How Mister Rogers made Friday the 13th less scary


Image by PBS Television/Courtesy of Getty Images.

If you're old enough to know who the man pictured above is, you're one of the lucky ones.

That's Fred Rogers, better known as Mister Rogers of the legendary PBS children's show "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood."


Before his passing in 2003, Rogers was a leader in the efforts to educate the mind, body, and spirit of children as well as nurturing the best in adults, too. (For an example of the latter, and you may want to have some tissues ready, watch his speech accepting a lifetime achievement Emmy award here.)

And despite the fact that he played with puppets — such as the one pictured below — he took a very rational approach to the world. For example, he wasn't afraid of Friday the 13th, and he didn't want children to grow up fearing it either.

Image via Emmy TV Legends/Archive of American Television.

If you're old enough to know who the puppet pictured above is, you're also one of the lucky ones.

That's King Friday, the ruler of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, a fictional, puppet-populated realm to which Mister Rogers traveled in most episodes of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood."

"We just thought that was fun because so many people are so superstitious about Friday the 13th that we thought, let's start children out thinking that Friday the 13th was a fun day."

Wikipedia describes King Friday as “relatively egocentric, irrational, resistant to change, and temperamental, although open-minded enough to listen when told he is wrong." But his name reveals another part of his biography.

His full name is King Friday XIII — that is, King Friday the 13th. That's a reference not to his lineage (there wasn't a King Friday XII), but to his birthday. King Friday XIII was born on Friday the 13th, and regardless of month or frequency, every Friday the 13th was King Friday's birthday.

In a 1999 interview with the Emmy's website, Rogers explained (full video here, and that link starts at the relevant part):

"His name was King Friday XIII. We just thought that was fun because so many people are so superstitious about Friday the 13th that we thought, let's start children out thinking that Friday the 13th was a fun day. And every Friday the 13th would be his birthday. So we would celebrate his birthday every time a Friday the 13th came. And that was so wonderful about [broadcasting a live TV show] — when a Friday the 13th came, you knew it."

As a nice bonus, if you were a kid who was celebrating a (real) birthday on a Friday the 13th, many grown-ups might have told you that your special day was cursed, but Mister Rogers was throwing the king — and you — a birthday party.

For a generation of children, Friday the 13th became a day of celebration thanks to a guy and his make-believe neighborhood.

Dan Lewis runs the popular daily newsletter Now I Know ("Learn Something New Every Day, By Email"). To subscribe to his daily email, click here.

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