Saturday, September 30, 2023

Mister Rogers' Mausoleum

Fred McFeely Rogers was born in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, on March 20, 1928.  He was the son of James Hillis Rogers, a prominent local businessman, who served as President of the McFeely Brick Company.  His mother, Nancy, worked as a volunteer in the local hospital. 

As a child, Fred was shy, introverted and overweight, dubiously earning the nickname "Fat Freddy."  It was during these years that he turned to music and puppetry, two outlets that would later play an important role in his career.

In 1963, he graduated from the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary with a bachelor's degree in Divinity.  He went on to become a Presbyterian minister while earning his graduate degree in Child Development at the University of Pittsburgh.  He then moved to Canada, where he created a new television series for children called Misterogers.  After five years in the Great White North, he returned to Pittsburgh and adapted his show for American audiences, renaming it Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.

The series ran for 33 years, producing 895 episodes.  It was critically acclaimed for focusing on topical children's issues, including sibling rivalry, divorce, and even death.  A trained musician, Rogers wrote and performed many of the songs used throughout the show.  He retired from the series in 2001, making one final appearance following the attacks of September 11th.  With his trademark charm, he reassured both children and adults that life would go on.

In 2002, Rogers was diagnosed with stomach cancer.  He had surgery in early 2003, but his health was in rapid decline.  He ultimately passed on February 27th at the age of 74.

Rogers was laid to rest at Latrobe's Unity Cemetery in his family mausoleum.

Rest in peace, neighbor.

  • According to his widow, Mister Rogers' final words, spoken on his deathbed, were "am I a sheep?"  This is a reference to the Last Judgement in the Bible, when the good sheep are separated from the bad goats.  And now you know.

  • Not surprisingly, Rogers authored a number of children's books, which are available from Amazon.

  • During World War 2, Nancy Rogers knitted sweaters for American soldiers heading off to Europe.  Years later, she would continue this tradition for her son, hand knitting the Cardigan sweaters that he wore on the show.

  • Rogers is often credited with saving the VCR.  In 1984, he testified before the U.S. Supreme Court (!) in its landmark Betamax Case.  It was brought about by Universal Studios and the Walt Disney Company, who sued Sony over its Betamax technology, claiming they would lose millions of dollars from the distribution of home-recorded tapes.  Rogers testified that this new technology was beneficial to his audience, stating in part "I just feel that anything that allows a person to be more active in the control of his or her life, in a healthy way, is important."

  • That same year, Burger King created an advertising campaign featuring a Rogers lookalike named "Mister Rodney."  After seeing the ad on television, Rogers told the fast food franchise that they were confusing the children, and he asked them to pull the commercial.  The company readily complied, stating "Mister Rogers is the one guy you don't want to mess with."  Fortunately for us however, the commercial is available on YouTube.

  • In 2002, Rogers was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom during a Rose Garden ceremony hosted by George W. Bush.

  • The sets from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood are now on display at the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh.

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