By Beth J. Harpaz
AP Travel Editor
It’s a beautiful day in Mister Rogers’ neighborhood! But if you want to visit, you’ll have to head to Pennsylvania.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the classic PBS children’s television show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,’’ hosted by the late Fred Rogers. A new documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’’ has helped rekindle interest in his legacy.
Those who grew up watching the show, which aired from 1968 to 2001, along with fans of the new film, may want to plan a trip on Pennsylvania’s Fred Rogers Trail.
The trail, promoted by VisitPA.com, comes with an invitation to “lace up your tennis shoes’’ and “zip up your cardigan,’’ just like Mister Rogers did in the introduction to every episode. The three-day itinerary ranges from Pittsburgh, where the show was produced, to Rogers’ hometown of Latrobe, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) away, including museums, memorials, and his childhood home and church.
“Won’t You Be My Neighbor’’ has grossed $12.4 million in five weeks, making it the year’s biggest documentary at the box office. Its portrait of Rogers as a gentle man who preached kindness and tolerance as an antidote to the turbulence of the late 20th century seems to have struck a chord with viewers lamenting the harshness of politics and pop culture today.
Photo: King Friday and Mr. Rogers
In Pittsburgh, the Senator John Heinz History Center, 1212 Smallman St., hosts a permanent display called “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’’ that includes the entryway and living room set that Rogers walked through at the start of each episode, along with props from the show like King Friday XIII’s castle and Mr. McFeely’s “speedy delivery’’ tricycle.
At the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh at 10 Children’s Way, original puppets from “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’’ are on display (King Friday XIII, Queen Sarah Saturday and Henrietta Pussycat and more) along with Mister Rogers’ sweater and a pair of his sneakers.
A bronze statue of Rogers at a waterfront memorial on the Ohio River, on Pittsburgh’s North Shore Drive, depicts him tying his sneakers as he did at the start of every show. The building housing WQED studios, where the show was filmed at 4802 Fifth Ave., is a popular selfie spot.
Elsewhere in Pennsylvania, the Idlewild & SoakZone amusement park in Ligonier is home to Daniel Tigers’ Neighborhood, a ride themed on the trolley that was a beloved feature of the show. Daniel Striped Tiger, a character on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,’’ later got his own animated series. Driving from Idlewild to Latrobe on Route 30, a sign on an overhead bridge quotes the song Rogers sang on every episode: “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood!’’
Once in Latrobe, stops include a sculpture of him at 200 Main St. and an exhibit open Monday-Friday at Saint Vincent College. You can also see the exterior of the house, 705 Main St., where he was born, and the home where he was raised, 737 Weldon St. (both homes are privately owned and not open to the public). An ordained minister, Rogers attended the Latrobe Presbyterian Church, 428 Main St. He’s buried at Unity Cemetery, 114 Chapel Lane. At 200 Main St., you’ll find a statue of him. There’s also a historical marker about him and the show in Latrobe’s James H. Rogers Memorial Park, named for his father.
After all that sightseeing, relax at Buttermilk Falls in New Florence, once owned by Rogers’ grandfather, where you’ll find a waterfall, hiking trails and picnic area.
Fans will get another chance to dive into the Mister Rogers’ story next year when a new movie about him hits theaters. It’s called “You Are My Friend,’’ starring Tom Hanks.