We all have a favorite Twilight Zone episode. (I happen to have about forty.) One of mine is “Walking Distance,” in which an overstressed New York City advertising executive sojourns to his childhood town of Homewood, only to enter a vortex of the past in which he encounters the town – and his boyhood self of age eleven – as they existed twenty-five years earlier.
In the episode’s denouement, the ad man pursues his younger self on a carousel, desperately wanting to urge the boy to cherish this time of youth, with its freedom from careerism and commerce. In “Walking Distance,” the fifth episode from the show’s first season, creator Rod Serling captured his pangs for youthful yesterdays, which the writer associated with his own “Homewood” of Binghamton, New York.
Now, an intrepid young documentarian, Jonathan Napolitano, is preparing to tell the story of the real-life Binghamton carousel that inspired Serling’s vision. The George F. Johnson Recreation Park carousel, built in 1925, not only still stands in Serling’s central New York hometown – but today forms a panoramic memorial to the Twilight Zone creator himself.
In 2011, the carousel was restored with weirdly spectacular panels painted by artist Cortlandt Hull, which highlight images from some of the best-loved Twilight Zone episodes, including “To Serve Man” and “Time Enough at Last.” One panel features Serling standing, narrator-style, before an idealized, small-town gazebo.
Napolitano’s documentary, The Carousel, will track the history and restoration of Serling’s object of inspiration, and feature interviews with the restorers, artist Hull and master carver Bill Finkenstein, as well as Serling’s daughter and biographer Anne Serling.
At the opening of “Walking Distance” Serling intoned: Somewhere up the road he’s looking for sanity. And somewhere up the road he’ll find something else… For Serling, that “something else” was a carousel that anchored him to a time and place beyond the nightmares of the Twilight Zone.