Seneca Falls, New York
As far as is known, the quiet, upstate New York town of Bedford Falls that was the setting of Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life never existed. However, residents of the village of Seneca Falls, New York have long insisted that theirs is the real Bedford Falls. As the story goes, Frank Capra was inspired to model the fictional town set on Seneca Falls after passing through the place in 1945. For those fans who are intimately familiar with the movie, one look along the small town’s main street can be very convincing. Seneca Falls has made every effort to cement its reputation as the inspiration for Frank Capra and the home of the fictional but beloved Bailey family.
The village of Seneca Falls is dominated by a long main street lined with beautiful old Victorian era houses, including one that resembles the Granville House where George and Mary lived. The street crosses a steel truss bridge at the edge of town. This bridge, nearly identical to the one which appears in the film, bears a plaque honoring a local townsman who leapt from the bridge in order to save a drowning girl. Other landmarks which tie Bedford Falls to Seneca Falls include a housing development eerily similar to Bailey Park, and a series of globe-style street lamps reminiscent of those which appeared in the film. Karolyn Grimes, the woman who portrayed Zuzu Bailey, apparently declared “this is Bedford Falls” when she saw the town for the first time.
In recent years, Seneca Falls has made a cottage industry of its association with the beloved Christmas classic. The main event is an annual It’s A Wonderful Life festival, which features showings of the movie, parades, and, in recent years, special appearances by Karolyn Grimes. Perhaps the highlight, from the standpoint of devotees of the film, is the town’s Christmas decorations which are designed to recreate as closely as possible those of the town in the movie.
The Village of Seneca Falls is located approximately ninety miles east of Buffalo and one-hundred and sixty miles northwest of New York City. The village is obviously an open site, with no hours or charge for admission. For details of the annual “It’s A Wonderful Life” festival, please visit the town’s website. Web: www.therealbedfordfalls.com (official tourism website of Seneca Falls)