Out of all the holiday movies ever made, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” starring Jimmy Stewart, is among the best.
According to local legend, Frank Capra, the writer, producer, and director of the film based the design of the fictional Bedford Falls in the film on Seneca Falls, New York. To celebrate this connection, this quaint community is home to the It’s a Wonderful Life Museum.
The It’s a Wonderful Life Museum opened to the public in December 2010 to tell the story of this film and the men and women that brought it to life. It is the only museum in the world dedicated to a black-and-white film.
The museum, which is located in a historic building in the downtown area, is a great spot for anyone that loves this holiday classic. This building was originally the Seneca Theater, the first movie theater in town.
It should be stated upfront that the museum isn’t home to a large collection of props from the film. When the movie came out in the 1940s, things used in films simply weren’t valued and were destroyed, lost, or reused in other productions over the years.
In fact, during my visit to the museum, I was told that only four props from the film are known to still exist. However, the museum is lucky enough to have two pairs of earrings worn by Gloria Grahame when she played Violet Bick in the film.
However, despite the lack of film props, the museum’s collection is quite robust and interesting.
The museum focuses on three topics surrounding the film: the lives of the actors, trinkets featuring the film, and the story of the film itself.
The museum features a display on every major actor in the film and even many of the minor actors and crew. Items on display vary depending on the actor but include personal effects, items from other films and TV shows they did, and information about their lives and careers.
I especially enjoyed the information about Jimmy Stewart, which even included a pair of his cufflinks.
The museum also includes more than 200 items from the personal collection of Karolyn Grimes who played “Zuzu Bailey” in the film. Her items include photographs from the set, signed pieces from many of the actors, a program for the 1947 Academy Awards, and an original press book for the film.
These pieces, combined together with items from the collections of other actors and fans of the film really fill out the museum and offer a great look back at the history of this film.
Another interesting part of the museum tells the story of Antonio Varacalli, a local resident who died in 1917 after jumping off a bridge to save a drowning woman. This story is said to have inspired portions of the movie.
The museum features an area that highlights why Seneca Falls believes its the inspiration for the film, portions of which can also be found on the museum’s website.
A short distance from the museum, the bridge on Bridge Street over what remains of the Cayuga and Seneca Canal has been dubbed the It’s a Wonderful Life Bridge.
This bridge bears a striking resemblance to the bridge in the film and is where Varacalli gave his life to save the woman. The bridge features a plaque honoring him, along with many small bells honoring others and the film.
While the museum and bridge can be seen year-round, the holiday season is, unsurprisingly, a great time to visit the area.
Each year in mid-December, Seneca Falls holds the It’s a Wonderful Life Festival. This three-day festival featuring appearances from cast members, recreated characters from the film, screenings of the film, and much more.
Whether you visit during the festival or not, the It’s a Wonderful Life Museum in Seneca Falls, New York, is well worth a visit for anyone that has seen and loves this classic holiday film.
It’s a Wonderful Life Museum
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 11a-4p
Address: 32 Fall St