By Jasmine Willis
SENECA FALLS — We all grew up humming the “Buffalo Girls” tune, wishing we could lasso the moon, and needing a helping hand from Clarence.
“It’s A Wonderful Life” has captured the hearts and minds of people from all ages since its debut in 1946. It certainly has been a timeless Christmas Classic. However, the points made within the film have no season or time period.
The Seneca Falls It’s A Wonderful Life Museum started in 2010 as a way to keep the timeless message alive for everyone to enjoy. Some of the films cherished actors and actresses have been instrumental in making this museum possible such as; Karolyn Grimes (ZuZu Bailey), Jimmy Hawkins (Tommy Bailey), Carol Coombs (Janie Bailey), and Virginia Patton (Ruth Dakin Bailey) and Jeanine Ann Roose (Young Violet Bick.)
“It’s A Wonderful Life” written and directed by, Frank Capra was inspired by a book, entitled “The Greatest Gift” by Philip Van Doren Stern.
Actress Karolyn Grimes donated more than 200 personal items to the museum including numerous signed photographs and an original Press Book from 1947. Personal items from Actor Jimmy Hawkins and Actress Carol Coombs are also on display at this special museum.
On a trip down to It’s A Wonderful Life Museum, Co-Founder Anwei Law shared with
Jasmine’s Corner the importance of the museum, and the plans for the future.
“We got to know the actress who plays ZuZu Bailey (Karolyn Grimes) when she came down for the festival, we have every December. She brought a lot of her collection down to share with us at the museum. We also got a lot of personal items from the actor who plays Tommy Bailey (Jimmy Hawkins) and actress who plays Janie Bailey (Carol Coombs). They want to keep the message of the movie in people’s hearts,” she said.
Law mentioned that the film was not filmed on location in those days, since everything was made in California. However, Frank Capra did come through Seneca Falls when he was working on the script. The script had gone through several changes before its writer took a stroll through Seneca Falls.
It was a tragic true story about a young man who risked his life to save another on a bridge that would really cement the story. The tragic death of 20-year-old Antonio Varacalli is still talked about with great respect today. On April 12, 1917 this young man jumped into the chilling cold waters to save Ruth Dunham, 19, attempting to commit suicide by drowning.
Although, the woman did make it out of the waters alive her rescuer was not so lucky.” It’s A Wonderful Life” bridge scene captures this moment when you read the words etched on the plaque. The plaque reads, “Here April 12, 1917, Antonio Varacalli, Gave His Life, To Save Another, He Honored The Community, The Community Honors Him.”
The story of this young man is on the walls of the museum, and it is the story that sounds familiar to that of our George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) and Clarence (Henry Travers). None of these key factors appeared in earlier renditions of the script. Not until Frank Capra made a stop at the bridge to read the words on that plaque. The plaque that had been funded by the community and placed on the bridge in 1921. The St. Patrick’s Church was overflowing with mourners who came to honor this young man’s sacrifice for another.
Another special thing on display at the It’s A Wonderful Life Museum is the “Every Time a Bell Rings” plaque donated in honor of Dianna Kilpatrick. “Thanks For The Wings” has two Christmas trees in full unique decoration from her collection. Kilpatrick passed away in 2016, so her family wished to have them on display.
“We got these two lovely trees from a lady named Dianna Kilpatrick. She really loved decorating trees and had them in every room of her house. When she passed away her husband asked if we would take them as they were and put them on display at the museum. He didn’t want to have to throw them away,” Law said.
The museum itself rests in a piece of Seneca Falls history. It was built in 1913 by Charles Fornesi, and served as the first movie theater in town. Fornesi happened to be the first Italian to permanently settle in Seneca Falls.
The museum fits in the hub of all the other proud historical messages in Seneca Falls. The birthplace of the Women’s Rights Movement. It provides a strong anti-bullying message. It demands equal rights for all humans.
“The film touches on all the important messages. It talks about the values of each person. It talks about women’s rights. It talks about equal rights for every person,” Law said. “The film also has a strong anti-bullying message throughout. We have had thousands of fans come to tell us how much the movie means to them.”
The 75thAnniversary of “It’s A Wonderful Life” is coming up in 2021. It is the desire of the museum to have a great expansion by then. The board and advisors wish to have the upstairs and downstairs expanded. The upstairs is unused at the moment. The downstairs needs to be expanded as well.
“We hope to recreate more scenes from the movie. We hope to have the second floor available by that time to expand. We want to do a new exhibit every year,” Law said. “We had rented the building for a long time, but the town came together for us. We are a non-for-profit, so we rely heavily on donations. We want everyone to be able to come in, so we never charge any admission fees.”
Law said the film has a lot of meaning for everyone who has grown up watching it every year.
“Frank Capra made Bedford Falls for everyone. It was a little town to remind you where your grandparents lived. It belongs to everyone. Capra was really that good of a filmmaker, because he made Bedford Falls a familiar place for all of us. Bedford Falls is in all of our hearts,” she said.
Seneca Falls It’s A Wonderful Life Museum is located at 32 Fall Street, Seneca Falls. They can be reached at 315-568-5838. The hours are Tuesday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. or by appointment.
For more information on how you can donate, get involved, or plan a visit go to https://www.wonderfullifemuseum.com