On July 22, 2019, shortly after the release of a trailer for the upcoming movie “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” about PBS TV host Fred Rogers, we started receiving queries about an old clip that purportedly showed the popular children’s entertainer addressing the nation after the terrorist attacks in the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001:
Rogers dealt with a number of tough topics on his program “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.” He helped children (and adults) deal with divorce, adoption, death, race, and even addressed tragic news stories such as the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. Rogers, however, was “shaken” by the terrorist attacks on 9/11 and was reluctant to add his voice to the national conversation.
Fred Rogers filmed his final episode of “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood” in December 2000, with the final episode airing in August 2001. By the time the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center came down weeks later, Rogers’ time in the neighborhood had already come to an end.
While Rogers was enjoying retirement from being an entertainer, he was still involved with the Fred Rogers Production Company. Producers urged him to film a series of promos to address the terrorist attacks, but Rogers had doubts about the idea:
However, the tragic events of September 11 shook Rogers’ world. He’d long been a part-time resident of New York City, where he’d purchased an apartment so he’d have a place to stay when visiting for work. He was also a native of Pennsylvania, where Flight 93 crashed after passengers tried to regain control of the hijacked plane. And Rogers was particularly affected by the fact that these terrorist attacks contradicted the messages of neighborliness and kindness he’d spent decades trying to convey.
According to Fred Rogers Productions, the above-displayed video shows the last message Rogers recorded at WQED studios: “This short video aired on PBS five months before Fred Rogers died. It turned out to be the last time he would record at WQED studios, where, for decades, he had created and filmed ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.'”
An official copy of this video available via Fred Rogers Production’s Vimeo page is entitled “Fred Rogers’ Message to those who grew up with the Neighborhood.” The Vimeo page notes that this clip “aired on PBS to mark the one-year anniversary of 9/11.”
The full clip is available via PBS Kids:
This wasn’t the only video Rogers filmed during this session. The Associated Press reported in 2002 that Rogers filmed four promos for the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks:
In another clip entitled “Helping Children Deal with Tragic Events in the News,” Rogers gave his thoughts on how adults can best communicate with their children about traumatic news stories. That video also is viewable on the Fred Rogers Productions’ Vimeo page. We’ve transcribed Rogers’ message below:
Hello. I’m Fred Rogers. Some parents wonder how to handle world news with their young children. Well we at family communications have discovered that when children bring up something frightening it’s helpful right away to ask them what they know about it. We often find that their fantasies are very different than the actual truth. What children probably need to hear most from us adults, is that they can talk with us about anything. And that we will do all we can to keep them safe in any scary time. I’m always glad to be your neighbor.
Biography.com points to one other clip from these post-9/11 promos. We have not been able to find a copy of this video, but Biography provided the following description:
“No matter what our particular job, especially in our world today, we all are called to be ‘tikkun olam,’ repairers of creation.” The Hebrew words “tikkun olam” refer to actions taken to improve society, including caring for others, which was useful advice for a devastated nation. The phrase “tikkun olam” also reflected Rogers’ ecumenical bent — though he was an ordained Presbyterian minister, he’d always been open to and interested in different faith traditions and philosophies.
In the same video spot, Rogers also said, “Thank you for whatever you do, wherever you are, to bring joy and light and hope and faith and pardon and love to your neighbor and to yourself.” Rogers had always wanted a world that would be guided by understanding and love instead of being blinded by fear and hate. His words demonstrated that the attacks hadn’t destroyed his faith in neighborliness, and provided a vision for how to move forward in a different world.
While we’re not entirely certain about its timing, the following video from PBS Kids appears to show one last clip from this session. In it, Rogers repeats one of his most beloved pieces of advice: Look for the helpers.