Sign connects locals with the film “Christmas Story”

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Some people may find it difficult to name their favorite vacation movie, but not Mitch Williams – he’ll tell you right away that it’s “A Christmas Story”.

Williams probably watched the popular movie more times than he can count – “Dozens,” he said this week. First released in 1983, it appears on television every Christmas to the delight of viewers and tells the story of a 9-year-old boy named Ralphie Parker who asks for just one present: a Red Ryder BB pistol.

This aspect of the plot for a family-oriented film set in the 1940s revolves around a scenario familiar to generations of American men who have been warned that if they received the coveted air rifle, they would shoot an eye.

“I think the fact that I could always identify with Ralphie’s search for the Red Ryder BB gun,” said Williams on Wednesday of his appreciation for the film.

“I remember there were years when I wanted a special Christmas present from Santa Claus and gave clues to my parents and Santa Claus in hopes that it would be under the tree,” he added. “I also love the feeling of nostalgia that the music and old toys convey in the film.”

Search for signs

For Mitch Williams, his fascination with the charming story goes much further.

“My love for it is so deep that I look for and try to find antique toys and props that are shown throughout the film,” said Williams, Mount Airy’s public works director.

“But my biggest fascination over the years has been trying to find an authentic billboard that would ricochet Ralphie’s BB off his Red Ryder and almost shoot him in the eye.”

In the film, Ralphie is surprised to actually get the air rifle for Christmas and takes it outside to shoot a target perched on the metal shield in his back yard. The rebounding BB comes back and knocks off his glasses, and while Ralphie searches for them, he thinks he actually shot his eye out.

Williams thought for years the sign advertised either Coca-Cola, Pepsi, or Orange Crush soft drinks.

After high definition television emerged and the scene became clearer, he realized that it was instead a Golden Age beverage sign.

Williams stated that Golden Age was a regional company near Cleveland that made beverages from the 1930s to the 1970s. The Parker family home where A Christmas Story was filmed is in Cleveland, so the use of this sign was a natural occurrence.

Given his interest in finding such items that appear in the film, Williams scoured the internet only to learn that Golden Age beverage signs were extremely rare and virtually non-existent.

Few have popped up on the eBay Marketplace website in the past four years, and these weren’t quite like the ones featured in “A Christmas Story,” according to the local.

Didn’t stop there

As a long-time professional engineer with an artistic and mechanical disposition, Williams decided to take matters into his own hands.

A few years ago he was able to get some high resolution photos of an original image of the sign “close enough”. Using these photos, other online images, and screenshots of the famous Christmas morning scene, Williams was able to recreate Ralphie’s sign-in vector software used in graphic design to create digital art.

This was in 2017 when the local man had the right artwork for the sign but couldn’t find a company to make a replica of the marker.

“Fortunately, Imperial Images’ Cyndy Goins Vipperman helped me create two ‘prototypes’ made by wrapping vinyl prints over sheet metal,” continues Williams. “They were very, very beautiful, but they didn’t feel like a real vintage billboard.”

Even so, Williams took one of the prototype signs to the Cleveland house in 2018.

“While there, I showed the staff the sign and they later told me they were interested in getting one,” says Williams. “Since I was such a big fan, I ended up donating it to them because I thought they would hang it in someone’s gift shop or office.”

To Williams’ surprise, he received a picture a few days later showing that the staff had set up his replica Golden Age sign in the back yard of the house. It was exactly where the iconic scene was filmed in the early 1980s with the sign positioned vertically.

Mass production

Williams loved the use of his sign outside the Cleveland building, which had previously been restored and reconfigured inside to match the soundstage interiors and open to the public as A Christmas Story House.

“I am humbled and honored that the staff at A Christmas Story House thought my sign was detailed and authentic enough to be placed in the back yard,” he noted.

Still, Williams wasn’t satisfied with just rendering a few prototypes.

“I wanted to find a sign company that would make them to original specifications with the right metal and embossed letters,” he recalls. “I also wanted them to be mass-produced so that they would be available to fans of the movie.”

That search led Williams to locate an antique sign reproducing company in late 2020 that was ready to take on the project he’s been dedicated to for the past four years.

He sent him the artwork and after making a few small color adjustments, the company started production.

The signs took about five months to make and were distributed in the US in May. Since then, Williams has seen them for sale on eBay, antique stores, and flea markets.

The gift shop at A Christmas Story House also stocks the signs, which typically sell online for around $ 100.

“I haven’t made a penny from it yet,” Williams said of the company.

However, he is pleased to have immortalized part of film history – and at the same time offers the usual admonition about the first appearance of the sign of the Golden Age:

“If you buy one, please be careful and don’t shoot your eyes out,” warned Williams.

Tom Joyce can be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.


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