Thursday, October 10, 2019

The Mystery of Mr. McFeely & His Cigarettes

In the early days of the Neighborhood Archive, it was brought to my attention that one of the few catalogues of Neighborhood episodes that existed at that time -- the University of Pittsburgh's PittCat -- included a curious description for Episode 0037.

According to this description, at one point in the episode Mister Rogers "talks about how he is sometimes angered by Mr. McFeely's smoking."


Wait. What?!

Unfortunately, at that time there was no easy way to verify this information one way or the other. But it was detailed in this official academic catalogue, so it had to be true! Right? I mean, this episode was filmed in the late 1960s -- a time when smoking was much more socially acceptable than it is today.

Maybe Mr. McFeely was a indeed a smoker.

Not long after that, I had the opportunity for one of my first conversations directly with the staff of the Fred Rogers Company (now Fred Rogers Productions) -- some of whom would have been working on the Neighborhood program at that time.

But no one remembered anything. The response I got was one of curiosity but uncertainty. Sort of a "I don't think so. But maybe... I don't know."

It wasn't long after that when, with the help of the Fred Rogers Company, I began filling in gaps in the episode details found on the Neighborhood Archive site.

You'd better believe one of the first episodes I asked to see was Episode 0037! As I viewed the episode for the first time, I can't say I was surprised to find that there was no mention anywhere in the episode of Mr. McFeely (or anyone else) smoking.

With this new information -- or lack thereof -- the mystery continued as urban legends began to develop. The most common theory that surfaced was that a scene with Mr. McFeely smoking was originally in the episode but was replaced with new footage when the harmful effects of smoking started to be taken more seriously.

Pitched once again to those at the Fred Rogers Company, this theory could not be confirmed. In fact, at this time I learned that the University of Pittsburgh had been contacted about this content and expressed that the information in their system could not be changed. So even if the legend of the smoking Speedy Deliveryman was ultimately debunked, editing this information would require a significant amount of effort.

That's where the story stalled for many years -- with so many questions left unanswered.

Was Mr. McFeely ever a smoker? Was this originally part of a Neighborhood episode or not? Was this footage replaced? If so, is the original footage still in existence anywhere?

Fast forward to the late summer of 2019 -- over fifty years after Episode 0037 originally aired. It was at this time that an unexpected contact through Instagram opened the door to this mystery being solved once and for all!

We'll call the person who contacted me "J" so as to prevent a visit from the NIA (Neighborhood Intelligence Agency). J is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and, in the summer of 1994, he was one of the people responsible for writing the episode descriptions for the University Library System's online catalogue (called PittCat at the time). At that time, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood was still in production as he and a co-worker began with documenting current episodes and working their way back to those from 1968.

According to J, the summaries in PittCat were transcribed from forms originally written by Fred Rogers himself. Each form listed a brief description of the episode as well as any characters and contributors for the episode. The episode entries were created using a networked CRT monitor and took roughly 15-20 minutes to prepare and type each one.

What I found most interesting about this process was J's confirmation that any errors -- deliberate or accidental -- could not be corrected after the entry was submitted due to the fact that the information was then transmitted to the Library of Congress. When an item (regardless of the medium) was added to the Pitt collection, the first step of documentation was to see if a Library of Congress record already existed for that specific title. In the case of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, of course, there was no Library of Congress record; hence, the need for J and his co-worker to create the entries. Once completed, the records were submitted to the OCLC (Online Catalogue of the Library of Congress). Pitt is considered a Federal Depository Library so the law requires this information to be shared with the Library of Congress. Once submitted, entries cannot be changed without official Library of Congress approval.

So back to Mr. McFeely and his alleged smoking habit.

As the process of entering information for each Neighborhood episode neared completion, J was growing tired of the tedium and found himself taking more frequent cigarette breaks. One morning, he was called into the office of his supervisor and reprimanded for his excessive time away from his responsibilities. In a passive-aggressive response to this confrontation, J wrote a line in the description for Episode 0037 about Mr. McFeely smoking.

The rest, friends and neighbors, is history.

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Monday, July 8, 2019

Review: Mister Rogers' Neighborhood Game (Buffalo Games)

With more and more Neighborhood products continuing to make their ways onto shelves this year, one item that I don't think most people were expecting was the Mister Rogers' Neighborhood Game from Buffalo Games. Teased with the idea of a Neighborhood game in Episode 1515 and Episode 1604, this is more a card game than a board game.

 

Buffalo Games has packaged this new Neighborhood game into a sturdy and colorful box featuring the unmistakable image of Mister Rogers' sweater and tie. Initially, this game is only available at Target or through Target.com. We'll see if it becomes more widely distributed in the near future.


So what's in the box?


Let's start with the least interesting of the contents -- the instruction book. The covers uses the same image as the outside of the box and the instructions go into great detail about game play.


What I find most interesting about the game instructions is the target age range -- ages 10 and up. While most younger kids today are more familiar with Daniel Tiger than they are Mister Rogers, this game is certainly appropriate for players much younger than the age of ten. The first time it's played, younger players will certainly need an older player to explain the game to them, but with the rules in place, this simple game is absolutely one that could be played with kids in a much younger age range. I'd go as far as to suggest ages 5 and up.

One of the oddest items included in the game box is a thank you note from Mister Rogers.


The note -- obviously not actually from Mister Rogers -- is found inside a sealed red envelope and features the following quote: "It's the things we play with and the people who help us play that make a great difference in our lives."


