This was not on my Summer Bucket list, but I am glad I we stopped to check out this Finger Lakes gem as we were driving by. I do regret not spending more time in the historic little town of Seneca Falls, but checking out George Bailey’s It’s a Wonderful Life Bridge was fun! Have you ever played tourist in your region? We have driven by this bridge maybe a handful of times over the past year, but never really stopped to check it out. Because we are doing stay-cations and day trips until the corn slows down, I thought playing tourist in our own area would give the kids a chance to have some fun and see our usual surroundings in a brand new way, it also has a nice side benefit; we are all learning about local history which I am finding fascinating.
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Seneca Falls is located in Seneca County. The east town line lies against Cayuga Lake with the town of Waterloo to the west. Seneca Falls is the birthplace of the woman’s right movement, but also thought to be the inspiration for the fictional village of Bedford Falls in Frank Capra’s holiday classic movie “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
In the movie It’s a Wonderful Life George Bailey is deeply troubled. Prayers for his well-being from friends and family reach Heaven. Clarence Odbody, Angel Second Class, is assigned to visit Earth to save George. Convinced he “worth more dead than alive” because of a life insurance policy George contemplates suicide from a steel trestle bridge. Before he can leap, Clarence jumps in first and pretends to be drowning. After George rescues him, Clarence reveals himself to be George’s guardian angel. Clarence shows George what the town would have been like without him.
While Mr. Capra never acknowledged that Seneca Falls is the Real Bedford Falls, the similarities and are hard to deny. Mr. Capra set Bedford Falls in New York State. Rochester, Buffalo, and Elmira are all mentioned in the movie and referenced as being fairly close. All three of these locations are an easy drive from Seneca Falls. Physical similarities between Seneca Falls and Bedford Falls are striking. The architecture along the main street and the steel truss bridge are only a couple of the similarities, Seneca Falls has many Victorian homes (like the large house George and Mary owned in the movie). The Erie Canal runs through Seneca Falls, Bedford Falls also has a canal. In 1945, when the movie was produced, Seneca Falls was a mill town, just like Bedford Falls.
My Visit to George Bailey’s Bridge
It is hard to not notice the streets around the bridge all have names like Angel Avenue,George Bailey Lane & Clarence Street .
A plaque on the bridge that reads
“The village of Seneca Falls may have inspired the hometown look of Frank Capra’s 1946 holiday film classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. Mr. Capra is known to have visited here in the mid-1940s, at the time the screenplay was being developed. Many similarities exist between Seneca Falls and the fictional “Bedford Falls.” Among these are the design of the Bridge Street bridge, the use of several place and personal names and the village’s geographical location”
In a pivotal scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life” a suicidal George Bailey played by Jimmy Stewart is saved by the intervention of an angel named Clarence Oddbody on Christmas Eve.
This plaque on one of the side railings of the bridge intrigued me, when I got home I Googled Antonio Varacalli. This is what I found:
“On April 12, 1917, Antonio Varacalli drowned while successfully rescuing a young woman from the Seneca-Cayuga Branch of the Barge Canal a young woman who was apparently trying to commit suicide. Antonio, who was a Barge Canal worker, was walking in the vicinity of the bridge when he heard someone scream. He ran to the canal bank and saw a young woman struggling in the water. Without hesitation, he jumped into the canal to save the young woman, although he could not swim. He managed to get the girl to the canal bank before he sank into the water, and drowned.”
Kind of rings a bell, doesn’t it?
Our visit was picturesque. Not at all like the scene in the movie. But with a little imagination, you can picture the bridge covered in snow, the bitter Upstate New York winds, an icy canal below.
Christmas in Bedford Falls
Every year Seneca Falls celebrates “It’s a Wonderful Life”. This year the festival takes place December 12th- 14th. The Bailey Sisters, Karolyn “Zuzu” Grimes and Carol “Janie” Coombs will return home to the Real Bedford Falls. With a special guest Mary Owen, the daughter of Donna Reed. There are lot of fun activities planned, I am hoping we will be able to make a trip out to see it!
More facts and fun things to do and see in Seneca Falls:
The Real Bedford Falls– Official site of It’s a Wonderful Life Festival, lots of info and schedule of activities.
Seneca Falls NY– Official Seneca Falls Town Site.
Seneca Falls Historical Society Museum -Guided tours of 1880 Queen Anne mansion offer a glimpse into the lifestyles of Seneca Falls’ industrialists.
Woman’s Rights National Park-In 1848 Elizabeth Cady Stanton and four other women invited the public to the First Women’s Rights Convention to discuss expanding the role of women in America. At the end of the two days, 100 people made a public commitment to work together to improve women’s quality of life.
The Seneca Falls It’s a Wonderful Life Museum-32 Fall St. Open Tuesday-Saturday, 11 am – 4 pm or other times by appointment. Call 315-568-5838 for museum information.