Tribute to Mister Rogers: Neighborhood of Make-Believe rebuilt, open to public for 2 days

By Ramit Plushnick-masti, AP
Thursday, November 5, 2009

Mister Rogers Neighborhood set rebuilt as tribute

PITTSBURGH — For just this weekend, a neighborhood in this city that has lain dormant in boxes and under plastic coverings for nearly a decade, is coming back to life.

Everyone important will be there in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood of Make-Believe: Daniel Striped Tiger, X the Owl, Henrietta Pussycat and even Mr. McFeely in the flesh.

The set is being rebuilt and opened to the public Saturday and Sunday, giving generations of Americans who grew up with Fred Rogers and his mother’s hand-knit cardigans — as well as their children who watch his reruns — a real-life look at one of TV’s most famous neighborhoods.

“It’s really an iconic part of Pittsburgh,” says David Newell, aka Mr. McFeely.

The weekend marks the renaming of the WQED studio, where the show was taped, after Fred Rogers. The show, now in its 41st year, is the longest-running show on public television, according to Maria Pisano, WQED’s marketing associate.

Newell and Pisano have been fielding e-mails packed with memories from people across the country and the world.

One woman from Chicago remembers visiting the set with her father as a child. Now, she plans to make the 460-mile trip to Pittsburgh this weekend with her 5-year-old son so he can have the same memory.

An American now living in Sweden wrote to Pisano to express her disappointment in missing the event. The public television station in Erie, Pa. wrote to say it is sending a bus load of members to visit the studio. A Milwaukee resident sent an e-mail just to share her memories, Pisano said.

“People are very emotionally connected to the show and their memories,” Pisano said. “It’s really amazing to see the impact.”

It’s unclear when, or if, WQED will have the opportunity to again rebuild the set in the studio where the show was filmed, since its high-definition facilities are used by clients. It was only possible to open it up to the public for one weekend, Newell said.

Replicas of parts of the set exist in some places, such as Idlewild Park in Ligonier, Pa., where a trolley takes children through the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, and the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh that has a play area based on the set.

King Friday’s castle and the tree where Henrietta and X the Owl lived are on display at WQED year-round. But Lady Elaine’s Museum Go-Round has been in storage since taping of the show ended in 2001, as has the tower and the rest of the colorful set.

Not only is Mister Rogers himself conspicuously absent — Fred Rogers died of cancer in 2003 at age 74 — so is the timeless trolley that has ding-dinged along the tracks for 40 years. It’s preserved in plexiglass at the Fred Rogers Center in Latrobe, Pa.


On the Web:

(This version CORRECTS that Rogers died in 2003.)

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