|With your contribution and the assistance of Rich Goodson, the foremost collector of “It’s A Wonderful Life” photographs, artifacts and memorabilia in the world, we will also create an on-site and online archives. This will include rare photographs of scenes that never made it into the film as well as detailed information about “It’s A Wonderful Life” and everyone who was associated with it, that will also serve as the foundation for new exhibits.
We started with $2,000 and one display case that Karolyn Grimes filled with items from her personal collection. We officially opened the Museum during the Seneca Falls “It’s A Wonderful Life” Festival on December 10, 2010. Since that time, we have added seven more display cases, which Karolyn has helped to fill along with items from other collectors. Recently, we have started to receive donations of memorabilia from fans. We have simply run out of space since only part of the building is currently available for our use.
We received our Provisional Charter as a Museum & Archives from the State of New York in November, 2013. Contact us for information regarding our pending non-profit status.
Over the last few years, we have see on a daily basis how much this film and having a place to remember and talk about it means to people. In the spirit of the film, we will never charge admission.
In the last few years, we have had visitors from 49 states (still hoping for someone to walk in the door from South Dakota) and more than 25 countries, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, India, Japan, Nigeria, Philippines, South Africa, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. With visitors ranging in age from young children to people in their 90s, we see how each generation is passing their love of the film, and their family traditions associated with it, on to others.
Why Seneca Falls?
In the waning days of 1945, a stranger strolled into the Seneca Falls barbershop of Tommy Bellissima for haircut. Recognizing each other’s Italian heritage, they chatted in a friendly fashion, the stranger introducing himself as Frank Capra. Tom didn’t go to the movies. The name, Capra, didn’t mean anything to him other than its translation as “goat.” This was a time when Frank Capra was working to complete the screenplay for his first post-war film, “It’s A Wonderful Life.” It seems likely that he saw the plaque on the bridge dedicated to Antonio Varacalli, who drowned in 1917 while attempting to save a young woman who had jumped from the bridge. (For more details, see our website www.wonderfullifemuseum.com and www.therealbedfordfalls.com)
Fast forward to 1995. A local newspaper reporter somewhat shyly asks a whimsical question, “Have you ever considered the possibility that Seneca Falls may have provided the basis for Bedford Falls in ‘It’s A Wonderful Life?'” That question opened the floodgates for media attention on this modest upstate New York community, heretofore known primarily as the site of the first women’s rights convention, held in 1848.
Seneca Falls is a place of human rights – women’s rights, religious rights, the fight against slavery. The foundation for human rights is recognizing the value of each person, which fits with Frank Capra’s philosophy of film-making: “. . . to exalt the worth of the individual . . . champion man . . . plead his causes, protest any degradation of his dignity, spirit, or divinity . . . to dramatize the viability of the individual.” (Frank Capra, The Name Above the Title, An Autobiography)
Visitors are finding their way to Seneca Falls in increasing numbers, searching for a physical connection to the film, a “Bedford Falls experience”, and a place to celebrate the value of each individual.
The Museum has been developed, in association with Karolyn Grimes, by three individuals with diverse but complementary backgrounds, who also serve as its primary interpreters: Francis Caraccilo, Anwei Skinsnes Law, and Henry Law. Collectively, we have expertise in historic preservation, museum design and development, graphic arts, archival research, photography, municipal planning and economic development, National Park planning and visitor services, and the interpretation of human rights history. We have also produced award-winning publications.
How You Can Help
If every “It’s A Wonderful Life” fan donates $10.00, we will surely reach our goal. In the spirit of the Bailey Building & Loan, it would be a powerful testimony to the ability of individuals to come together collectively to create something that will be of benefit to others as well as themselves and their families for years to come.
If you can’t make a financial contribution, you can contribute to our archives by writing to us about how this film has impacted your life.
You can also pass information on our Indiegogo campaign on to others.
How The Funds Will Be Used
Phase 1: We will purchase, stabilize, and maintain our historic building, create the physical and online archives, and develop several new exhibits, including:
- We will work with Mary Owen, Donna Reed’s daughter, to create an exhibit that will include copies of letters to Donna Reed from servicemen in World War telling her that she is the girl back home they are fighting for. The exhibit will describe her film career and her pioneering efforts as a female television executive. Finally, we will discuss her influential role in Another Mother for Peace during the Vietnam War and how she and others lobbied Congress to create a Secretary of Peace.
- An exhibit about how their experience in World War II resulted in tremendous insecurity on the part of Frank Capra and Jimmy Stewart, an insecurity and fear of failure that resulted in the creation of what each came to regard as their favorite film.
- An exhibit that discusses the profound response of men imprisoned at San Quentin to “It’s A Wonderful Life” when it was shown to them in January, 1947.
- An exhibit that focuses on how Karolyn Grimes appeared in films until she was 15, with major film stars including: John Wayne, Bing Crosby, Cary Grant, Loretta Young, David Niven, Rosalind Russell, Angela Lansbury, Randolph Scott, Maureen O’Hara, Glenn Ford, and Fred MacMurray.
- An exhibit that shows how to say “It’s A Wonderful Life” in over 25 languages, including Greek, Dutch, Lithuanian, Serbian, Japanese, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, and Spanish. The exhibit will also detail the diverse countries in which the film was shown.
Phase 2: Any funds received over our goal of $500,000 will be applied to Phase 2, which we hope will be completed by December, 2016 – the 70th anniversary of the film. This will include completely re-designing our space to include a small movie theater, re-creation of scenes from the film, and expanded in-depth exhibits on subjects related to the film’s message.
Continue to check our website www.wonderfullifemuseum.com for updates.
Please contact us through our website or at 315-568-5838 with any questions.