I have long-admired Rod Serling. His famous Twilight Zone series, which originally aired in the early 1960s, includes some of the most creative television content ever produced. Serling was an amazing man in many respects. He volunteered as a paratrooper with the 11th Airborne Unit during WWII. While serving in the Pacific theater, Serling earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star. Upon returning home, he honed his writing talents and went on to become a major influence in television, the emerging medium of his day. Serling experimented with early television filming techniques and brought a unique style of storytelling to America’s living rooms.
After reading Serling’s biography, written by his daughter, Anne, I was surprised to discover he was buried in the town of Interlaken, NY, an area my wife and I had driven through many times during our vacations to the Finger Lakes. Interlaken is a pretty little town, with a population of approximately six-hundred. It is located two miles from Cayuga Lake, the longest of the eleven Finger Lakes. Interlaken’s three blocks bordering Route 96 would be easy to miss if not for the few business storefronts, a church out of a Norman Rockwell painting, a library, and a police station interrupting the scenic views of the vineyards and farms.
The Finger Lakes played an important role in Serling’s life. Each summer, the family retreated to their home on Cayuga Lake, where Serling would continue writing while also enjoying time with family and friends. If you watch the Twilight Zone episode credits, you will see the name of his production company: Cayuga Productions, Inc.
Visiting Lake View Cemetery
During our 2019 vacation, we decided to pay our respects to Mr. Serling. Lake View is a small, humble cemetery, located off one of the last roads leading out of the town as you head north.
Standing over Serling’s grave, while offering a silent prayer, was a humbling experience. I half-imagined he might appear and announce — in classic Rod Serling fashion — “You are only six feet from the Twilight Zone.”
A variety of thoughts flooded my mind: Rod Serling’s patriotism and heroism during the war, the bloody nature of the conflicts he had been part of, and the many fascinating stories he and his team of writers produced, some of which were based on Serling’s wartime experiences, and the myriad of challenges he faced during television’s early days. Serling often clashed with advertisers who attempted to influence his work, and believed the trivial nature of some of the commercials conflicted with the seriousness of the messages and lessons embodied in his stories. Most of all, I had a profound sense of gratitude for the amazing legacy of programming content he left behind.
I thought of Rod Serling’s riveting introductions for each episode. In the span of twenty seconds or so, Serling, with his customary lit cigarette and unmistakable voice, would utter a few lines that captured your attention in a way few others could. Sadly, his hallmark tradition of providing a preview of the program and giving you a reason to watch has become a lost art.
I was moved by the mementos others had left on Serling’s grave: pens, pencils, coins, booklets, notes, and rocks containing quotes. Each was a small testimony to the impact Serling had on their lives, and a measure of respect for the rich legacy he left behind.
Rod Serling’s Legacy
The “props” of The Twilight Zone episodes — alien costumes, robots, and blinking computers — seem rather amateurish compared to today’s modern high-tech special effects. But Serling had something far more powerful than supercomputers and state-of-art digital animation software: compelling stories. Not only do the Twilight Zone episodes entertain, but they also provoke thoughts about the most important aspects of human nature: integrity, faith, duty, honor, friendship, mystery, fate, mercy, the fragility of civilization, our relationship to a higher power, and our place in an incomprehensibly vast universe. Serling was also fortunate to work with fledgling actors and actresses — many of which were relatively unknowns at the time — who would go on to become legends in the entertainment industry. They include Burgess Meredith, Charles Bronson, Elizabeth Montgomery, Carol Burnett, Robert Duvall, Burt Reynolds, Robert Redford, and many more.
In a Twilight Zone-esque coincidence, I was editing this article and came across a consultant’s study in the Wall Street Journal. It claimed 67% of high-tech workers were worried about being replaced by artificial intelligence. I immediately thought of “The Brain Center At Whipple’s,” an episode about an automation-obsessed CEO, who devalues humans in favor of their electro-mechanical replacements. In his maniacal zeal to replace humans with machines, he fails to consider the full range of technology’s consequences on his fellow man and ultimately, himself. Modern-day technology enthusiasts — who believe all our problems can be solved with one more dose of high-tech gadgetry, smartphone application, or algorithm — would do well to watch this episode. It is a wonderful example of the timelessness of Serling’s work.
New Fans of the Twilight Zone
Rod Serling’s work can still be seen on cable television channels and is available on streaming services such as Amazon Prime and Netflix. Perhaps the best value in the entertainment world is the set of DVDs containing all 156 episodes of the Twilight Zone. The series continues to find new fans with each successive generation. Although I have seen every episode multiple times, I still find myself spotting nuances I previously missed.
If you happen to be in the Finger Lakes region, consider stopping by and paying your respects to this great man. Something tells me that he will give you a nod of his head from the “other dimension” he now inhabits. Perhaps you will even be treated to a sunset like the one we viewed as we drove home.
If you would like to know more about Rod Serling and his rich legacy and support his work, please visit the Rod Serling Memorial Foundation’s website.
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