Still a beautiful day in the neighborhood

Science center opens exhibit based upon world of Mr. Rogers

February 17, 2002|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

It has the familiarity of home, except Patti Parziale was never there - she spent childhood watching the modest living room, the electric trolley and the zip-up sweaters on television.

But yesterday, the mother of two walked into Mr. Rogers' neighborhood and plopped down on his shoe-changing bench.

"I think this is more for the parents than for the kids," confided Parziale, 44, smiling the wide smile of an adult temporarily transported back to childhood.

It's a museum exhibit for a neighbor - a sturdier reproduction of the memorable television set that makes most everyone feel warm and fuzzy, teen-agers included. The traveling display, which comes with one of Mr. Rogers' sweaters and a pair of his sneakers, is in its first weekend of a three-month stay at the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore.

Officials there realize that, technically, "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" doesn't have much to do with science. But they say the exhibit offers educational benefits hidden in the hand puppets, refrigerator magnets and dress-up costumes.

Fred Rogers has always believed that kids learn best by playing, said Bela Meghani, the science center's early-learning lab manager. "That's what this exhibit is about," she said.

Parziale's sons, 6-year-old Daniel Getty and 8-year-old Christopher Getty, jumped into a life-size version of the red trolley - which separated Mister Rogers' house from the Neighborhood of Make-Believe - and pretended to drive it at high speed.

Then they peeked into King Friday XIII's castle, complete with King Friday. But they were beside themselves in Lady Elaine Fairchilde's section, where you could push your hand (or even your whole backside) into a wall of rubber-tipped pins and see the impression on the other side.

Around them, to the tune of "It's Such a Good Feeling," children were making the living room's traffic light flash green and exploring in X the Owl's ivy-covered tree.

"It's just like the show was!" exclaimed Kelsey Kobik, 14, visiting from New Jersey with her parents and 12-year-old sister, Maggie.

The longest-running program on public television, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood began in black-and-white and is in repeats now. His farewell taping ran last year.

But David Newell - "Mr. McFeely," the speedy delivery man - wants everyone to know that Mr. Rogers is not retired (and neither is Newell, who will make an appearance at the science center at the beginning of March).

"We're still in the neighborhood, so to speak," said Newell in a telephone interview Friday from Pittsburgh, where the program was produced.

The exhibit drew a steady stream of families yesterday, a tally of 2,600 people by late afternoon. Its first two weeks of life in 1998 helped The Pittsburgh Children's Museum break its attendance records.

"I would say it is the world's most famous neighborhood," said Bill Schlageter, the Pittsburgh museum's director of marketing. "We all grew up with it."

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