Fred Rogers holds a special place in the hearts of millions of Americans. Fron 1968 to 2001, he spent time every day with children across the country, teaching them, easing their fears, and engaging their imaginations. There was something special about Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Like childhood, though, it vanished before we even realized it.
So, when I found out I could still visit Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, I could scarcely believe it. Pittsburgh’s Heinz History Center has preserved much of the show’s set, and many of its props and puppets. That, in itself, was well worth the price of admission — yet the excellent Heinz Museum offered much, much more.
The Heinz History Center is located in Pittsburgh’s Strip District, along Smallman Street near the I-579 overpass. You can find paid parking next-door, underneath the I-579 bridge.
I have a special connection to Pittsburgh — my mother grew up there, and we visited frequently when I was young. In a way, Pittsburgh feels like home to me, even though I never lived there. The city has a way of doing that — making you feel at home, thanks to its neighborhoods. Even in the 21st century, it’s a big city made up of small communities that remain close-knit and unique.
A walk around the Heinz History Center reveals the richness of that history. The museum is packed with pieces of that history, big and small. For example, a sign pointing to Kennywood, the city’s amusement park…
… or, the streetcar that would have taken you there. I remember visiting Pittsburgh as a child, just before these streetcars were taken out of service and replaced with a more modern subway system. Someone told me to remember it because I’d probably never see one again. I’m glad that wasn’t true.
Isaly’s was a local ice cream shop, known for its towering cones.
One section of the museum, no surprise, is devoted to the history of Heinz in the Pittsburgh area. You’ll get a full history of how Heinz developed ketchup into a respectable condiment, and then marketed it to the world. Along that wall, televisions from the appropriate decades play an endless loop of commercials from their respective time periods.
There’s even a rebuilt transmitter from KDKA, one of the first broadcast radio stations in the world, which began service in 1920.
I can’t possibly show you even a fraction of the highlights from the Heinz History Center. But I can tell you, after a couple of hours of walking around, I had almost forgotten why I had come. And then, I found him.
Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood at the Heinz History Center
Tucked away in the special collections gallery on the 4th floor of the Heinz History Center, you’ll find Mr. Rogers waiting for you. He’s in a familiar pose – changing his shoes, ready to make a snappy new day. It’s such a good feeling.
That TV screen (you may remember it as Picture Picture) behind Mr. Roger’s head plays an endless loop of two shows — highlights from the first and last episodes of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. It proves that in all those years, the formula for effectively communicating with children really didn’t change much.
King Friday XIII’s castle is next door. Sadly, the trolley no longer makes its rounds between the two sets. But, King Friday is still there!
The Great Oak Tree, home to Henrietta Pussycat and X the Owl, is also on display.
Look closer, and you’ll see Dr. Bill Platypus and his wife Elsie Jean, Grandpere Tiger, and Cornflake “Corny” S. Pecially…
… along with the tricycle that Mr. McFeeley used for deliveries, X the Owl’s printing press, and King Friday XIII’s telephone. A replica of the neighborhood trolley, signed by Fred Rogers, is also on display.
After spending some time in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, I walked around the rest of the Special Collections gallery. I was trying to act like a grown-up museum-goer, admiring everything else that was on display. But all I really wanted to do was go back to the Neighborhood, and once the other visitors had moved through, that’s what I did. And then I just sat there for a while, staring back at my childhood.
Maybe it’s a happy feeling to know you’re growing inside. But it’s also nice to look back to before you did.
Here’s a look at the drive through Pittsburgh, to the Heinz History Center:
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If Mr. Rogers had any impact on your life, you’re going to enjoy visiting his neighborhood, one more time. The show’s set and props alone make it worthwhile to visit the Heinz History Center, but the rest of the museum is also excellent for anyone with an interest in the rich history of Pittsburgh.