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A film location tour was a perfect birthday gift for a movie aficionado like myself. My husband Mike’s particular interest was to see A Christmas Story house and mine was, well a few more. All in all, we went to 15 sites in 5 states and as many days.
The tour began with Groundhog Day in Woodstock, Illinois. The town’s website provides an accurate self-guided tour (woodstockgroundhog.org). A surprise for us was the amazing folks we happened upon as we made our way to Town Square. First a security officer outside the film’s Tip Top café, now a Mexican restaurant, pointed out the corner curb where the film’s star, Bill Murray made a splash.
Next a local, William Caldwell, offered us even more. “Would you like to come up to my office?” he asked, “I have pictures of the filming.” Would I? Mike and I climbed the stairs to his office and paged through a stack of photos while he filled us in on details. Bill was the attorney who negotiated for the “stand-ins” and businesses cooperating with Columbia pictures.
I drooled as I listened and looked at his photos of the actors and writer/director Harold Ramis. Ramis, who died February 24, 2014, provides hilarious situations for characters and memorable lines that are often imitated and quoted.
As long as we were driving by (!) our next planned stops were in Winnetka and Kenilworth, just outside of Chicago to see three houses. Siri (iPhone) took us there with few wrong turns.
The first stop was Old Man Marley’s 6,863 sq. ft. house designed by Benjamin Marshall right next door to the Home Alone house (in 2011 the house listed at $2.4 million and sold in 2012 for $1,585 million).
In nearby Kenilworth, IL we imagined ourselves carrying John Candy’s trunk along with Steve Martin as we photographed the house in Planes, Trains and Automobiles.
Though it was late afternoon, Mike fearlessly approached the Windy City for our next site, *Return To Me, 2000, O’Reilly’s Italian bar/restaurant. We drove right through the Northwestern College campus to arrive at the **Twin Anchors (called O’Reilly’s Italian Restaurant in the film) on North Sedgwick Street in Chicago. Mike jumped out at risk, took a couple quick pictures and we were off. Traffic was, well, it was 5:50 p.m. We passed on paying a valet to park our car for $9 (no other options to park) because we had to keep moving—we had yet to reserve a place to stay!
Friendly advice at a toll road stop lead us to Portage, Indiana. Never were we as happy to see a Hampton Inn (new mattresses/bedding plus breakfast). We had traveled 450 miles.
Our first stop on Tuesday just 58 miles away
was the College of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana.
The College football field appears in RUDY, said to be one of the finest sports movies. Notre Dame was also on my bucket list, so our visit included the church and grotto along with a view of the field. Priceless!
On to Ohio, we stayed in Toledo where we ate at the Blue Water Grille. The next day Mike was in for a surprise! Siri delivered us to A Christmas Story House in Cleveland. The house, museum (yes, museum and best website! (achristmasstory.com) The house, museum and gift shop were far beyond our expectations.
At 10:45 a.m., we were on the day’s second tour. Sam, our guide, was friendly and professional. Best of all, the house was hands on. Mike immediately grabbed the Red Rider and stood by the Christmas tree. Next he removed the leg lamp from the fra-gee’-lay box then sat on the couch holding the bowling ball (agonized look et al)—he loved it. The house is an exact replica of the movie. Original props are displayed at the museum across the street (free admission). We left the Gift Shop with shopping bags of gifts and mementos. Most of all, we left filled with the memories and inspiration of the young man whose vision and risk saved the house from demolition to preserve a piece of American heritage, nostalgia and fun.
On to Mansfield, Ohio and the Ohio State Prison, a.k.a. Shawshank Prison on Reformatory Road. The prison was closed for tours during preparation for a Halloween event. The closure did not detour our picture taking. The prison was built between 1886 and 1910 and remained in operation until 1990. The site was also used in Air Force One. We headed for the site of the tree in the 1994 film, The Shawshank Redemption, where Red (Morgan Freeman) digs up the box/money
(ShawshankTrail.com). The site was across from the Malabar Farm where Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall were wed and honeymooned at “the big house.” We walked a ways to the house and looked in to see the staircases and rooms they enjoyed during their 1945 wedding.
The ride from Mansfield to Lima, Ohio seemed long—probably a let down after we had taken in so much. We left the next morning for Dubuque, IA. The ride was 405 long miles (7 hours) to Dubuque. My brown sugar-glazed salmon and Mike’s filet and lobster—preceded by bowls of lobster bisque soup at the Wildfire Restaurant and the Grand Harbor Inn made up for the cloudy, really gloomy day and all the driving.
In the morning we went first to STAR Brewery, film site for the 1978 drama F.I.S.T. starring Sylvester Stallone (30’s union movie), and the 1981 Take This Job and Shove It, with veteran actor Art Carney.
Next, with Siri directing the way, we went to the “elevator” where trolleys are used to bring visitors up the steep hillside to the panoramic site of Iowa. In 1956 it was the site for the stars of The Pajama Game, 1956, (an old but favorite! and delightful Doris Day/John Raitt musical). The cold and wind made our decision to “ride” up another time. But, don’t miss this opportunity if you’re visiting Iowa!
We left Dubuque for Dyersville, IA and the Field of Dreams location where we’d visited twice before. Family members shirts were worn so we had some gifts to buy. Windy and cold, we took a few pictures of the cornfield/house/bleachers then headed northwest for Prairie du Chien, WI and our last site, The Straight Story, 1999, true story directed by David Lynch.
The cold, and especially the wind, meant we would capture some of the Fall colors but the clouds dimmed the leaves and river’s beauty. Prairie du Chien was near the end of George Straight’s adventure on a riding lawn mower to meet with his dying brother (240 miles from Laurens, IA to Mt. Zion, WI).
We crossed the bridge back to Iowa and headed on to Minnesota. The 13 films plus two extra locations for Old Man Marley’s House and the Shawshank tree made it 15 sites and one of, if not the best car trip ever!
*Return to Me was Carroll O’Connor’s last film. He died soon after, June 21, 2001, age 76.
** Twin Anchors is said to have the best ribs in Chicago.