Saturday, December 21, 2013

It's a Wonderful Life Festival - Seneca Falls, NY: 2013

Oh. My. God.

I don't even know where to begin this post, but last weekend was the most amazing weekend maybe in my life.  (Okay: when I met Sharon, Lois and Bram and hung out in their trailer singing songs while waiting for the rain to stop? This is up there with that.)

Every year, Seneca Falls, NY holds the It's a Wonderful Life Festival.  The whole town gets involved and it's incredible. It seems to be something of a hidden treasure, and I'm slightly hesitant to blog about it because I'd like to keep it that way! But really, it was too amazing to not talk about. This was my first year, and I definitely plan on going back next year!

The town: Seneca Falls is a cute small town with quaint little shops lining the center.  Back before It's A Wonderful Life was made, Frank Capra stopped in the town to get a haircut, and happened to mention the movie to the barber.  After the movie came out, people started to realize strange similarities between Bedford Falls and Seneca Falls--the most glaring, being the bridge.  There's a plaque on the bridge honoring a man who jumped in to save a woman who was trying to commit suicide. (This detail was added to IAWL by Capra: originally George Bailey simply had a conversation with Clarence instead of jumping in to save him.)

For one weekend a year, the stores are transformed into iconic Bedford Falls stores: Antonina's restaurant becomes Martini's bar, the bank becomes the Bailey Building and Loan, the welcome center becomes Anderson's Emporium, etc.  They give horse drawn carriage rides and roast chestnuts on street corners. About half of the places we went to had live bands playing Christmas music. The whole thing is very Christmassy and picturesque.

Karolyn Grimes (ZuZu Bailey) and Carol Coombs (Janie Bailey) were there, as well as Mary Owen, Donna Reed's daughter. I got to meet them, take photos with them and get their autographs.  They held Q&A sessions and introduced the film.  While signing an autograph for me, Carol Coombs took one look at me and told me that I have a "movie star smile" and that I "should be in pictures." I'll never watch the film the same way again!


A cast performed the Lux Radio show version of It's a Wonderful Life.  There were characters on the street who were beautifully and hilariously in character the whole time.  Sara and I kept running into Bert the cop at inopportune moments--like when we were just about to jaywalk, or when I was trying really hard not to fall down some icy stairs while exiting the hotel, and instead looked like I was drunk.  "Had a little too much fun at the Gould Hotel?" He asked me.

They had a passport, which was probably the best part.  It got my shy self out and talking to everyone (in order to get stamps for your passport, you had to ask local businesses and the characters on the street for them) and the interaction, especially with the characters, was memorable.  Everyone in the town was so friendly and nice.

They hold this event every year, and this year they got probably 6 inches of snow.  This apparently never happens, so it made certain things interesting.  There were a lot of outdoor events, including the It's A Wonderful Run 5K.  (Sara and I are planning on going back next year, too, and maybe even doing the 5K. We'll see.)

My only gripe, and it's a small one, is that some events were off the beaten path and difficult to find, and they really lacked in signage. We weren't able to find the venue holding the "Dance By the Light of the Moon" event, or Anderson's Emporium (until Sunday, when it was closed) and the film was screened at the "Old Mynerse Academy" which had no signs at all to let us know we were in the right place.  It seemed like most people were locals, so they already know where everything is.

Anyway, if you're as It's a Wonderful Life-obsessed as I am, I definitely recommend checking out this event.  They don't have a Facebook page or anything (trying to stay low profile, I assume?) but you can check out there website here.

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