LATROBE, Pa. -- "Welcome to Mr. Rogers' real neighborhood," says Mary Lou Townsend as she opens the door to the Latrobe Area Historical Society on a warm fall Friday afternoon.
The building, formerly a synagogue, sits on a tree-lined street in the small town with a population of about 8,000, about an hour outside Pittsburgh. Just a few blocks over are the school and the Presbyterian church where Fred Rogers spent his formative years. Within walking distance is the stately brick home in which he grew up.
Inside the historical society, Townsend proudly points out other exhibits: quilts, school desks, fireplaces from old buildings, memorabilia from the town's other native son, golf legend Arnold Palmer.
Then we arrive at the Fred Rogers corner. Hung on a lattice wall are puppets -- playthings Rogers created long before King Friday XIII, Daniel Striped Tiger and X the Owl, the characters that would help legions of children learn empathy and kindness and that it's OK to talk about emotions.
There are yearbooks (Rogers served as editor), newspaper clippings, photographs and a song cue card from one of his first TV appearances.
"A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood," starring Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers, recently opened in theaters across the country. In 2018, a documentary about Rogers' life, "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" rekindled interest in Rogers' legacy and that of his classic PBS children's television show, "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood."
"I think he taught a lot of things that have been lost on the world today," Townsend says. "People want to hear those messages again. Kindness. Understanding. I think we crave that sort of thing."
Those who grew up watching the show, along with his newfound fans, may want to plan a trip to Latrobe, the highlight of Pennsylvania's Fred Rogers Trail.
ST. VINCENT COLLEGE
Just outside downtown Latrobe sits the lovely St. Vincent College, a private Benedectine liberal arts college where there's a course in Fred Rogers ethics. Monks in robes walk the hilly campus, there's a football field where the Pittsburgh Steelers hold their summer training camp, and amid a field of wildflowers, there's a gleaming Fred M. Rogers Center, built in 2003. Rogers' family had ties to the university, though he never attended there.