The small town of Indiana, Pennsylvania might not be well-known to everyone. But it has a claim to fame. This is Jimmy Stewart’s hometown. And when you’re the hometown of the star of the classic holiday movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, you’re bound to celebrate Christmas like no other place in the country! From Victorian homes dressed up for the holidays to the Historic Indiana Theater showing holiday classics to a hometown parade, this town celebrates – and our Globetrotting Traveling Grandmom joined the celebration.
Celebrating the Hometown Hero
Located in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains just one hour east of Pittsburgh, Indiana, PA, is the kind of place where people take life a little slower. It is every bit as quaint as you would expect it to be. Tree-lined streets, stately Victorian homes and mom and pop eateries are commonplace. It’s the kind of town that celebrates its residents—especially the hometown hero, Jimmy Stewart.
Born to the owner of the local hardware store and his wife, Jimmy is celebrated year-round in Indiana. A walking tour of downtown Indiana brings you to many of the places that were important to his childhood, including his elementary school, the steps of his first home and the Stewart family’s church.
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A life-size statue on the Indiana Courthouse lawn greets everyone who ventures to the center of town. As I was exploring in the steps of Jimmy’s life, he spoke to me…sort of. I pressed the button at the crosswalk and there he was welcoming me to his town through recordings timed to play when the “walk” signal flashes.
The Jimmy Stewart Museum Displays His Wonderful Life and More
The town’s most popular attraction is the Jimmy Stewart Museum. The museum exhibits artifacts from his childhood, military service and his extensive movie career. You’ll learn all kinds of fun facts to dazzle your friends and family by watching the museum’s film, The Making of It’s A Wonderful Life. Did you know that before It’s a Wonderful Life, filmmakers painted cornflakes white to use as snow? Director Frank Capra thought the crunchy painted cornflakes were too noisy. His special effects department got to work and created a new way of doing things.
By mixing Foamite (a fire-fighting chemical) with sugar and water they whipped up 6,000 gallons of “chemical snow” that transformed the set into a winter wonderland: this despite the filming taking place during a heat wave!
In Indiana It’s a Wonderful Life isn’t Just a movie, it’s also a festival
Every holiday season, the entire town of Indiana celebrates George Bailey’s Christmas experience with a 6-week-long “It’s a Wonderful Life Festival.” The season kicks off on Friday night before Thanksgiving with the “It’s a Wonderful Life Parade,” to the delight of the townspeople and visitors alike. Marching bands from the local schools line up alongside floats decked out with garland, lights and all things peppermint. My favorites were the John Deere tractors decorated with all the holiday trimmings—you sure don’t see that in New York at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade!
Of course, there’s a Jimmy Stewart impersonator dressed as George Bailey. But even he’s not the star of the show. That honor goes to Santa Claus, who finishes the parade by lighting the town Christmas tree at IRMC Park, bringing alive the magic of the season.
Continue the Celebration at the Historic Indiana Theater
Nothing says small town charm like an old-time movie theater, and the Historic Indiana Theater in the center of town is not only charming, it’s the place to see all the Christmas classics. When my kids were growing up National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation was a family favorite – we all have a Cousin Eddie in the family, right? We also loved A Christmas Story, and “you’ll shoot your eye out” became a standard line around the holidays. My daughter has always been a fan of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas and the “Who” family. With the Theater’s packed schedule through the holiday season, you can catch all of these and more. And since this is Jimmy Stewart’s hometown, an It’s a Wonderful Life marathon is also on the schedule.
More festivities to check out
Indiana’s calendar is full of activities to ensure a spirited season. The Evergreen Garden Club transforms the Clark House into Victorian Christmas splendor. Holiday choirs perform the sounds of the season. And local homes decked with boughs of holly are showcased on a self-guided tour.
Before you leave town, be sure to drive out to the Flemings Tree Farm. Here generations of families have picked their perfect Christmas trees fresh from the farm. Santa makes appearances, there’s hot chocolate and Christmas cookies, a spectacular Christmas shop and horse-drawn wagon rides. I wandered through the 250 acres lined with over 10,000 Christmas trees and took a deep breath of the crisp air. The tantalizing scent of evergreen wafted through the air, bringing with it the magical aroma of the season. And at that moment I thought: It really is a wonderful life.