Portrait of a family of three on their innocuous annual road trip. Having journeyed beyond the bustling Commonwealth of Massachusetts and into the verdant hillsides of upstate New York, they sally forth into the seventh day of their ambitious cross-country trek — a Lewis, a Clark, and a Sacajawea advancing the expedition of a lifetime into uncharted territory without benefit of Presidential sponsorship.
Their destination: a quaint metropolis called Binghamton. Its contents: numerous reminders of a hometown hero. That hero: writer Rod Serling. His most famous offspring: a world-famous televised parade of allegories and cautionary tales, a five-year procession of cerebral science fiction and fantastical thinkpieces, an occasionally pretentious but frequently provocative anthology of morality, tragedy, whimsy, and triumph.
It’s a show and a place called…The Twilight Zone.
Pictured above is an engraved plaque embedded firmly in the center of a pavilion in the heart of Binghamton’s own Recreation Park, as seen in the first-season episode “Walking Distance”. Look through the columns, and fans might recognize another familiar edifice dead ahead.
We pause momentarily to take in the fullness and serenity of the pavilion, alongside a hardcore Twilight Zone fan whose favorite episode just so happens to be “Walking Distance”.
That aforementioned other edifice: an antique carousel (one of six in Binghamton, billed as the Carousel Capital of the World) not unlike the one featured at the episode’s climax, in which Gig Young learns a lesson about the perils of disregarding the ignorance of youth and the problems with time travelers who don’t know much about science fiction.
Aficionados will recognize the painting mounted above the steeds as an iconic scene from “Time Enough at Last” — i.e., the one where post-apocalyptic Burgess Meredith breaks his glasses and despairs for the rest of his life because he never learned how to squint.
Local kids who don’t care about old-time television are more interested in the carousel’s other prominent feature: HORSIES!
Several paintings surround the carousel, each inspired by various well-known episodes. The painter is a Connecticut native named Cortlandt Hull, who owns a movie museum in Bristol, CT.
“Walking Distance” is similarly saluted.
“Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” features Captain James T. Kirk nearly killing several hundred airplane passengers when he tries to shoo away a hairy alien monster, forgetting that he’s unarmed and out of his jurisdiction.
And then there’s “One for the Angels”, the one where this one guy is a street salesman who sells toys and stuff out of his briefcase, and then…I forget what happens next, and he’s played by, uh, this one old actor, and I forget how it ends, but I’m pretty sure it was a great episode, and I think it even had a happy ending!
(That was my impression of how the average viewer talks animatedly about their favorite episodes. That’s not a bad thing at all, but it’s interesting to watch my wife have conversations exactly like that time and again at conventions with other fans, including a few actors.)
Submitted for your approval: mandatory Rod Serling painting.
Also submitted: your humble narrator on a HORSIE! Yes, this antique carousel is fully functional, and the ride is free if you bring them a piece of litter. Not a bad exchange for three seconds of labor and it helps keep the park clean.
If your Twilight Zone experience is minimal and you don’t recognize these episodes by title or imagery alone, you can always mark your calendar for Syfy’s annual Twilight Zone New Year’s marathon. My wife has them all on DVD, can recite many episodes by heart, and can tell you within five seconds after the title card which episode is starting, but we always tune in for a while anyway. Along with TBS’ A Christmas Story marathon, it’s one of basic cable’s grandest traditions. This year’s marathon begins Tuesday at 8 a.m. EST and runs continuously through 5 a.m on January 2nd, with an infomercial intermission January 1st from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. Fun times.
Meanwhile, Binghamton’s nods to Serling don’t end here, but this episode does. To be continued!
[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for previous and future chapters, and for our complete road trip history to date. Thanks for reading!]