Rod Serling and Binghamton Deserve a Museum

Rod Serling Museum could turn
 into financial fact

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by Elizabeth Cohen
Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin
Sunday, August 14, 2005

Walk into Recreation Park in Binghamton and walk into history. Specifically, television history.

Unbeknownst to many, except those who take time to read a small commemorative plaque, the park starred in an episode of the sci-fi classic The Twilight Zone called "Walking Distance." In it, a man named Martin Sloane carved his initials on the bandstand and injured his leg on the carousel.

Of course, Martin Sloane is a fictional man who somehow tripped back in time to his own childhood. A real child carved his initials on the bandstand, too. That would be Rod Serling, Binghamton resident and creator and narrator of the show, which ran from 1959 to 1964.

Star Trek and The X-Files notwithstanding, The Twilight Zone is probably the most famous sci-fi television show ever made. Most people of a certain age can quote the series' opening soliloquy, delivered by a cigarette-smoking Serling, wearing a sports jacket and 1950s skinny tie.

"The show has a huge international following," says Sybil Goldenberg, a high school classmate of Serling and a board member of the Rod Serling Memorial Foundation, which would like to see Binghamton develop a venue to showcase his life's work.

Which brings me to my point: Gas City, Ind., has the James Dean Museum; Stockbridge, Mass., is home to a museum honoring Norman Rockwell; Louisville, Ky., will soon be home to the Muhammad Ali Center, described on its Web site as "one of America's most exciting places to visit." And who could forget Graceland -- Memphis' Elvis Presley theme park.

Even when you don't have a famous somebody to honor, you can honor, say, a sport. Our upstate neighbor Cooperstown has immortalized itself as the birthplace of baseball, even though it isn't. Oneonta laid claim to the sport of soccer, creating the Soccer Hall of Fame. Canastota, similarly, has the Boxing Hall of Fame. How many big fights were ever held there?

I am in league with the Rod Serling Foundation's board, begging the question -- why, why, why, hasn't Binghamton jumped on this opportunity and properly celebrated our esteemed and genius son, world-recognized and beloved Rod Serling?

"All we have today is the Recreation Park plaque, a small display in the Forum theater and the high school arts program named for him," Goldenberg says. "It would be great to have a single place for people to come to town and have easy access to exhibits and a video archive of his work."

Many of Serling's films lie in storage today. Props and costumes from the shows are scattered to the winds. A Rod Serling museum could gather all these artifacts together and showcase them -- and bring needed revenue as a local attraction in Binghamton, a city that is reinventing itself, as we speak, as an arts mecca.

It's a no-brainer: This fits the bill. A museum could also sponsor a Rod Serling sci-fi film festival (we already have a successful Rod Serling video contest for students each year) and an oral history project, interviewing those, like Goldenberg, who knew the man and remember him and can describe his role in our community.

Every day there are hundreds of hits on the foundation's Rod Serling Web site, Many people, including yours truly, have committed entire episodes to memory (remember "talking Tina," the doll that killed Telly Savalas?) Watching the show from the vantage point of Greater Binghamton, one feels sure that the fictional towns of Woodbridge, Willoughby and others were all, basically, smaller, more intimate Binghamtons.

The Andy Warhol Museum, a paean to a man who painted soup cans, has brought millions to Pittsburgh. And Warhol didn't even really like Pittsburgh. Serling loved Binghamton and claimed it in his art and work.

"Everyone has to have a hometown," Serling once famously said. "Binghamton is mine."

He introduced his show each week saying "... you unlock this door with the key of imagination." Where, today, is Binghamton's imagination? Council members, mayor, we are lucky -- one of the most brilliant minds of early television claimed us. Now, as we stand poised at the gate of economic development options, could it be a wise time for us to claim him?

Cohen's column appears Sundays. E-mail her at
© 2005 Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin

Comments emailed to Elizabeth Cohen regarding the Rod Serling Museum

I just wanted to applaud you on your excellent article regarding the lack of a Rod Serling Museum in Binghamton. I agree that this has been noticeably overlooked and something should be done about it. As a child I was always fascinated with the Twilight Zone series and was proud that Rod Serling was a part of our community. Something definitely needs to be done about this. If by any chance you are planning to pursue this or if you know of anyone who is currently working on this please let me know. I would love to help out if I can. Once again wonderful article!

I’ve just finished reading your column in Sunday’s Press. After reading your question of why Binghamton has never grabbed the idea of assembling a Rod Serling museum in Binghamton, two thoughts come to my mind. And also be aware of the fact that I was born, raised and hand delivered the paper you write for when it was called the Evening Press and the printing occurred on Chenango Street. The first thought is "what a great idea, why hasn’t someone done this yet?" And then reality sets in and the answer is unfortunately clear; Binghamton has always relied on outsiders to take the bull by the horns to develop something of a grand scale that benefits the area. Then the residents will enjoy the entrepreneurial efforts of the outsiders. I read the book Shoetown and it became abundantly clear to me that George F Johnson and Thomas Watson developed many tangible benefits to the community that Binghamton enjoyed and eventually simply watched it go away.