While this was an unexpected addition to the game's contents, I feel like it's a bit odd. It just seems like a lot of trouble to go to in order to include this quote within the game. Why bother printing a card and even sealing it in an envelope when the quote could just have easily been printed directly on the box or the instructions? It was a kind of cool to find this in the box, but it just seems like a very unnecessary addition.

The best part of the game? The playing cards!


Check out those amazing illustrations! In many ways, they rival the images recently printed as t-shirts and stickers by Pittsburgh's Steel City!


I'd love to know more about these illustrations if anyone reading happens to have any information. Who is behind them? How was it determined which characters to use and which ones to leave out?

I have questions, people.

[UPDATE: Illustrations on the playing cards were done by Jerrod Maruyama]

With all of the contents out of the box, the words "Won't you be my neighbor?" are revealed. [Now this is where that quote from the thank you note could have been printed.]


Cost? Full price is around twenty bucks -- although I've seen it as low as $16.99. Maybe a bit much for a simple card game.

So is the game worth your while? Yeah, I think so. I wouldn't say it's for everyone, though. It's certainly not a game that teenagers and adults would want to play with their friends on a game night -- it's way too simple for that. But is it a game that a family with younger children could play together on a game night? Absolutely. Not only is it a game appropriate for that sort of dynamic, the Mister Rogers' Neighborhood Game is also a great opportunity to introduce younger players to the Neighborhood that paved the way for Daniel Tiger.

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Friday, June 14, 2019

Steel City? Yes, please.


When the package says "Steel City," you know it's gonna be a good mail day! Our friends at Steel City continue adding to their amazing line of Neighborhood products.

 

Most recently was the addition of t-shirts and stickers featuring illustrations of six characters from the Neighborhood of Make-Believe -- X the Owl, Henrietta Pussycat, Daniel Striped Tiger, Lady Elaine Fairchilde, Queen Sara Saturday, and King Friday XIII. A Neighborhood Trolley sticker is also available.


I have a super soft New York Knicks shirt (yes, I'm a Knicks fan) that is among the most comfortable t-shirts I have ever owned. If you're wondering about the quality of the shirts from Steel City, I can assure you that my Knicks shirt now has some serious competition!

Many times, shirts with large graphics are quite uncomfortable. Maybe you know what I mean. Have you ever worn a shirt like that? It's a hot day and a nice breeze cuts through the air -- but you wouldn't know it because the heavy screenprint on your shirt does nothing but serve as a wind resistant shield to your suffocating torso.

Not these shirts. No, no, no. These shirts are comfy. None of that heavy material and thick print here!

And the stickers?

You know as well as I do that your laptop would look amazing with King Friday or Lady Elaine staring down coffee shop onlookers.


And get this..looking at the Steel City website to connect the links below, it appears that fifteen bucks can now get you a Handyman Negri apron!
And if you're going with the apron, you might as well go the whole nine yards with the matching hat!

Having seen countless pieces of Neighborhood memorabilia over the years, it's no exaggeration when I say that what's come from Steel City are some of the best! Check out a Neighborhood Archive review of earlier Steel City products HERE or take a look at all of their Neighborhood products HERE.

Wanna make a purchase?

Yes, of course you do.

Head over to ShopSteelCity.com. Be sure and follow them on social media to stay up to date on new Neighborhood merchandise as it becomes available!

I can't wait to see what they come up with next!

And don't stop here. Visit the full Neighborhood Archive at NeighborhoodArchive.com!

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Steel City's Neighborhood Line

Last summer, Pittsburgh-based Steel City released a line of Neighborhood merchandise and I regret not taking a look at it much sooner! These products are far more than the simple (and often poorly made and poorly designed) t-shirts you'd find at Target or Hot Topic. Not only is the quality of their products outstanding, Steel City is (obviously) invested in the culture of Pittsburgh making these products somewhat of a labor of love.

While there are a ton of t-shirts available through Steel City, I chose to give a closer look at their other Neighborhood products. That said, I do have a t-shirt from Steel City and I can say in all honesty that it's one of the most comfortable t-shirts I've ever owned. But let's look at some other products.

The cardigan coffee mug is heavy duty and ready for your morning cup of coffee. The back of the mug features a line familiar text: "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood," but the cardigan design is certainly the big draw here. A very simple, yet creative design sure to spark a few conversations in your office break room.

The hats offered by Steel City are easily my favorite items among this great line of products. While I don't recall Mr. McFeely every wearing a cap in this style, the color of this strap-back cap and the patch are spot on with what you'd find on his regular uniform.


The Neighborhood logo cap is simple and well made, but it's certainly my least favorite of the Steel City head wear options.


My favorite? That's a tough one. Of the three strapbacks, it'd have to be the Handyman Negri cap. It's a terrific replica of the style regularly worn around the Neighborhood of Make-Believe by Mr. Negri himself.


The beanie, though. The beanie! It's thick, it's warm, and it's such a fun product to cover your chilly noggin! Worth every last penny of its $20 price tag.


And who doesn't need a pair of Neighborhood socks?



This is one of three sock varieties offered by Steel City. You can check out the others, as well as their many original Neighborhood t-shirt designs by visiting their spot in the Neighborhood Archive or by browsing their website -- shopsteelcity.com

From my neighborhood to yours, Steel City's Neighborhood line comes highly recommended!

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