The Mystic Seer

Twilight Zone Ep. 43 - Nick of Time

twilightzonenickoftime3"The hand belongs to Mr. Don S. Carter, male member of a honeymoon team on route across the Ohio countryside to New York City. In one moment, they will be subjected to a gift most humans never receive in a lifetime. For one penny, they will be able to look into the future. The time is now, the place is a little diner in Ridgeview, Ohio, and what this young couple doesn't realize is that this town happens to lie on the outskirts of the Twilight Zone."

Rod Serling spoke those words during the opening of the Second season's seventh episode of the legendary TV show, The Twilight Zone.

When Don and Pat Carter's automobile breaks down in Ridgeview, Ohio, they decide to have lunch at the Busy Bee Cafe while they wait. The booth they sit in has a fortune-telling machine on the table that answers yes or no questions for a penny each. Don's a very superstitous person. He asks the "Mystic Seer" if he is going to get a promotion at work. The card says that it has been decided in his favor. When Don calls the office, he discovers that the seer was right. Because of this initial success, Don asks the seer more and more questions, each one more probing into his future and life with his new bride.

william shatnerThe Mystic Seer is the third major character in this episode next to Don and Pat. Many of Rod Serling's TZ episodes featured props that have a life of their own or become a critical part of the story line. It's seeing these props again after all of these years, that evokes those feelings you had the first time you saw the related TZ episode

We all remember Talking Tina who terrorized a very young Telly Savalas in the episode "Living Doll" and the camera from "A Most Unusual Camera" which could see the future.

...more to come

What's Inside the Mystic Seer

It's a pretty good bet that the original Twilight Zone Mystic Seer prop was built over the guts of an actual "Ask Swami" fortune telling machine. Having built many Mystic Seer replicas, I can tell you that the dimensions are correct and that the coin and fortune slots as well as the napkin openings match up exactly where you would expect them to be.

Ask Swami Machine PatentThe original Ask Swami machines were built by the F.E. Erickson Company, out of Sacramento, CA. A Patent for the design of a "Dispensing device" was filed onApr 13, 1953 and issued onMay 27, 1958 under US Patent #US2836325 A. The inventors are listed as Fred Erickson and Loyal K. Roe. To the left is page 1 of the patent drawing. Even the paper slips are shown in the illustration (Fig. 2).

I just love patent drawings. Even modern day patent drawings are done in a style reminiscent of the later 1800's Victorian period. Click the picture for a larger image.

An earlier version of the Ask Swami machine was granted a Design patent (#D163171) and had a small window to display the "fortune". This limited the number of "answers" which could be displayed and would not have provided the interaction needed for us in the Nick of Time Twilight Zone episode.

Below is a picture of what one looks like in real life. You'll notice the positioning of the coin slot, lever and the fortune slot line up with those on the Mystic Seer in the right hand picture. Even the lock is in the right spot. I picked one up on eBay as they pop up once in a while

Read more: What's Inside the Mystic Seer

I'll make a Mystic Seer for you

Mystic Seer CompleteI have started building Mystic Seer machines for fellow Twilight Zone fans.If you are interested in having one built for you, please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Also, if you need any help with your own construction or need additional information, I'd like to hear from you, so feel free to contact me. First, I need to say that my MS is not really operational. That is, it does not dispense the fortune slips. It does however have a working/spring loaded lever and will collect all the pennies you put into it. Also, the napkin holders are spring loaded and hold the napkins rather nicely.

I am also making Mystic Seer Kits. Build your own, but with my parts. Send me an email for details. I can also sell you just the parts you need including the devil head and labels.