Last Stop: Willoughby

“06880” was asleep at the switch.

How else to explain last Friday’s lack of commemoration of a landmark in cultural history:  the 50th anniversary of the debut of “The Twilight Zone.”

The seminal series was created and often written by Rod Serling.  For several years in the 1950s — through “Kraft Television Theater” and “Playhouse 90” — Serling was a Westporter.  In fact, he lived just a few houses down from my parents and me, on High Point Road.

Another fact:  My father and Rod Serling knew each other from Antioch College.

Antioch — a very progressive place — informed Serling’s world view.  And “Twilight Zone” grew out of his frustration with network interference and censorship in his live TV drama scripts.  Though classified as “science fiction,” “Twilight Zone” enabled Serling to deliver social messages about race, gender and politics, in a veiled context.

When “Twilight Zone” hit it big, Serling moved to California.  But suburban Westport found its way into several scripts, most notably “A Stop at Willoughby.”  Serling called it his favorite show of the entire 1st season.

In “Last Stop,” an overstressed ad executive naps on the train ride home.  He awakens to find the train stopped in Willoughby — in the year 1888.  He asks about the town, but the conductor tells him there is no such place.

The same thing happens a week later.  He promises himself the next time, he will get off in Willoughby.

He does.  The villagers greet him warmly, by name.  But the scene quickly returns to the present.  The conductor explains that the man “shouted something about Willoughby,” just before jumping off the train.  He was killed instantly.

The show ends as the body is loaded into a hearse.  The back door closes.  It reads:  “Willoughby & Son  Funeral Home.”

The familiar face of Rod Serling reappears.  In his trademark voice, he says:

Willoughby?  Maybe it’s wishful thinking nestled in a hidden part of a man’s mind, or maybe it’s the last stop in the vast design of things, or perhaps, for a man like Mr. Gart Williams, who climbed on a world that went by too fast, it’s a place around the bend where he could jump off.

Willoughby?  Whatever it is, it comes with sunlight and serenity, and is a part of the Twilight Zone.

Like Willoughby, Westport was a part of the Twilight Zone.  Fifty years later, Westporter Rod Serling’s show lives on.  It continues to draw fans, old and new.  It still teaches lessons about life, humanity — and a dimension of sound, sight and mind.

DEE-DEE dee-dee DEE-DEE dee-dee…

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