRAGILE,” but also “HIS END UP.” Though the use of “his” in place of “this” might seem like a subtle joke, the crate was indeed originally labeled “THIS END UP,” but no one had bothered to measure the container before trying to wheel it through the door. Jim Moralevitz, an actor who played one of the leg-lamp delivery guys, told Cleveland’s News-Herald, “I had the pleasure of delivering the major award 30 years ago. Unfortunately, the crate was so wide that it wouldn’t fit through the door. So they called in the carpenters and they took four inches off.” 

5. THE LEG LAMP IS BIG IN CLEVELAND

A Christmas Story House and Museum

Because much of A Christmas Story was filmed in Cleveland, the city has embraced the movie as its own (possibly to the resentment of Shepherd’s native Indiana). As part of Cleveland’s annual Winterfest and to celebrate the movie’s 30th anniversary this year, Terminal Tower in Cleveland’s Public Square was turned into a giant leg lamp, complete with a red garter.

The tower can be seen, sans leg-lamp accoutrements, in A Christmas Story’s first few opening shots, looming over Higbee’s department store, where Ralphie first spots the coveted Red Ryder BB gun.

6. AND ALSO IN…LONG ISLAND.

Eight years ago, the Reichert family, owners of the Northport Hardware Store in Northport, Long Island, got a goofy idea after attending the mayor’s Christmas-tree lighting ceremony. They rustled through the store’s generous stock of leg lamps, called over some of the guys from the bar next door, and ceremoniously lit one of the lamps in the store’s picture window. Then they all cheered.

Somehow the Reicherts’ lighting of the leg lamp caught on and it has become an annual Northport tradition. It’s even included in the mayor’s rounds after the Christmas-tree shebang, according to Northport Hardware Store co-owner Jim Reichert. “It’s really ended up building in popularity,” Reichert said. “We had between 800 and 900 people this year.”

The event has become much more sophisticated since its inception, with the high school dance team forming a kick line, a local child actor named Chris Gentry playing the part of Ralphie, and the town electrician dressing in the movie’s iconic pink bunny suit. “Everything goes pitch dark, and Ralphie throws the switch,” Reichert says with glee. “If it isn’t snowing, we put a snow machine on the roof.” 

7. IT’S A HIT ON HALLOWEEN

The leg lamp has become so popular that one can now purchase ready-made Halloween costumes in its likeness. But Josh Sundquist, a paralympian, motivational speaker and author who lost his leg to cancer when he was nine years old, won Halloween last year when he decided to make his own leg lamp costume. He even shaved his leg for authenticity.

8. AND A STAR ON THE STAGE FROM NEW YORK TO L.A.

Ralphie (Matt Walker), Randy (Beth Kennedy), Lampy (Monica Schneider) and Old Man (Rick Batalla) in Troubadour Theater Company’s A Christmas Westside Story at the Falcon Theatre. Photo by Chelsea Sutton.

Last year, A Christmas Story: The Musical opened on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater. Much like at the Northport Hardware spectacle on Long Island, the leg lamp was celebrated with a kick line—only the Broadway chorus kicked up not only their own legs but also fishnet-clad leg lamps.

The year before, at the Falcon Theatre in Burbank, CA, the Troubadour Theater Company performed “A Christmas Westside Story," a mashup of A Christmas Story and the epic tale of the Sharks and the Jets. What song did the leg lamp get to sing? None other than “I Feel Pretty.” 

9. THE LEG LAMP HAS SUMMITED MT. EVEREST (IN A WAY)

According to a post-Christmas press release that highlighted Amazon’s seasonal sales last year, the online retail giant boasted: “If you stacked every Christmas Story Leg Lamp purchased by Amazon customers this holiday season, the height would reach the top of Mt. Everest.”

10. AND GIVEN RISE TO A HILARIOUS CATCHPHRASE

Fra-gee-lay. It must be Italian!

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A Brief History of the High Five
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Since 2002, the third Thursday of April is recognized as National High Five Day—a 24-hour period for giving familiars and strangers alike as many high fives as humanly possible. A few University of Virginia students invented the day, which has since evolved into a “High 5-A-Thon” that raises money each year for for a good cause. (For 2018, it's CoachArt, a nonprofit organization that engages kids impacted by chronic illness in arts and athletics.) Here are a few more facts about the history of the hand gesture to get you in the high-fiving spirit.

UP HIGH

That may sound like a lot of celebration for a simple hand gesture, but the truth is, the act of reaching your arm up over your head and slapping the elevated palm and five fingers of another person has revolutionized the way Americans (and many all over world) cheer for everything from personal achievements to miraculous game-winning plays in the sports world. Psychological studies on touch and human contact have found that gestures like the high five enhance bonding among sports teammates, which in turn has a winning effect on the whole team. Put 'er there!

