Lots of people wish they could pass through a television screen and be part of something wonderful. Reality shows like "Survivor" and game shows like "The Price is Right" have...
Lots of people wish they could pass through a television screen and be part of something wonderful. Reality shows like “Survivor” and game shows like “The Price is Right” have made some of those dreams possible, for better or for worse.
But perhaps the most magical of those wishes has been coming true every day at the Children’s Museum in Portland, where people have been entering “Mister Rogers Neighborhood A Hands-On Exhibit” and becoming part of the long-running public-television show.
The exhibit, which runs through May 8, has been drawing not only children who watch the PBS show, but also their parents, their grandparents and those in between.
“This is not just for kids,” said museum spokeswoman Christy Adams. “We have seen three generations coming through: Young kids who recognize who Mister Rogers is, the 30-something crowd who might be parents themselves, and grandparents who remember watching their kids watch the show.
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“It is crossing all age groups,” Adams said. “And as they go through it all, they sort of melt.”
The exhibit one of two, but the first to make it to the West Coast is designed to evoke the central themes of the show that made the late Fred Rogers an American icon: creativity, imagination, curiosity about the world, one’s self and relationship to others.
But it is also a great comfort to anyone who felt a loss when Rogers died in February of last year. For the cost of a ticket, you can journey back to a part of your childhood.
That may be why the Children’s Museum’s general-admission numbers have gone up 60 percent since the Neighborhood exhibit was installed. The museum has also used the exhibit to host parenting lectures and other special events, including a visit by David Newell, who played deliveryman Mr. McFeely on the show.
“It’s not just an exhibit,” Adams said. “In the same way that the show was more than a show, it tends to bring out the good in people.”
Moments after entering the museum, visitors find themselves standing before the television home of the late Fred Rogers porch swing and all.
“Welcome friends,” reads a nearby television screen. Touch a button below it, and Rogers comes onto the screen in a taped message to assure little visitors that it’s all right to come in, even though he’s not there.
“Who came with you today?” he asks at the end of the clip. “If you want to, this would be one good time to give them a hug.”
Beyond the front door, there is a closet full of Rogers’ trademark sweaters but kid-sized. On the wall behind the sweaters hangs one of Rogers’ very own blue sweaters, protected by Plexiglas.
And here also is the first of a series of text panels written by Rogers, explaining the thinking behind each item.
Why the sweaters? “It’s meant to say that I am leaving my other work behind,” Rogers wrote. “And right now I am giving my full attention to my television friends.”
There also is a gaggle of blue sneakers for kids to try on. And, as they sit on a nearby bench, they will see a pair of Rogers’ sneakers, also under Plexiglas.
Children are greatly comforted by routine, and the exhibit honors that, following the same rituals Rogers performed every day.
The exhibit even includes the traffic light in the living room: “It was a gift to us,” Rogers writes on the text panel, “and we didn’t know where to put it.”
Picture, Picture Rogers’ own magical television offers a choice of four videotapes, which show how people make things like sneakers and crayons.
At the nearby Trolley Bench, children can operate the controls on the trademark Neighborhood Trolley.
There is a sitting area where kids can page through some of Rogers’ many books, or select a song from a player piano equipped with some of Rogers’ best-known ditties: “What Do You Do With the Mad That You Feel?” or “It’s Such a Good Feeling.”
A full-sized trolley or at least, a part of one serves as the transition to the Neighborhood of Make Believe, where children can step into the castle of King Friday XIII and dress up as Queen Sara Saturday or Prince Tuesday. Daniel’s Clock, home of Daniel Striped Tiger, offers children a respite. There is a place to be quiet, listen to books or music.
The exhibits are consistent with the show, and focused on learning. But there is also great comfort to be had in seeing it all there. That makes it a little hard to leave for everyone.
But the warmth continues with a Memory Wall that contains a Mister Rogers Timeline, offering the history of the Neighborhood, and a Memory Wall that includes letters and essays from local people about the effect Rogers had on their lives.
One man wrote of being a “quiet and shy child” whose family moved a lot. “Mister Rogers Neighborhood” was a constant friend: “The fact that I could be in any city and turn on Mister Rogers,” he wrote, “provided me a sense of community and comfort.”
Wrote one child: “Your show makes me feel like hearts are coming out of my head.”
So can the exhibit one first, and final visit, to the Neighborhood.