Please do not get me wrong, I encourage and applaud your question in your column. I would be even willing to assist in what ever manner I could, but please do not be surprised if no one in Binghamton steps up and organizes this effort.

Dear Mrs. Cohen,

I am writing to you after reading your article in today's edition of the Press & Sun Bulletin regarding a contemplated Rod Serling Museum. Please allow me to introduce myself. I am a podiatrist in the Southern Tier, Binghamton and Owego, and have been practicing for the past thirty years. I am a life long resident of Binghamton with the exception of a period of years which included attending college, US Army during the VietNam war, medical school and residency training.

I was a member of the Rod Serling Memorial Foundation Board of Directors for a period of time. During that time and since, I have spoken with a number of people about this very topic. When Helen Foley was alive, Helen, Skip Haussemann, Paul Komar and I met looking into the feasibility of establishing a Twilight Zone interactive "museum" honoring Rod Serling. Mr Haussemann and Mr. Komar were extensively involved in creating a technology center within the Southern Tier. This technology center would recognize past, current and future technological discoveries first developed within the Southern Tier. If memory serves me correctly, Viacom has the rights to the name "Twilight Zone". I also spoke to a previous director of the Roberson Museum and recently to Broome County Historian, Gerald Smith.

It is my fervent hope and belief that this can be accomplished. I believe that a multi dimensional approach would be successful. Negotiations with Viacom, NYS governor and legislators, local business and elected officials would inevitably be successful.

When, not if, this becomes reality, travelers along Routes 17, 81 & 88 would then be welcomed to the Southern Tier with signs bearing the likeness of Rod Serling stating, "YOU ARE NOW ENTERING THE TWILIGHT ZONE".

I believe that Rod's widow, Carol Kramer Serling, vacations on Cayuga Lake in her family's cottage. The cottage is on the west side of the lake, several doors south of an old hotel mid-way up the lake.

Thank you for publishing your article. It is much apprecitated. Now all we have to do is to get to work. I never had the privilege of meeting Mr. Serling. Howver, my father was a high school history teacher and football coach. Rod oftentimes would come back to visit my father when he was in Binghamton. This information along with many conversations with Helen Folely, a former teacher of mine, serves as the basis for my information and interest.

Dear Elizabeth,

Like many of your columns, I was interested to read your piece on a Rod Serling Museum.

I have a few facts that you might be interested in. About 15 years ago, The Center For Innovation and Technology, a local group of which I was a part. proposed building a large theme park called, "Thinnk Town", a takeoff on Thomas J. Watson's motto for IBM, "THINK." It started small and was to be built around Rod Serling's work. At that time, we worked with Rod's former teacher, Helen Foley at Binghamton High School, after whom their small theater is named, and a Podiatrist named Dr. James or Joseph Hogan at 41 Oak Street, Binghamton, NY 13905, phone 723-7454. He was a big fan of Serling.

Helen Foley has since passed away. We were able to contact Serling's wife, but all the rights had been sold to Disney Corp. and they were not interested in licensing them. We even tried to have them build a theme park for us, but they were not planning any expansion. We even brought in professional theme park consultants who told us that what we needed to be sucessful would cost. $112 million. Nobody we knew had that kind of money.

After 10 years, we gave up on the idea.

I don't want to discourage the idea, but thought you might like a, "heads up" about what had been tried in the past. It's still a good idea. Good luck!

I would like to thank you for your story on the idea of a museum honoring Binghamton's greatest mind. I too for the longest time have wondered why he is not held in greater respect by his hometown.

I grew up watching the show with my father every time it was on, begging him to let me stay up later to watch another episode. Now a father of one (a 2 year old daughter) I am proud to share the same with her.

As a huge fan of him and his work my greatest accomplishment came in 1998 (the year I graduated) when I won a Rod Serling award for a piece my video production class did for the contest. Sadly it was among the many items that were stolen from my car when someone decided to break into it in late 2000.

I really hope your article is enough to light a fire under someone's ass to get a museum under way.

P.S. My favorie episode is "The Obsolete Man"

Saw the article on the idea of having a Rod Serling Museum in Binghamton written by Elizabeth Cohn in the August 14th edition of the Press & Sun Bulletin. I agree with Ms. Cohn's position that Binghamton should have such a museum. I feel that a good site for the museum would be the old public library building in downtown Binghamton which is currently for lease or for sale. It is a beautiful building that needs to be used. Would the Rod Serling Foundation have the funds to lease or purchase the building for a museum? Marena Gonz, 648-6322. ( Just brainstorming for Binghamton )