FREDERICK, Md. — Sometimes favorite flicks spark crazy ideas that become annual traditions.
Behold, the second annual “It’s a Wonderful Walk” in Frederick, Maryland. The event begins with a pair of free screenings of Frank Capra’s holiday classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946) at the historic Weinberg Center at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, followed by fans gathering across from the theater to shout holiday cheer during a stroll down Patrick Street and Market Street.
Currently, 1,900 people are “interested” on Facebook and 159 are confirmed to attend, a huge spike from the 50 people who showed up on short notice last year the week of its invention.
“People were honking their horns as they were driving by, sticking their heads out their upper-story windows, so everybody living downtown was poking their heads out to see what all the kerfuffle was about,” said Leann Dickerson, marketing and promotion manager of the Downtown Frederick Partnership. “I think by the end of it, our parade of people was probably about a block long itself, so we definitely made a scene and had a lot of fun. It was a blast.”
The idea was hatched while visiting my hometown last Thanksgiving. During “Small Business Saturday,” I posted some Facebook photos comparing Downtown Frederick to Bedford Falls, saying that I’ve always wanted to shout down the street like Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey. It was mostly meant as a holiday-themed joke, but the excited responses began pouring in:
So, I called up the Weinberg, which was already planning a free screening of the movie about a man who’s given the magical gift of seeing all of the lives he has touched throughout his life.
“It’s a great story,” Weinberg Executive Director John Healey told WTOP in 2017. “You get to see what impact an individual can have on a community as a whole. All of us who are just toiling through our lives, thinking we’re not doing anything, achieving anything, having any kind of impact, it’s a great reminder that, yes, there are a great many things that would change if we were not a part of this life. … It’s just a wonderful way to touch the human soul.”
It will be extra nostalgic watching such a classic film in such a historic theater. Originally called the Tivoli Theatre, the venue opened during the Roaring ’20s on Dec. 23, 1926. Sadly, it endured massive flooding in 1976, but reopened in 1978 as the Weinberg Center for the Arts.
“We are the last theater in Maryland to have a working Wurlitzer organ in its original location,” Healey said. “The theater operated as a movie palace until the early ’70s, when the advent of all the mall cinemas stole the business away from downtown. So, the Weinberg family turned it over to the city of Frederick — as long as it could be used as a performing arts center.”
“It was serendipitous,” Dickerson said of the “Wonderful Walk” pitch. “We immediately jumped on board and loved the idea. Anything like this that’s got grassroots support behind it and gets the community excited about something funky and different, we’re all on board for.”
The “Wonderful Walk” event begins around 10 p.m. immediately after the second screening.
“We’re just going to gather outside of the Weinberg … and then we all walk en masse up [Patrick] Street,” Dickerson said. “We turn left on Market Street and walk past probably 50 businesses between the Weinberg and our final destination, which is Bushwaller’s pub.”
As we walk the route, participants can shout holiday cheer to local businesses, including a movie house (“Merry Christmas movie house!”), emporium (“Merry Christmas emporium!”) and various stores and banks (“Merry Christmas you wonderful old building and loan!”).
In the interfaith spirit of the film’s sponsor, the Religious Coalition for Emergency Human Needs, feel free to shout “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Hanukkah,” “Happy Holidays,” or whatever good wishes you like. It’s designed as an inclusive event to bring folks together.
“In these times, whenever we can have a feel-good moment, we ought to grab it,” Healey said.
The walk will culminate at Bushwaller’s pub for food, drinks, music, mingling and maybe, just maybe, a community sing-a-long to “Auld Lang Syne” — just like the inspirational final scene.
“They always have a live musician there Friday and Saturday night,” Dickerson said. “If we’re walking there with a projected 150 people, I think we can request ‘Auld Lang Syne!'”
It’s a love note to a city that was once a best-kept secret, but is now a hot-spot destination.
“Downtown Frederick is one of those magical little cities ” Dickerson said. “Even if you’ve been here recently, you have to come back and experience the holidays. We’re about 30 square blocks of a really compact, historically intact downtown. We have over 200 independently owned retailers and restaurants all within those few blocks. … This time of year, all the trees are wrapped in lights, the storefronts are decked to the nines. It’s a truly magical experience.”
Click here for details. Hear our full chat with Leann Dickerson below:
WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Leann Dickerson (Full Interview)