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North Hills Monthly

Tie Those Tennies…and Take a Trip on the Fred Rogers Trail

Oct 31, 2018 08:40AM ● By Vanessa Orr

Fred Rogers Center at Saint Vincent College

No matter who wins on Election Day, there are people who aren’t going to be happy; unfortunately, this time of year seems to emphasize how much we’re divided instead of how much we’re united. But there’s pretty much one person whom we can all agree has made the world a better place—simply by being our neighbor.

Of course I’m talking about Fred Rogers, that cardigan-wearing, tennis-shoe tying voice of warmth and reason. From the time that most of us were small, we watched as he talked about sharing, being kind to everyone, respecting each other’s differences, and looking out for one another on his daily TV show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. He also discussed some pretty adult concepts—in fact, his was the first children’s TV program to talk about the subjects of death, divorce and disabilities—as well as children’s fear of being sucked down the bathtub drain. And while he might often have taken us to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, what he taught us while we were there were lessons that we all needed to practice in real-life.

One of the great things about living in Pittsburgh is the fact that Mr. Rogers really was our neighbor, producing his TV show at the WQED studios downtown. And any time that we want to, we can go and hang out with the 

10-foot bronze statue of Mr. Rogers on the North Shore, where he sits watching out over the city he loved.

In 2018, VisitPA came out with a great way to honor the King of Kindness—The Fred Rogers Trail. There are 14 different stops on the three-day tour, though you don’t have to drive it all at once—any time you need a break from this hectic world, you can hop on the trail and reminisce about a truly great man.

As his hometown, it’s not surprising that Latrobe, PA, has a lot of stops. These include Idlewild & Soak Zone, where you can take a trolley ride through Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, visit Latrobe High School, where Fred went to school, stop into Latrobe Presbyterian Church (did you know Mr. Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister?) and pay respects at his burial site. If you want that special selfie, make sure to stop at the Fred Rogers Statue in James H. Rogers Park (named for his father), where you can plop down on a park bench beside the man himself.

One of my personal favorite parts of the trail is the Fred Rogers Center at Saint Vincent College, where you can not only learn more details of this icon’s life, but see just how far his influence has spread. I loved all of the fast facts that are shared in the interactive displays: did you know, for example, that he wrote the scripts, music and lyrics for all 895 half-hour episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood? Or that many of the sweaters he wore were hand-knit by his mother, Nancy McFeely Rogers?

Perhaps my favorite story was when his car was stolen, and the theft was covered on the news. Within hours, the car was returned with a note:  ‘If we’d known it was yours, we never would have taken it.’” Even criminals could learn from Mister Rogers!

The displays bring back a ton of memories—not only are many of his cardigans on display, but so are his size 10-1/2 shoes. And while the cardigans are in many different colors, Mr. Rogers himself couldn’t see them because he was color-blind, so the TV crew told him which sweater to grab at the start of the show. There are also glass cases filled with the puppets that everyone remembers with love—King Friday, Queen Sara, Lady Elaine Fairchilde, Daniel Tiger, and X the Owl. And perhaps one of the most touching displays is letters from real children, professing their love for Mr. Rogers and sharing how his show inspired them. 

Even if you don’t have time for a road trip, you can still bask in the goodness of Mr. Rogers’ memory at the Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, which has the world’s largest collection of original items from the Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood set, including King Friday XIII’s castle and Mr. McFeely’s Speedy Delivery tricycle. You can also visit the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh to explore the Fred Rogers & Us exhibit which has original puppets from the show, or pay tribute to Fred by taking a trolley ride at the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum, where an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was filmed.

Now I’m not saying that wandering through Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood will solve all of the world’s problems, but maybe if we all take a moment to appreciate his nurturing spirit and to remember the lessons that he taught us about acceptance, diversity and unconditional love…we can make it a more beautiful day in our own neighborhoods.

Learn more about the Fred Rogers Trail at www.VisitPA.com/fredrogers.