It's a Wonderful Life in Seneca Falls

The movie "It's a Wonderful Life" premiered at the Globe Theatre in New York City on Dec. 20, 1946. Though it received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, it was not critically acclaimed. It has since become one of the most beloved films of all time -- with fans from around the world seeking out Seneca Falls, NY for a real-life movie experience. A museum dedicated to preserving the legacy of the classic film is located in Seneca Falls, NY.

As you will see, the town has an undeniable connection to the movie. First, consider that Frank Capra visited Seneca Falls while writing the script. Other evidence that suggests a connection between the real-life Town of Seneca Falls and fictional Bedford Falls:

  • The  location within western New York. The film makes references to surrounding areas such as Buffalo, Rochester, and Elmira. Originally, Harry Bailey attends Cornell University, located in nearby Ithaca. However, the studio recommended not referring to the college by name and this detail was cut from the movie.
  • Much of the architecture is strikingly similar, including the old Seneca Falls railroad station, local houses and the steel truss bridge.
  • Both Seneca Falls and Bedford Falls had affordable housing developments. Bailey Park in the film was built by the Bailey Brothers' Building and Loan and provided affordable, decent housing for working-class families. Similarly, 19th century industrialist and Seneca Falls resident, John Rumsey, built and sold decent affordable homes for his employees. The neighborhood became known as Rumseyville.
  • A tragic event occurred in Seneca Falls on April 12, 1917, when a woman jumped from the iconic bridge in an attempt to take her own life. Fortunately, a guardian angel named Antonio Varacalli heard the woman scream for help and jumped in the water to save her. While he managed to bring her close enough to shore for others to pull her to safety -- Varicalli drowned in the process. This is believed to be the possible inspiration for two key scenes in the movie. Prior to Frank Capra coming on as director, the George Bailey character did not jump into the water to save Clarence, rather he is stopped by a mysterious man who says, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” in response to George contemplating suicide.

While Frank Capra never directly said that Seneca Falls was the inspiration for Bedford Falls, stating later that Bedford Falls is a collection of many small little towns, the community believes that the proof is in our history.