New York Village Says It's The Model For 'It's A Wonderful Life' Town

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Locals in Seneca Falls, N.Y., say this bridge in their small town was the model for the bridge in the fictional Bedford Falls in Frank Capra's <em>It's A Wonderful Life</em>, where George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart) thinks about ending his life.

Frank Capra's classic film It's A Wonderful Life — starring Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey — takes place in the fictional town of Bedford Falls, but some say it's a dead ringer for Seneca Falls in upstate New York.

"I really believe this is what inspired Capra. It's got the canal, it's got names of the streets, it's got the Victorian houses — I mean, it's got it all," says Karolyn Grimes, who was six when Capra cast her to play Zuzu, George Bailey's young daughter.

Grimes is celebrating the movie's 70th anniversary in Seneca Falls this weekend, during the town's annual holiday festival. The story of George Bailey, his life and his guardian angel was released on Dec. 25, 1946.

You can see why people here think the town is the model for the movie's struggling mill town. In the film, Stewart runs down Bedford Falls' main street, which looks a lot like Seneca Falls' main street: the little shops, the brick facades, the snow.

Local historian Chris Podzuweit says it's no accident. Capra visited Seneca Falls in the 1940s.

"We even know he had his hair cut here," Podzuweit says. "It was the barber's 15 minutes of fame."

The barber talked about Capra walking through town and checking out local landmarks, Podzuweit says.

Capra's film also contains geographical references that fit Seneca Falls perfectly, including the nearby cities of Rochester and Buffalo.

And there's the famous bridge from the movie, the one where a despondent George Bailey goes on Christmas Eve and contemplates taking his own life. Seneca Falls has a nearly identical steel bridge downtown, with big metal girders stretching across the canal.

Standing here on a raw, blustery December day, it is the spitting image of the one George stands on. There's even an old abandoned mill, half caved-in, just across the canal.

Fran Caraccilo is a local resident who got hooked on the idea that there's a real connection between his town and the town in the movie.

"It's still nothing but a circumstantial case — but I think it's a very good circumstantial case," says Caraccilo, who opened a museum devoted to the film.

Grimes, who played Zuzu Bailey in the film, says she thinks Capra had a reason for never naming Seneca Falls as his inspiration.

"I don't think Capra wanted it mentioned," she says. "I think Capra wanted everyone to identify with their own community."

But for this weekend, Seneca Falls is Bedford Falls. As part of an annual holiday festival started by Caraccilo, people here will recreate in loving detail the gala dinner held at the film's premiere in Los Angeles, 70 years ago.

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