This piece originally appeared in the Finger Lakes Times and is authored by Annette Lutz, outgoing Seneca Falls Town Board member.
Seneca Falls is host to the “It’s a Wonderful Life” celebration this weekend. Our streets will be transformed into Bedford Falls, the fictitious town that the film of the same name was based on.
For years, the debate has been whether Seneca Falls was, indeed, the inspiration for Frank Capra when he made the film back in 1947. The town, for one wonderful weekend, draws throngs of visitors strolling through downtown, drinking hot cocoa, shopping in our eclectic stores, and enjoying tasty treats from our savory restaurants. Thousands take to the streets to run or walk and enjoy the picturesque scenery. There is a feeling in the air of happiness, friendship, and celebration. A wonderful life indeed!
But, dear reader, you may be alarmed to know that there are some naysayers out there who pish-posh our claim, saying that the similarities between the two towns are fictional, as is the movie. One only has to look at Seneca Falls to see the similarities. In fact, what played out in Bedford Falls back in the 1947 movie is happening here in Seneca Falls today.
Imagine if you will … It’s 1947. We are in Bedford Falls.
Bedford Falls has the Savings and Loan, a very powerful business that has the town and all its people in its grip.
Bedford Falls has Mr. Potter, a man looking out for his own interest, who wants nothing better than to control the town and its people. He uses the Savings and Loan to achieve just that.
Bedford Falls has George Bailey, a young man with big dreams. Unfortunately, circumstances beyond his control get in the way of those dreams. Despondent, feeling like there is no other choice, he contemplates ending his life.
Bedford Falls has Clarence, a kind, thoughtful angel just trying to get his wings.
Through a chance encounter on a cold and snowy bridge, George and Clarence meet. Clarence takes George on a journey to show the big dreamer what life would be like if he jumped into the cold, dark waters that night. Clarence makes George realize that one person does have a big effect on his surroundings, so much that George runs through his town happy to be alive, renewed in his beliefs.
Fast Forward to Seneca Falls, 2016. This very same movie is playing here! Oh, the names are changed, but the situation is similar.
We have a big business that has controlled this town for many years through Mr. Potter and his town board. Our George Bailey is not one man, but many people, who want to see something better for Seneca Falls, who have big dreams of moving ahead and becoming a town that attracts businesses and tourists — and fills our streets not just one weekend but every weekend, freed from the financial stranglehold we are in.
But George is ignored and feels defeated time and time again. Just when he is about to give up, Clarence is there — showing George what Seneca Falls may look like 10 or 20 years from now if he decides to give up. George sees mountains of trash, lining both sides of 414. Trash trains rolling through the town, whistles blaring, trash littering the streets, and the stench of garbage permeating the air. Downtown shops, once vibrant, now void of any life, boarded up for the people have moved away. The birthplace of Women’s Rights now a ghost town full of abandoned museums. And this makes George sad. And angry. So, George decides to stay and continue to fight for his beautiful town and all the people in it. To fight against corporate greed and government corruption.
Flash back to 1947. We all know how “It’s a Wonderful Life” ends. The bell rings, Clarence gets his wings, and all is right with the world. It’s a movie after all.
But here in Seneca Falls we don’t know what ending our movie will have. Will it end as Clarence showed George, a desolate closed town that was swallowed by corporate greed? Or as renewed like George sees it — a vibrant, prosperous, forward moving town filled with young and old, with small businesses free of corporate greed? Maybe Clarence can help us with that question.
Ah, back to Clarence — that kindhearted angel. Just who is Clarence? Have you figured it out, dear readers? Clarence is the voice inside of all of us — the voice that tells us to stand up and fight against social injustice. To fight for our health and welfare. To fight for a clean environment. To stand up for your rights and not back down and let fear of the unknown cause you to do nothing.
Seneca Falls. Bedford Falls. One real. One make believe. Both very similar. What will our ending be?
Only time will tell.
I hope that Clarence helps you decide.