By Jerry Zezima
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
In A Christmas Story, the 1983 holiday film classic that was co-written and narrated by Indiana humorist Jean Shepherd, little Ralphie Parker wants nothing more than a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas.
His efforts are initially thwarted by his mother, his teacher and even Santa Claus, all of whom warn: “You’ll shoot your eye out!”
It is Ralphie’s father, The Old Man — the furnace-fighting, leg-lamp-loving, Oldsmobile-driving, discipline-dispensing weaver of “a tapestry of obscenities that as far as we know is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan” — who comes to the rescue.
“I had one when I was a kid,” he explains to his wife as their 9-year-old son gleefully opens his most cherished gift on Christmas morning.
Of course, Ralphie almost shoots his eye out.
The warmly hilarious movie, set in the fictional town of Hohman, Indiana (Shepherd grew up in the real town of Hammond), reminds us that the little quirks of everyday life can be found anywhere.
And Indiana has its fair share. Here, thanks to proud Hoosiers Amanda Beam and Michelle Freed, who also happen to be the co-chairs of our conference in Indianapolis (what a coincidence!), are some fun facts about the great state of Indiana.
- The first professional baseball game was played in Fort Wayne on May 4, 1871.
- The town of Santa Claus (population 2,500) receives more than half a million letters and requests at Christmastime.
- Santa Claus Land, the world’s first theme park, opened in Santa Claus on Aug. 3, 1946, nine years before Disneyland opened in California.
- Grocery stores in Indiana cannot sell any kind of cold liquor, and alcohol sales are prohibited on Sundays.
- Seven miles outside of Vincennes lies the “world’s largest peach.” Built in 1954 as a tribute to the 1939 New York World’s Fair, the peach stands about 20 feet tall.
- Actor James Dean was born in Marion. After he died in a car crash in California in 1955, his family brought his body back to his home state and buried him in a humble cemetery in Fairmount. Nearby is the James Dean Gallery.
- Jim Davis, the creator of Garfield the cat, is another Marion native. To honor the popular cartoonist, the city has constructed human-size statues of his orange tabby all around town.
- Indiana produces more than 20 percent of America’s popcorn supply.
- During Prohibition, the Al Brady and John Dillinger gangs were patrons of The Slippery Noodle Inn in Indianapolis, one of Indiana’s oldest bars, established in 1850. The gangs used the rear building (originally the horse stable) for target practice. Today, several bullets remain embedded in the lower east wall.
- In 1934, Dillinger escaped the Lake County Jail in Crown Point by using a “pistol” he had carved from a wooden block.
- The movies Hoosiers, Breaking Away and A League of Their Own were filmed in Indiana.
- Batesville Casket Company of Batesville is the largest casket manufacturer in the world.
- Abraham Lincoln grew up in Indiana. From the time he was 7 until he reached 21, he and his family lived on a farm in what is now Lincoln City, in Spencer County.
- Axl Rose, Michael Jackson, Larry Bird, Florence Henderson, Col. Harland Sanders, John Mellencamp, Cole Porter, Red Skelton, Jane Pauley, Jimmy Hoffa and Steve McQueen were either born or lived in Indiana.
- Indianapolis’ Union Station was the first union station in the world, opening in September 1853. A teenage Thomas Edison worked there as a telegraph operator in 1864.
- Among American cities, Indianapolis is second only to Washington, D.C., in its number of monuments and memorials (33).
- Indianapolis is home to the two largest single-day sporting events in the world, the Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400.
- The Indy 500 track is so large that Churchill Downs, Yankee Stadium, the Rose Bowl, the Roman Colosseum and Vatican City can all fit inside the iconic oval, covering 253 acres.
- Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium, host venue for the Super Bowl in 2012, has the NFL’s largest retractable roof.
- Elvis Presley performed his last concert, in June 1977, in downtown Indianapolis.
- Last but not least, The Alexander, a hotel in downtown Indianapolis, is the site of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ 2015 conference.
If you haven’t already registered, do so now. But please don’t bring a BB gun to the hospitality suite.
You’ll shoot your eye out.
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Jerry Zezima writes a syndicated humor column for his hometown paper, The Stamford (Conn.) Advocate.
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This column originally was published in the June 2015 edition of the member newsletter The Columnist.