split screen with rod serling birthday cake and anne serling speaking at podium

You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind.

These words have echoed from millions of television sets into living rooms for more than 65 years, introducing viewers of all ages to The Twilight Zone. And 100 years after his birth the man who created the iconic show is still celebrated, especially in his hometown.

“It’s really cool because he's a famous person and to be in the same buildings and be from the same area he was from is really cool to learn about,” said Taylor Dickerson, a 5th grade student at Horace Mann.

Long before creating The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling was a Binghamton City School District student. More than 80 years after he graduated, 5th grade students from all seven Binghamton elementary schools gathered in the same theater where Serling spent time as a student for BCSD’s annual Rod Serling Day. The event is a culmination of the unit students study about Binghamton’s most famous alum. 

“I thought the episodes were really interesting, there were some of them that got my mind twisting and they definitely had some weird endings,” Dickerson said. “They always have an issue that is going on in society that is the main theme of it. They are still happening today and it lets people know that there are still issues.”

During the event students heard from Serling’s daughter, Anne Serling-Sutton, who recounted memories of her dad. She says most people have misconceptions about what he was like outside his famous show. Sharing photos from her childhood, Serling-Sutton gave students a glimpse of the real Rod Serling. 

“People think of my dad as this dark and tortured soul, this black and white image. So what I share is the dad that I knew: the funny side, the sweet side,” Serling-Sutton said.

To celebrate his legacy, BCSD produced a video starring students and teachers that was screened during Rod Serling Day. A tribute to one of his most famous episodes, Walking Distance, Serling (portrayed by SUNY Broome Professor Tim Skinner) returns to Recreation Park where he played as a child and meets Binghamton students who recognize him from The Twilight Zone. As the park’s carousel begins to move, Serling is transported to the Helen Foley Theatre - named for his teacher who he credited as one of his biggest influences - where he sees that his work is still being studied and celebrated seven decades later.

“It’s so meaningful and we’re so touched that people remember him so fondly,” Serling-Sutton added. “It’s wonderful and I’m so impressed with the program. I’m so impressed with the teachers and the students, that the teachers have done this for so many years. It’s a great program and my dad would be so honored.”

Following the program in the theater, students, staff, Serling-Sutton and her husband sang “Happy Birthday” to Rod Serling in the school cafeteria. Serling would have turned 100 on December 25th of this year. While he is no longer here physically, Rod Serling lives on through his work and the inspiration he continues to bring to the young minds of the Binghamton City School District.