DOWN LOW

There is some dispute about who actually invented the high five. Some claim the gesture was invented by Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Glenn Burke when he spontaneously high-fived fellow outfielder Dusty Baker after a home run during a game in 1977. Others claim the 1978-79 Louisville basketball team started it on the court. Since no one could definitively pinpoint the exact origin, National High Five Day co-founder Conor Lastowka made up a story about Murray State basketballer Lamont Sleets inventing it in the late '70s/early '80s, inspired by his father's Vietnam unit, “The Fives.”

Regardless of which high-five origin story is more accurate, there is little question of its roots. The high five evolved from its sister-in-slappage, the low five. The gesture, also known as “slapping skin,” was made popular in the jazz age by the likes of Al Jolson, Cab Calloway and the Andrews Sisters.

GIMME FIVE

As the high five has evolved over the past few decades, variations have developed and become popular in and of themselves. Here are five popular styles:

The Baby Five
Before most babies learn to walk or talk, they learn to high five. Baby hands are much smaller than adult hands, so grownups have to either use one finger, scrunch their fingers together or flat-out palm it.

The Air Five
Also known as the "wi-five" in the more recent technology age, this one is achieved just like a regular high five, minus the hand-to-hand contact. Its great for germaphobes and long distance celebrations.

The Double High Five
Also known as a “high ten,” it is characterized by using both hands simultaneously to high five.

The Fist Bump
It's a trendy offshoot of the high five that made headlines thanks to a public display by the U.S. President and First Lady. Instead of palm slapping, it involves contact between the knuckles of two balled fists. In some cases, the fist bump can be “exploding,” by which the bump is followed by a fanning out of all involved fingers.

The Self High Five
If something awesome happens and there's no one else around, the self high five may be appropriate. It happens when one person raises one hand and brings the other hand up to meet it, high-five style. Pro-wrestler Diamond Dallas Page made the move famous in his appearances at WCW matches.

YOU'RE TOO SLOW!

Don't fall for that old joke. The key to a solid high five is threefold. Always watch for the elbow of your high-fiving mate to ensure accuracy; never leave a buddy hanging; and always have hand sanitizer on you. Have a Happy High Five Day!

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Why a Train Full of New York City Poop Was Stranded in Alabama for Two Months
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Residents of Parrish, Alabama probably aren't too fond of New Yorkers right now. That’s because the town is currently home to a full trainload of poop courtesy of the Big Apple, as Bloomberg reports. Some 200 shipping containers of treated sewage have been stuck in Parrish for more than two months while the town takes landfill operators to court.

New York City doesn't keep its own sewage sludge to itself, and it hasn't for decades. In the 1980s, New York City was dumping its "biosolids"—the solids left over from sewage treatment, i.e., your poop—into the Atlantic Ocean, where it settled on the bottom of the sea floor in a thick film stretching over 80 square nautical miles. When the government banned the practice of dumping waste straight into the ocean, the city had to get creative, finding a way to get rid of the 1200 tons of biosolids produced there every day.

Enter the poop train. As a 2013 Radiolab episode taught us (we highly recommend you listen for yourself), treated sludge was eventually shipped out to other states to use as fertilizer in the 1990s. After farmers in Colorado began noticing better growth and fewer pests in the fields they grew with New York City's finest sewer sludge, growers in other states began clamoring to take the big-city poop by the train-full, too. That tide has turned, though, and now no one wants the city's poop. Because of the cost of running the program, the train to Colorado stopped in 2010.

Now, biosolids are instead shipped to landfills upstate and in places like Georgia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, according to The Wall Street Journal. And Alabama. For more than a year, the Big Sky landfill near Parrish has been accepting New York City biosolids, and the locals who have to deal with trainloads of rotting waste aren’t happy.

Normally, the sludge would be loaded onto trucks and then driven the last stretch to get to the landfill. But Parrish and its nearby neighbor of West Jefferson aren't interested in playing host to those messy poop transfers anymore. As the two towns take the landfill operators to court over it, the trains are stuck where they are, next to Parrish's Little League baseball fields. The trainload of sludge is blocked from either being sent to the landfill or back to New York City. While the city has stopped shipping more waste to Big Sky, it essentially said "no takebacks" regarding what they've already sent south. Short of a legal decision, that poop isn't moving.

Needless to say, the residents of Parrish would really, really like to resolve this before summer hits.

Update: Parrish residents can officially breathe easy. The last of the sludge has now been removed from the town, and Big Sky has ended its operation there, according to a Facebook post from Mayor Heather Hall. The containers that remain have been emptied of their smelly cargo and will be removed sometime before Friday, April 20.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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