Karolyn Grimes today


Essays: Thoughts & Stories from Karolyn


W as Seneca Falls the inspiration for Bedford Falls? Take a walk through town through the eyes of Zuzu!

Everything was so quiet and still as we stepped out of the car and stood in the lightly falling snow. Was I in a dream or was it real?

The street was decorated with lights and Christmas wreaths. The falling snowflakes made shining, little stars that surrounded the soft glow of the lights. There was a small buildup of snow on the street. It was so silent. Not a soul was around, and I could almost hear bells tinkling in a faraway place.

While I stood there, I watched the halo of air that came from my mouth and nose because of the cold. It was no accident that I let my eyes follow the halo's trail, and then I saw it - the bridge. It was lit with beautiful, white lights and provided a path over a canal to the other side of town.

Was I in Bedford Falls or was I in a New York town called Seneca Falls? I felt like I was in both!

I noticed a small hum of laughter and talking coming from a restaurant called Henry B's. Moe Koch had picked me up from the airport in Syracuse and had given me a lovely bouquet of roses. I carried my petals as she took me into the warmth of the eatery. It was very much like the feel of Martini's. There were many happy people, and the food, it turned out, was great. And my mind was spinning.

For many years, I have been told that Frank Capra visited his aunt in a town close to Seneca Falls, N.Y., and that the town of Seneca Falls was where he had his inspiration for the design of Bedford Falls of It's a Wonderful Life.

I traveled there last Dec. 6-8 to see and feel it for myself Was this true? Yes, many towns in upper New York state are mentioned in the film. There are references to Elmira (a half hour away), Syracuse and Rochester. But was that enough to think that this was the place?

After dinner, we drove down a street lined with Victorian homes that very much resembled the Granville house, and we stayed two nights in one of the homes. It was called the Barristers house because it had been owned and lived in by five generations of lawyers.

I walked in, and the banister was a bit rickety, which reminded me of the newel post of the Granville house. That night, we had a wonderful sleep in a room decorated in rose wallpaper and filled with beautiful roses given to me by the lovely folks in town.

The next morning, I awoke to find outside my window a foot of snow and a bright sun shining on the glistening whiteness everywhere. I felt comfy as I looked out the back window at a small lake behind the Victorian homes. The lake was iced and covered over with snow - a great place for boys to play with their sleds sliding down the small hills that lined the lake.

After a delightful breakfast, I was driven to the Bailey's Ice Cream Parlor on the town's main street. It was a treat to have a seat in the back of the building, with a fireplace that gave it the comfortable feel of a living room. I drank my espresso looking out at the canal that ran outside the windows. From my perch, I could see what had been described to me, that Seneca Falls is an industrial town much like Bedford Falls, with factories that once gave employment to the Italian immigrant population that had settled there.

The feel of Seneca Falls was really sinking in. And then, in the daytime, I saw it again - the bridge. It is nearly a replica of the same bridge that George had grown up with all his life. On the Seneca Falls bridge is affixed a plaque that mentions the special connection of Seneca Falls to Frank Capra and It's a Wonderful Life. The real history of the bridge harbors another connection. In 1917, a local resident, Antonio Varacalli, actually leaped into the river in an attempt to save a woman who had fallen into the icy water. His life was lost, but thanks to him, she survived.

Later, I saw the town's old railroad station, and I could picture George and Uncle Billy waiting for the train to come in.

What more evidence did I need?

The folks of Seneca Falls have listened repeatedly to Tommy Bellissima's account of having cut Mr. Capra's hair a number of times. Tommy's barbershop was located near the bridge.

Seneca Falls has a historical society and a tourist association. The historical society is housed in one of the old, Victorian buildings and offers a look at a much simpler time. And one of the historical society's most fervent members is Fran Caracaccilo, who is the best-informed man about It's a Wonderful Life trivia I have ever encountered. It was hard for me to find a question about the film that he could not answer.

The two organizations help keep the spirit of the film alive with the residents, and it has become a source of civic pride. Black lampposts are adorned with unofficial signs bearing the names of Bedford Falls Boulevard, George Bailey Lane, Clarence Street and Angel Avenue.

Even though I had never visited before, the people in Seneca Falls as well as in the surrounding towns made me feel like this was a homecoming. I felt it the first day when I stepped out of the car. In a sense, I was "home." Not only did it feel like 320 Sycamore Street and Main Street, but also the people embraced me with a sincere welcome. I was surrounded with lots of love, not unlike the warmth of the film's Bedford Falls.

I intend to return, and I recommend that you, too, make a point to see this wonderful town in person. Was it Mr. Capra's inspiration? Come to Seneca Falls, and let your senses decide!

For more information, contact:
Seneca County Tourism
phone 315-539-1759 or

In The News
Angel Corner

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