See the hometown of Fred Rogers in Pennsylvania!
Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was a beautiful part of my childhood, and it’s been a delight to see my own children rapt at Fred’s show. Much was my excitement, then, in realizing that there is an entire historic Fred Rogers Trail that YOU can explore in southwestern Pennsylvania!
Latrobe, PA: Birthplace of Mr. Rogers
Just 40 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, PA sits the small town of Latrobe. Rogers was born in 1928 in this spot, and lived there through high school before moving to Pittsburgh to produce his show. Today, Latrobe houses many elements of the Fred Rogers Trail. Let’s check it out…
The Fred Rogers Center, Saint Vincent College
Of all the Latrobe sites for Mister Rogers, the official Fred Rogers Center is the one you can’t miss. Why? Because in addition to informational displays, it houses Fred’s actual cardigans, sneakers, Neighborhood Trolley, and most importantly… the puppets!
See the Daniel Tiger and King Friday Puppets, and MORE!
Seeing the real Mister Rogers puppets in person took my breath away. I’d spent so many years watching them do their thing on a screen, that to be able to just stare at their fur or robes up close was hypnotic. I realized, gazing at those little faces, just how much little me had memorized each line of their features — from the big cheeks of Prince Tuesday to the maroon nose of Lady Elaine.
Can We Discuss Lady Elaine Fairchilde?
As a child, Lady Elaine terrified me. She was ornery, selfish, a troublemaker, and had this face which looked like it was rotting or burning from the inside. Much was my surprise, therefore, to learn in the fabulous Mister Rogers documentary, Won’t You be My Neighbor, (FYI, Amazon links are affiliates) that Lady Elaine was based on… Fred’s own sister!!!
Was Fred Being Rude to His Sister?
For someone as kind-hearted as Mr. Rogers, it seems a bit of a rude thing to do to base such a wild puppet on a family member, but based on the sister’s on-camera statements in the documentary (and laughter), she didn’t seem to mind.
Maybe she recognized the importance in every narrative structure of having a powerful antagonist, or at least a person who shouted the other side of what the king said. As an English teacher, my favorite part of Lady Elaine is the irony of making her last name “Fairchilde,” as she’s usually not a “fair child” in her actions at all!
The Evolution of Characters in Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood
If you have a small child or have spent any time with them, you’re likely familiar with the wonderful cartoon, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. The creators of this show have kept Fred’s kind, slow-paced vibe (thank goodness!) but have evolved the puppet characters in funny ways.
For example Lady Elaine got a stylish husband in Music Man Stan, somehow cured her magenta nose and cheeks, and gave birth to Miss Elaina — the spirited classmate and friend of Daniel Tiger who calls everyone “Toots” just as her mother’s namesake did.
The Mister Rogers Statue in Latrobe
Moving on to other spots on the Fred Rogers Trail in Latrobe, don’t miss the Mr. Rogers statue on a bench in James H. Rogers Park in town. There is also a Fred Rogers statue in Pittsburgh, but this one is notable for how it welcomes you to snuggle close. Very fitting for someone who for many of us feels like an old family friend.
Architecture and Cool Buildings in Latrobe, PA
Latrobe is a very interesting small town which is undergoing some changes and renovations, but I was struck by two buildings in particular with unique and delicious architectural features. Chief among them was Mozart Hall, pictured below, which boasts onion domes!
Where the Banana Split was Invented!
Sure, Latrobe is the birthplace of Mr. Rogers, but did you know it’s also where the delectable banana split dessert was officially dreamed up, way back in 1904? It’s not every day a person shares a hometown with a dessert.
Find the Banana Split Statue in Latrobe
For those of you who enjoy silly poses with larger-than-life statues, there is indeed a banana split photo opportunity downtown on the street-corner where the original pharmacy stood: 805 Ligonier St. There are various places around town to get a real banana split in your mouth, but please do not attempt to eat the statue.
Check out the Latrobe Art Center
Close to the banana split statue sits the Latrobe Art Center which is worth a visit for their gallery displays, creative classes, Mister Rogers souvenirs to buy or pose with, and snacks. (Yes, they serve banana splits!)
The Rest of the Fred Rogers Trail
Intrigued by this taste of Mister Rogers history? There’s a lot more to the Fred Rogers Trail that we didn’t even get to, including a slew of sites in Pittsburgh, too! See the full listing here. Of particular interest if you’re traveling with kids might be the Idlewild & Soak Zone water amusement park.
Where to Stay Near Latrobe, PA
If you’re in the Laurel Highlands and looking for a hotel near Latrobe, I highly recommend the town just 10 miles southeast, Ligonier, PA, which is extremely visitor-friendly, enjoyable — and frankly, adorable. We stayed at Thistledown at Seger House (click to see reviews and affiliate).
Thistledown has beautiful stained glass and chandeliers… even in our bathroom! See my full write-up of the Ligonier hotel here.
If your creative inspiration is fired up from seeing the mind of Fred Rogers at work, check out my round-up of 40 drawing prompts from around the world — which features this museum!
What is YOUR Experience with Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood?
So what about you? What are your memories of watching Mister Rogers? Did you know about his Pennsylvania roots, and have you visited any of these sites? Do share!