Posters Around City Ask Mayor To Make ‘Won't You Be My Neighbor?’ Pittsburgh's Official Song
Craig Toocheck has a vision for Pittsburgh's future events and meetings.
Imagine a Pirates game at PNC Park: After a Seventh-Inning-Stretch rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" or an edge-of-your-seat Pierogi Race, a crowd of 38,000 join together in singing the iconic theme song of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.
Or at City Council meeting after the Pledge of Allegiance, council members and constituents alike sing "It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood ... Please won't you be my neighbor?" loud and proud. Then they settle down to introduce bills and hear public comment.
Toocheck, a staff engineer for the city government, wants the nostalgic tune to become the official song of the city of Pittsburgh, sung at every sports event and city meeting. And for almost a year now, Toocheck has been hanging up posters all over town to will his dream into reality.
One version of the poster features a photo of Fred Rogers aboard a Pittsburgh streetcar and the full lyrics to "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" The poster urges Pittsburghers to write the mayor and city council to recognize the song as the city's official anthem.
"The lyrics are inspirational, and the song is an important part of Pittsburgh history and culture," Toocheck said. "The message that Mister Rogers tried to send is important and could hopefully foster some neighborliness in our city."
The poster recently went viral on Twitter, when Whitehall resident Angela Carducci snapped a photo of one on a telephone pole at the intersection of Forbes Avenue and Wood Street.
That tweet sparked a discussion on Reddit and Pittsburghers started to wonder: Where did this campaign come from? And why isn't this beloved song officially recognized by the city?
Toocheck became inspired to create the campaign last summer when he started to hang the "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" poster alongside another with a different message.
The second poster promotes the story of Francois Clemmons, the actor who played the friendly Officer Clemmons on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. It features a black-and-white image of Clemmons dipping his feet in a baby pool with Fred Rogers. "BE THE NEIGHBOR MR. ROGERS WOULD WANT YOU TO BE," the poster reads in big, black letters.
"I started putting the Clemmons poster up after a lot of racial tension was occurring around the country last year," Toocheck remembered. "The picture of Officer Clemmons-- a black, gay man-- in a kiddie pool with Mister Rogers really struck me because historically, pools were highly segregated."
Clemmons told Great Big Story in 2016 about his 30 years playing the role.
"When Fred asked me to play a police officer [I said] 'Fred, are you sure? Do you know what police officers represent in the community where I was raised?'" Clemmons recounted. "And then he started talking about children needing helpers and the positive influence I could have for young children. My heart opened as I listened to him."
Clemmons said that Rogers was on the frontline of integration, by welcoming Clemmons as one of the first recurring black characters on a children's television show, and specifically during the pool scene.
"It was well-planned and well-thought out, and I think it was very impactful," he said.
Toocheck believes the posters will make an impact, too.
"What sort of thing could unite us as a city? I think it's neighbors spreading love all around us, and that song sums it up," Toocheck said.
Toocheck estimates that he's hung several hundred posters since last summer. He borrowed the idea from a transit advocacy campaign he promoted while living in New York City: keep stacks of posters in his bag and hang them up in every neighborhood he visits, while walking to the grocery store, the movies or work.
Toocheck's friends have joined in, and he's provided a link where anyone can download and print the posters.
Toocheck hopes to create a more formal petition and present it to the Mayor's Office. Mayor Bill Peduto's office has responded to the idea of a petition.
"The Mayor is a huge Fred Rogers fan and supports honoring his work, though it is unclear if there is such a thing as an official city song, and/or how one would be legally adopted," wrote communications director Timothy McNulty via email.
Other cities do have official songs. The official song of San Francisco, for example, is "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" by Tony Bennett. The city's Board of Supervisors made the proclamation in 1969. In addition, ? and The Mysterians' "96 Tears" became the official rock-n-roll song of Bay City, Michigan in 2014 after a dedication from the mayor.
If you spot one of Toocheck's posters around Pittsburgh (or decide to print one yourself), tweet a photo and the poster's location to @905WESA.