PITTSBURGH — For just this weekend, a neighborhood in this city that has lain dormant in boxes and under plastic coverings for nearly a decade, is coming back to life.
Almost everyone important will be there in Mister Rogers' Neighborhood of Make-Believe: Daniel Striped Tiger, X the Owl, Henrietta Pussycat and even Mr. McFeely in the flesh.
The set is being rebuilt and opened to the public today and Sunday, giving generations of Americans who grew up with Fred Rogers and his mother's hand-knit cardigans — as well as their children who watch his reruns — a real-life look at one of TV's most famous neighborhoods.
"It's really an iconic part of Pittsburgh," says David Newell, aka Mr. McFeely.
The weekend marks the renaming of the WQED studio, where the show was taped, after Fred Rogers. The show, now in its 41st year, is the longest-running show on public television, according to Maria Pisano, WQED's marketing associate.
Newell and Pisano have been fielding e-mails packed with memories from people across the country and the world.
One woman from Chicago remembers visiting the set with her father as a child. Now, she plans to make the 460-mile trip to Pittsburgh this weekend with her 5-year-old son so he can have the same memory.
"People are very emotionally connected to the show and their memories," Pisano said. "It's really amazing to see the impact."
Replicas of parts of the set exist in some places, such as Idlewild Park in Ligonier, Pa., where a trolley takes children through the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, and the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, which has a play area based on the set.
Not only is Mister Rogers himself conspicuously absent — Fred Rogers died of cancer in 2002 at age 74 — so is the timeless trolley that has ding-dinged along the tracks for 40 years. It's preserved in plexiglass at the Fred Rogers Center in Latrobe, Pa.