Mr. Rogers’ Fans Find Numerous Ways to Enjoy a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Jan 27, 2020 03:17PM
By Kathleen Ganster
Mister Rogers exhibit, courtesy Heniz History Center
The world has embraced Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood over the past 51 years and with two recent movies about the legend, interest has only increased. But only one region can claim to be the “real” Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood – western Pennsylvania.
The late Fred Rogers was born in Latrobe, PA, and spent most of his adult career in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. With the documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, released in 2018 and the newest movie, It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, released late last fall, opportunities to get to know one of the region’s favorite sons abound. Much of the later movie was filmed in the Greater Pittsburgh area, and locals are sure to recognize several familiar scenes and shots.
The 50th anniversary of Mr. Rogers was also celebrated in 2018 with a launch of the Fred Rogers Trail, which allows followers to see even more areas pertinent to the cardigan-clad TV host.
“As Fred most certainly would have appreciated, creation of the Fred Rogers Trail was a very neighborly collaboration among Visit PA, Visit Pittsburgh and the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau. We each took a look into our regions to find the iconic and hidden gem stories and locations that help tell the story of America’s most beloved neighbor,” said Anna Weltz, director of public relations and community outreach for the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau.
The Fred Rogers Trail section in the Latrobe region highlights several stops from Rogers’ childhood.
“The trail kicks off in the Laurel Highlands with a stop at Idlewild & Soak Zone, a favorite getaway for Fred as a youngster and as a father,” said Weltz. “The Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood ride evolved a few years ago from the original Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood of Make-Believe ride that Fred himself helped to design.”
Other places of interest in the Laurel Highlands include Greater Latrobe High School, which has a display of Rogers’ school years, as well as Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood production memorabilia and other items. (Please note the display is only open during scheduled school activities.)
Nearby Saint Vincent College is home to the multimedia Fred Rogers Exhibit, a public, interactive display located in the Fred M. Rogers Center. The exhibit traces the life, work, and influence of Rogers and encompasses wall panels with narratives and photos, and cases displaying artifacts from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. It also includes video screens with clips of programs and a “Speedy Delivery” letter-writing station for visitors. The exhibit is free and open to the public.
Other trail stops include the Latrobe Area Historical Society, Latrobe Presbyterian Church, the site of Rogers’ burial at Unity Cemetery, the Fred Rogers Statue in James H. Rogers Park (named after Rogers’ father) and the Latrobe Art Center.
Pittsburgh was home to Rogers for most of his adult life, and his widow, Joanne Rogers, 91, still lives here. In the latest movie, several sites in the film may be familiar to moviegoers including the Fred Rogers Studio at WQED where Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was filmed, Allegheny Cemetery in Lawrenceville, and the Jewish Community Center where Rogers worked out.
Knepper Press Corp. in Clinton, PA, also had a small part in the movie. According to salesperson Don Rusczynski, it’s fun knowing that your workplace made the big screen.
“I talked to a customer of mine who had seen the movie and was familiar with our plant layout, and she recognized it as Knepper Press right away. Some of our guys were in it, performing their normal functions of running the equipment,” he said.
The filming itself was also a learning experience.
“It’s cool to see how they film what they do, and then see what comes out when they actually insert it into the movie,” Rusczynski added. “It is a production to watch these guys set up and tear down and move on to the next shot. They are very professional.”
The Fred Rogers Trail continues in Pittsburgh at the Senator John Heinz History Center that houses the largest collection of original items from the television set for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Visitors are encouraged to get up close to the artifacts from the series, including the entryway and living room set, plus King Friday XIII’s Castle, the Great Oak Tree, Picture Picture, and Mr. McFeely’s “Speedy Delivery” tricycle.
The Children’s Museum is a great stop for families, and features a hands-on Fred Rogers & Us exhibit. The display includes King Friday XIII, Queen Sarah Saturday and Henrietta Pussycat, the original puppets from the show, as well as a few of Rogers’ famous sweaters and his blue canvas sneakers.
In nearby Washington, PA, the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum was the site for the “Grandparents” episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and guests can learn more about trolley cars and take a ride on a vintage trolley.
Of course, no tribute to Fred Rogers would be complete without a stop at the 10-foot statue of Rogers sitting down tying his sneakers right alongside the riverfront on the North Shore.
Visitors can truly embrace a Mr. Rogers’ experience by staying at the Ace Hotel Pittsburgh, which was formerly the downtown YMCA. Rogers worked with local YMCAs, and the Fred Rogers Company has continued his work by partnering with YMCAs and other organizations that assist children. Those who book a room will find it comes furnished with a turntable and records, some released by Rogers’ own record label, Small World Records.
Want your own Mr. Rogers’ cardigan? The Renaissance Hotel has a special two-night package that includes a cardigan to wear about town plus a copy of the book Life’s Journeys According to Mister Rogers, two tickets for the Heinz History Center and the Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood exhibit, a self-guided tour of Pittsburgh’s Fred Rogers landmarks curated by the hotel’s navigator, discounted valet parking and a daily breakfast credit of $35.
"We’re so proud of the legacy that Mr. Rogers has brought to us here in Pittsburgh. With the national attention created by the documentary and now the movie, we’ve seen interest in people traveling to Pittsburgh to explore the Fred Rogers Trail," said Craig Bollman, director of sales and marketing at the Pittsburgh Renaissance Hotel. “The package is an invitation for guests to come and renew their understanding of Mr. Rogers’ message of empathy, love and peace.”
The Pittsburgh Renaissance Hotel also makes a donation to the Heinz History Center out of package proceeds. “It helps to ensure that we preserve his legacy for years to come,” said Bollman.
To learn more about Fred Rogers and his life’s work, visit:
Fred M. Rogers Center: https://www.fredrogerscenter.org/about-the-center/visit-the-exhibit
The Pittsburgh Renaissance Hotel Package: https://www.marriott.com/hotels/hotel-deals/details/pitbr-renaissance-pittsburgh-hotel/1345878