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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 254

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This is the grave of Fred Rogers.

Born in 1928 in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, easily the best thing to ever come out of that town and that VERY MUCH includes Rolling Rock, he went to Dartmouth in 1946 and then transferred to Rollins College in Florida, graduating in 1951 with a music composition degree. He married and moved to Pittsburgh after a time in New York. An active Presbyterian, Rogers graduated from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in 1963.

Rogers also loved television. He was mesmerized by it from the first time he saw it. I mean, he hated much of what was on TV, but he saw the potential of it to provide positive messages. After he graduated from college, he went to New York and worked for NBC on a number of musical programs. But he was never comfortable with the reliance on advertising and so he quit and moved back to Pittsburgh. WQED was an early public station and he worked as a puppeteer on a children’s show. There he started developing the characters he would later become famous for. He moved to Toronto for awhile to work on children’s shows up there for CBC. That became Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. He acquired the rights to the program from CBC in 1966 and took it back to the U.S. It began to be distributed to stations outside of Pittsburgh and became a staple of PBS in 1970. The last of its 895 new episodes aired in 2001. The show won 4 Emmys and was a beloved staple of generations.

Rogers himself seems to have been a pretty good guy. He got really mad when Burger King created a fake version of him to sell burgers and held a press conference to stop it, but he loved Eddie Murphy’s Saturday Night Live impersonation. He also once guest starred on an episode of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, the only time he ever was on TV not playing himself. He lobbied Congress for funding for public television programming and put himself out to support VCR manufacturers in court when some entertainment companies were outraged by the idea of people recording shows for future viewing.

Let’s watch some Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood:

Unfortunately, Rogers came down with stomach cancer in 2002 and died in February 2003, just short of his 75th birthday.

Since I have to say something negative about everyone, note that Fred Rogers was a Republican. No one is perfect.

Evidently, Tom Hanks is going to play Rogers in an upcoming biopic that will probably not be good or interesting in any way. He also was the subject of many urban legends, such as being a sniper or Navy SEAL.

Fred Rogers is buried in Unity Cemetery, Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

Normally, I would ask for people to help me cover expenses to make this series continue, but instead of that, donate to PBS if you want in honor of Mr. Rogers. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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