Visiting The 'Real' Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood
A new display at the Heinz History Center brings the iconic TV set to life.
Photos by Rachel lynn Schoen
Those seeking to make a Mister Rogers’ pilgrimage have some choices. You could visit the beautiful statue of Fred on the North Shore. You could seek out the WQED building in Oakland. You could check out the full-size replica of the Neighborhood Trolley in the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.
But, starting today, those who want an authentic (and moving) trip to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood should head for the Sen. John Heinz History Center.
Enter the Special Collections Gallery — already an amazing spot, home to thousands of pieces of local history ranging from old pub signs to Teenie Harris’ camera — and you’ll find a new display greeting you. A lifelike figure of Mister Rogers smiles out from the iconic entryway and living room set where he began each episode of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
But this is no recreation; this is the actual, authentic “Mister Rogers’” set, on display as part of a permanent collection for the first time.
With some pieces dating back to the 1950s, the display is the result of a careful and painstaking collaboration between the Fred Rogers Company and the History Center; the fragile pieces, also including King Friday XIII’s Castle and the Great Oak Tree, were restored by the History Center for this exhibit.
About 100 items from “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” are on display, ranging from the tiny (Henrietta Pussycat’s outfit) to grown-up sized (Mr. McFeely’s tricycle). Andy Masich, the History Center’s president and CEO, says an earlier exhibit on the year 1968 inspired the permanent exhibit; ’68 was the year “Mister Rogers’” debuted on PBS precursor NET. Some of the items on display now were included in the 1968 exhibit.
“So many people got teary when they got up close and personal with those sets,” Masich says.
You can visit Fred’s house anytime, but Friday may provide the best opportunity. Eliot Daley, former CEO of Family Communications, Inc. — the production company behind “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” — and Pittsburgh Foundation president and CEO Maxwell King will host “The Life & Legend of Mister Rogers, the Early Years,” a one-hour discussion about Fred’s path to the neighborhood. The talk, scheduled for 4 p.m. Friday, is free with museum admission — and all neighbors will be invited upstairs to see the new exhibit following the program.