Example: [Collected via e-mail, June 2003]
Origins: In 2003 the television world mourned the loss of
According to a widely-traveled tale,
So far, the earliest printed reference to this the tale we've found comes from a March 1990 Wall Street Journal article about this television icon:
As to how the thieves purportedly found out whose jalopy they'd made off with, the earliest version says they worked that out for themselves via papers and props left in the vehicle, while some later tellings (such as the one given in a September 2004
Renditions of this story vary in other details as well. Sometimes there is one car thief; in other versions two or three. Where the car is stolen from and where it's returned to also changes. When the theft occurred is similarly up for grabs: A 1990 recounting of
The legend tends to confirm a theory that many want to believe: that even bad people are sometimes swayed by good impulses. In this case the car thieves thought better of their act once they realized whom they'd stolen from — while they might feel okay about pilfering a car belonging to a stranger, they could not steal from the man who had played such a large and reassuring role in their childhoods.
It's a great story, but it's doubtful the incident ever happened. While Fred Rogers was interviewed countless times during his life, we've yet to happen upon a case of his telling the story himself. Neither have we encountered any instances of his being asked by an interviewer about it, even within articles that presented the tale as an anecdote about him. (His representatives also told us that although they were familiar with the legend, they could not verify that the event it describes had actually taken place.)
It's interesting to note that a similar "returned item" tale has been told of Scottish poet James Montgomery:
The poet had many valuable items stolen from his home in 1812. One of them, a treasured desk, was returned with this note from a member of the burglary gang: "Honored sir: When we robbed your house, we did not know that you wrote such beautiful verses as you do. I send this desk back. It was my share of the booty, and I hope you and God will forgive me."
Barbara "false negatives" Mikkelson
Last updated: 18 September 2009
Fenster, Bob. Twisted. New York: MJF Books, 2006. ISBN 1-56731-957-2. (pp. 29-30). Feran, Tom. "A Good Neighbor." Plain Dealer. 28 February 2003 (p. E1). Hiltbrand, David. "A Whole New Neighborhood." TV Guide. 25-31 August 2001 (pp. 40-44, 57). Pae, Peter. "This Neighborhood Hasn't Changed a Bit Over the Decades." The Wall Street Journal. 2 March 1990 (p. A1). Richards, Tim. "Kindness Can Exert Powerful Influence on World Around Us." St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 6 September 2004 (p. 4).