Growing up, there was no greater comfort than tuning into watch “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” When I heard the trolley, I knew we were about to go on an adventure in the “Neighborhood of Make Believe.” King Friday XIII was my favorite.
I dreamed of actually being Mister Rogers’ neighbor each time I sang along to the “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” opening theme, as Rogers walked through the door smiling.
He’d take off his jacket and pull a cardigan from the closet before sitting down to change his shoes, after a presumably long work day.
In 2014, Hedda Sharapan of The Fred Rogers Company said the reason why he always did this during the welcoming song had a deeper meaning.
“This predictability offered a sense of security. Through your rituals and routines, you’re offering that to children, too.”
But the sweaters Fred Rogers wore also had a deeper meaning. One that offered the actor a connection to his past.
Rogers told EmmyTVlegends.org in a 1999 interview, “My mother, for as long as I could remember, made at least one sweater every month. She would give us each a hand-knit sweater every Christmas. Until she died those zipper sweaters that I wore on the ‘Neighborhood’ were all made by my mother.”
Nancy Rogers knitting goes back to WWII. She made surgical garments and sweaters for troops while she served as a nurse’s aide.
Rogers spoke of his mother during an episode, explaining to the audience how through knitting and using her hands, she showed people that she loved them. Adding that each time he put one on during the show, it served as a reminder of his mom.
“Over the years those sweaters wore out or were donated to charity events. One is in the Smithsonian along with a pair of his sneakers,” said former show producer Margy Whitmer.
The show kept the cardigan tradition going, even after his mother’s passing. “…we had to start buying them,” added Whitmer. “Not an easy challenge in the ’80s and ’90s. It certainly wasn’t in style!”
Every sweater, shoe, and song had a deeper meaning and was carefully thought out with the audience in mind. It’s just one of the many reasons why we always have and always will love Fred Rogers.
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