Fred Rogers left an indelible mark on generations of fans who watched “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” as kids, parents and even grandparents.
The Latrobe native’s popularity endures 15 years after his death and 50 years after the debut of his beloved children’s show on PBS. This year has seen the release of “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” 2018’s highest grossing documentary film so far. In the fall “You Are My Friend,” a biopic starring Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers, will begin filming in Pittsburgh. The Senator John Heinz History Center and Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh both have exhibits celebrating the landmark anniversary.
But the best news is a new tribute that will allow anyone to walk in Fred’s shoes, preferably wearing sneakers and a zip-up cardigan, of course. The Pennsylvania Tourism Office organized the Fred Rogers Trail, a three-day itinerary that starts at his birthplace in Latrobe and features associated sites and landmarks in Pittsburgh and neighboring towns.
While many fans will undoubtedly follow the tour faithfully, you can start at any point and create your own route on your schedule.
Pittsburgh Children’s Museum
Fred Rogers was an advisor to and a friend to the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum. The exhibit “Fred Rogers & Us” features memorabilia from “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Among the items on display are original puppets from the Neighborhood, including King Friday XIII, Queen Sarah Saturday, and Henrietta Pussycat. Take a look at Fred’s blue canvas sneakers and his famed sweater, knit by his mom.
Senator John Heinz History Center
The History Center is touting its exhibit as the largest collection of original items from “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Kids can get a look at King Friday XIII’s castle and the Great Oak Tree, which is the home of Henrietta Pussycat and X the Owl. Mr. McFeely’s “Speedy Delivery” tricycle is another favorite.
While there is no formal exhibit, WQED Studios is a fun place to take selfies outside the site where “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” was filmed. But keep abreast of special events planned throughout this anniversary year.
Tribute to Children’s Monument
The Tribute to Children Monument on the North Shore is a 10-foot high, 7,000-pound bronze statue, created by sculptor Robert Berks. The monument portrays Fred sitting in front of an arch, gazing across the Allegheny River toward the Point. The site has become a favorite for kids – and adult fans – who climb onto his lap for a photo.
Pennsylvania Trolley Museum
The trolley in ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” was a character in its own right. Kids can get to know life-size trolleys at the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum, in Washington, Pa. All types of the conveyances are on display, along with ones you can ride. Those in the know will recognize the Trolley Museum as the place where the “Grandparents” episode was filmed for the TV series. Fifty vintage trolley cars are featured, including a Niles Car & Manufacturing Co. trolley from 1905. Look for trolleys built by the St. Louis Car Co. that were used in Pittsburgh and were often featured on Rogers’ show.
Buttermilk Falls Natural Area
When Fred Rogers was a child – and it’s easy to forget that he was once a kid – he and his family would vacation at Buttermilk Falls Natural Area in New Florence. That’s where his grandfather with a familiar name, Fred McFeely, owned property. The young Fred Rogers (whose middle name was McFeely) spent a lot of time at his grandfather’s cottage and often spoke about the experience as an adult. Today, Buttermilk Falls, with a 45-foot drop, remains relatively the same as it was when Fred made his summer visits. Enjoy hiking trails and picnic area.
The “best amusement park for kids,” according to Amusement Today, Idlewild Park & Soak Zone has a longtime connection to Fred Rogers. The Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood of Make-Believe attraction opened at Idlewild in 1989. When it closed after the 2013 season, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood Ride, which uses the same trolley tracks and some of the sets from the TV show, replaced it with a more current nod to PBS programming for kids.
Fred Rogers Center at St. Vincent College
The Fred Rogers Center at St. Vincent College in Latrobe holds the motherlode for serious fans, with 16,000 items related to Fred Rogers’ legacy. There are letters, outlines for ideas (including “The Children’s Corner,” his first TV show for kids), plus scripts and production books from “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Also housed at the center are many of Rogers’ awards, citations and photographs. But its main purpose is to illuminate Fred Rogers’ life. Anyone – students, researchers or fans – may request access to the archives.
Greater Latrobe Senior High School
Little did they know it back then, but in the mid-1940s, Latrobe High School had two students who would become world-renowned figures. The first, of course, is Fred Rogers from the class of ’46. One year behind him was famed golfer Arnold Palmer. The building that housed Latrobe High School in the 1940s is now private property. But present-day Greater Latrobe Senior High School features memorabilia from Fred’s student days and a few items from “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” The collection is only available to the public during scheduled school activities.
Latrobe Area Historical Society
Want to know the history of Fred Rogers hometown? The Latrobe Area Historical Society houses information about the town that was incorporated in 1854. Included are details about Fred’s life.
Latrobe Presbyterian Church
Many people don’t know that Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister. Latrobe Presbyterian Church was his place of worship as a child. The church features a prayer garden for meditation and reflection.
Fred Rogers Statue
At the corner of Jefferson and Main streets in Latrobe, the Fred Rogers Statue is the perfect spot for family photos and selfies. Created by sculptor Jon Hair of St. Petersburg, Florida, the 300-pound bronze statue portrays Rogers sitting on a bench wearing a cardigan. The statue is in James H. Rogers Park, named after Fred’s father. Check out the Pennsylvania historical marker commemorating Fred’s life.
Latrobe Art Center
Next to James H. Rodgers Park is the Latrobe Art Center, co-founded by Nancy Rogers Crozier, Fred’s sister. The haven for artists in Westmoreland County, the center includes Ricolita’s Cafe and souvenirs related to “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
Fred Rogers’ final resting place, Unity Cemetery in Unity Township, is about a mile west of his birthplace in Latrobe. Fred’s remains are interred in the family mausoleum, which sits on a hill near at the rear of the cemetery and provides a panoramic view at the foot of the Laurel Mountains.