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Witness a beautiful day in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, past and present

Melanie Cox McCluskey
March03/ 2016

Volunteer families and pop culture archivists alike are keeping things beautiful in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

The upcoming Be My Neighbor Day—an annual spring celebration of family volunteerism—will ensure that the spirit of Fred Rogers lives far into the future.

The United Way of Southwestern PA, The Fred Rogers Company and WQED has organized hundreds of volunteers to plant sunflower seeds, create greeting cards for seniors and donate unopened diaper packages on March 19th at four YMCA locations across Pittsburgh. Daniel Tiger of the PBS series Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood will visit with families during the event.

Until then, take a trip down memory lane inside Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood with a rarely seen glimpse into the earliest days of Rogers’ influence.

In a recent story on pop-culture publication Mental Floss, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood fan Tim Lybarger shares some deep cuts from the early days of the show, which ran from 1968 to 2001. The 24 photos tell a story of a devoted cast and crew who built a world of make-believe out of an hourly children’s TV series.

The set of Mister Rogers' television house.
The set of Mister Rogers’ television house.

“Although a few of the photographs were eventually used for promotional purposes, a good majority were behind-the-scenes snapshots likely not seen in decades,” writes Lybarger in an article titled 24 Rare Photos From ‘Mister Rogers.’

Lybarger created the Neighborhood Archivean online resource for all things Mister Rogers—in 2008. He explains that he recently met David Smith, the assistant art director on Neighborhood through the early 1970s, who sent Lybarger home with 100 photographs, 35mm slides and some original artwork used as props on the show. Lybarger shares all of the photographs, details on Smith’s props and a recorded interview on Neighborhood Archive.

The Neighborhood of Make-Believe set.
The Neighborhood of Make-Believe set.

The images capture beautiful day after beautiful day in the neighborhood and range from crew shots of Smith and a bespectacled Michael Keaton to behind-the-scenes glimpses of now-famous sets—boom mics, studio lights and all. (Before rising to movie-star fame, Pittsburgh native Keaton worked as a production assistant and performed as one of the Flying Zookeeni Brothers on Neighborhood.)

The collection of photos at once demystifies the land of make-believe while cementing Rogers’ iconic status as activist and television personality. Puppeteers mug with their puppets while props and backdrops sit quietly, waiting for the cameras to roll and the characters to bring the neighborhood to life.

From youthful television host to a candid fatherly moment with one of his sons, Rogers’ gentle, soft-spoken demeanor is preserved in grainy nostalgia. The neighbors—Mr. McFeely, Don Brockett, Lady Aberlin and others—who made his philosophy of self-esteem and community-building a reality also get a fresh close-up in the collection.

Read the full article at Mental Floss.

Register as a volunteer for Be My Neighbor Day here.

Melanie Cox McCluskey

Melanie is the editor of Kidsburgh and a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, NEXTPittsburgh, The Pittsburgh Anthology and Pop City. Before returning to her Pittsburgh roots, Melanie worked as a copywriter in New York City. She currently lives in Mt. Lebanon with her family.