When I dig back through my memory cells, I get one particularly distinctive feeling and that’s one of warmth, comfort and well-being. For whatever else I may have had, or lost, or will find, I’ve still got a hometown. This, nobody’s gonna take away from me.
Everyone has to have a hometown, Binghamton’s mine. In the strangely brittle, terribly sensitive makeup of a human being, there is a need for a place to hang a hat, or kind of geographical womb to crawl back into, or maybe just a place that’s familiar because that’s where you grew up.
– Rod Serling
According to a Syracuse Post Standard story on April 15, 2015, Serling was born Dec. 25, 1924, in Syracuse and moved to the Southern Tier at age 2. After attending what is now Binghamton High School, he went on to create and host The Twilight Zone. He was posthumously inducted into the Television Hall of Fame and the Science Fiction Hall of Fame and his Emmy-winning series was later named the No. 3 best-written TV show of all time by the Writers Guild of America, after Seinfeld (No. 2) and The Sopranos (No. 1).
What many people don’t know or forget about Serling is that he was in the United States Army before he became an award winning television writer. In November 1944, the 11th Airborne Division saw combat for the first time, landing in the Philippines and used as light infantry during the Battle of Leyte. Later on, he was transferred to the 511th’s demolition platoon, nicknamed “The Death Squad” for its high casualty rate. According to Sergeant Frank Lewis, leader of the demolitions squad, “He screwed up somewhere along the line. Apparently he got on someone’s nerves.” Lewis also assessed that Serling was not equipped to be a field soldier: “he didn’t have the wits or aggressiveness required for combat.” At one juncture, Lewis, Serling, and others were engaged in a firefight, caught in a foxhole. As darkness approached, Lewis saw that Serling had not reloaded any of his extra magazines. Serling sometimes went exploring on his own, against orders, and got lost.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rod_Serling)Endlessly curious about people and other worlds, the idea of Serling getting lost exploring a foreign culture when he should be focused on killing the enemy, is an impression that Twilight Zone fans can easily relate to. His ineptitude as a soldier aside, the experience in Leyte shaped his writing and political views. In fact, Serling later set several of his scripts in the Philippines and used the specter of death as a motif in much of his writing.
As an admirer of the series, I wanted to add a stopover in Binghamton to a recent field trip to see Mark Twain’s grave in Elmira and the John Burroughs Memorial Site in Roxbury. Although I went looking for some of the monuments associated with Serling’s childhood e.g., Boscov’s Department Store, the Binghamton Bus Terminal, the Forum Theater, and the bandstand and antique carousel in Recreation Park, which set the scene for one of the Twilight Zone’s most famous episodes called “Walking Distance,” as it turned out, my father and I pulled into the city a tad too late to go searching for these landmarks. With only enough time to grab a beer and some fries at the Galaxy Brewing Company and Colonial Bar, I had to make due with what I could find downtown. I was disappointed not to locate some of Serling’s old haunts, but I am sure that some of the monuments in this photo montage were familiar to Serling growing up.
[Editor’s Note. In June 1975, when Serling was only 50, he was admitted to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester and had open-heart surgery on June 26th. For three tense days, Rochestarians followed his plight. At first, the surgery seemed successful, but apparently Serling suffered a heart attack and died on June 28th, 1975.]
Photography by George Cassidy Payne