And yep. This actually happened!
One of my former lives was as an educator. Did you know this about me? I have a Master’s Degree in Education. And I FIRMLY believe that by being an educator — it prepared me to be REALLY good at my current creative life — but that is not why were are here right now is it? We are here because I got me meet Fred Rogers IRL and I want to tell you about it!
Now I have to get a little name droppy here so just roll with it…I used to be the VP of Education at Strong Museum. And it was an AMAZING job — so many fun and interesting things to think about ALL THE TIME! As part of this job there was quite a bit of travel for benchmarking to see what other museums were doing, to check out exhibits that we might be interested in bringing to the museum, etc etc.
So…Mr. Rogers Neighborhood created a traveling exhibit and as a cool perk a few of us got to travel to Pittsburgh to see a live taping of the show and meet Mr. Rogers and all the crew. And I gotta be honest with you — it was one of the most incredible bucket list items of my career. Seeing the actual ACTUAL Mr Rogers Neighborhood was the stuff of dreams. The set…the trolley…the CURTAINS. OMG. I got to meet Mr. McFeeley and Mr. Rogers and watch a show being taped. And we all got to eat together at Craft Services.
Two things happened that I will NEVER forget. The first…I was sitting there eating lunch when Fred Rogers wandered in and started looking at each food dish. He caught me staring (because HI TOTALLY FANGIRLING in that moment) and grinned at me and said — “I like to come in and see what they are serving because that’s what Joanne and I have for dinner afterward”.
And my mind kind of exploded right there into my lunch. How absolutely charming and humble and sweet. Like WHO does that? You take the leftovers HOME? You and your wife eat them each time? He was EXACTLY who you saw on television. Humble. Grateful. Sweet. Patient. Thoughtful. Caring.
That little exchange has come back to me again and again. How he easily included his wife in the conversation. How he just sweetly acknowledged that I was inappropriately invading his world by staring and INVITING ME INTO IT. Somehow he knew that would be the most inclusive thing to do. He did not make me feel like some visiting schmo — of which there must have been a million. He SAW me. And in that moment he gave me his full 100% attention. And I’ve never forgotten it.
We went on to watch the taping of the show (did you know that Fred Rogers played the piano LIVE at the beginning of each episode? All that trolley music? Fred just sat there and played on an upright piano. Crazy.
Later, the staff of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood arranged for us to be photographed on the set with Mr. Rogers and Mr. McFeeley. I’m not ashamed to admit I dove-tailed my way into standing directly next to him for the photos. And here comes the BEST PART.
So I’m standing there wracking my brain for ANYTHING intelligent to say to this man who I grew up with in my living room — who was my IDOL and this is what I came up with:
“I love that jacket”
Yes yes. That was the MOST amazing thing I could come up with. LOL However, in my defense he was wearing a lovely red soft looking blazer…but seriously Swales. “I love that jacket” ::shakes head:: (But even MORE amazing is that someone snapped a pic of this EXACT second in time offering me proof this happened for ever after. Also. That haircut. LOL)
But this is what happened next. And you’ll never guess what Fred Rogers said in response in a million years…
He looked down at it and he said “Oh thank you! Bob Keeshan told me that crushed velvet travels the best so that’s what I wear now”
For the uninitiated — at the time of Mr Rogers Neighborhood being popular the other show that was as popular at that time was Captain Kangaroo. And I just quietly nodded my head while inside I was screaming:
OMG CAPTAIN KANGAROO GAVE MR ROGERS FASHION ADVICE!!!
I’m just saying. It was an epic never forget it moment. And now you have the benefit of knowing Fred Rogers fashion advice: Crushed Velvet travels well.
And Mark Wahlberg is also a fan of Captain Kangaroo — which…has no relevance except to point out that other people also remember how amazing these two men were. AND how AMAZING THAT THEY TALKED ABOUT FASHION to each other.