(Note: If you haven't yet seen the Christmas movie It's A Wonderful Life, view this movie before reading this story)
Seneca Falls, N.Y.-- OK, it really wasn't Bedford Falls, N.Y. that I returned to; it was the lovely village of Seneca Falls, in the rural Finger Lakes region of New York state.
Let me explain. Anyone who's seen the holiday movie It's A Wonderful Life knows the central character, played by James Stewart, in this 1946 holiday classic, was George Bailey. He was a character who discovers "no man is a failure who has friends".
Well, as it gets closer to Christmas I just can't seem to escape the comments about my name (not that I want to escape these comments, because I feel I'm already the "richest" guy in town).
Some believe the setting for this heartwarming film was set in Seneca Falls, N. Y,
One of the first things to strike me when I entered this village of 7,400 people was George Bailey Lane, which leads to the village's Bridge Street Bridge. It looks just like the bridge that George Bailey planned to jump off and take his own life. It wasn't until Clarence, his guardian angel, appeared did he come to his senses. Clarence St. is at the other end of the bridge.
An old plaque on the bridge tells of similar heroism, but with a tragic twist -- how Antonia Varacalli leapt into the icy Seneca River in 1917 to rescue a woman, but drowned himself.
Just behind the bridge is one of the 116 factories and mills that at one time lined this river. When I closed my eyes I could see Clarence and George drying out in the Knitting Mill that still exists today.
I sought out village planner Francis Caraccilo, who claims his village is most definitely the model for Bedford Falls. He had convincing arguments.
Seneca Falls half a century ago certainly looked like Bedford Falls, from globe street lamps, hydrangea bushes, Victorian-era
buildings and skating ponds. Many of these are still here. The 50-year-old Caraccilo with a joyous grin says, "We even have a barber in town that cut Frank Capra's hair. He was the director of the film and he told him he loved the town and it would make a great setting for a movie."
I set out to find the 81-year-old barber, Thomas Bellissima, to learn more. I found him in a little home on a quiet street in the village. He still does the occasional haircut, and confirms he cut Capra's hair.
When he first walked in his barber shop, Mr. Capra introduced himself, they used to do that then, and said he was visiting an aunt who lived in nearby Auburn and loved the scenery in Seneca Falls, Bellissima said.
Capra came back several times for a haircut and each time professed the quaint beauty of the area. Another tantalizing parallel is that there are references in the movie to Buffalo, Rochester, Elmira and Binghamton, which are all nearby.
When it was time for a quick snack, I headed to Bailey's Ice Cream and Coffee Shop (where else?) on Fall St. Wonderful Life buffs will love this place. The shop is completely themed to the movie. My lady friend (no, her name is not Mary) and I ordered a "Welcome Home, Harry Bailey", a delicious slice of apple pie and "Mary's Merry Christmas Cookies." We washed them down with two cups of Bailey's Blend coffees.
Seneca Falls celebrates its annual It's A Wonderful Life Festival with outrageously wonderful days Dec. 9-11.
Wanting to soak up more of the feel of this lovely town, I spent the night at the Hotel Clarence (originally the Gould Hotel), built in 1912. Looking out my window I saw the moon high in the sky. Fat snowflakes were drifting slowly down over a beautifully decorated 19th century historic downtown. I experienced echoes of the past and cherished the joy and simplicity of life.
I'm convinced Seneca Falls really is the inspiration for, It's A Wonderful Life.
Merry Christmas, from the richest guy in town.
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For More Information
Seneca County Chamber of Commerce
315-568-2906 or www.senecachamber.org.
Hotel Clarence, at www.hotelclarence.com.or 315-712-4000.
GPS user can punch in 108 Fall
Street, Seneca, N.Y.