The movie It’s a Wonderful Life was set in a town called Bedford Falls. Which in the real world is apparently Seneca Falls, New York. According to folklore Frank Capra spent some time in Seneca Falls the year before the film was made. Looking around, he was inspired him to set the movie there.
To commemorate this film classic, Seneca Falls has a festival every year in December. This year it’s December 7-9. And while the town has changed a lot over the years, there are still some areas that are the same as they were in the 1940’s when the film was made. Most notably, the bridge that George jumped off is still there. There’s a plaque on the bridge honoring Antonio Varacalli, who jumped into the river to save a woman who jumped off the bridge. Antonio saved the woman but perished in the river himself. It seems Frank Capra saw this plaque and it inspired his version of George jumping in to save his guardian angel Clarence.
Visiting downtown Seneca Falls during the holiday season, and with snow falling, it’s easy to see what inspired Capra to film the movie here. There’s a certain vibe downtown that inspires. Sadly, that vibe doesn’t extend to other parts of town. Seneca Falls is a gritty factory town, with a smelly landfill between the highway and downtown that fouls the air when the wind blows the wrong way. Chain stores and Walmart line the road. In some parts of town it’s more Pottersville than Bedford Falls now. But downtown on a snow globe night, it’s easy to see Jimmy Stewart running down the street shouting “Merry Christmas!” to one and all.