Prelude to Rebellion

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that shaped our modern world. Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 201st installment in the series.   

September 14, 1915: Prelude to Rebellion 

Just as the passage of the Home Rule Act in May 1914 seemed about to bring the longstanding controversy over Irish self-government to a head, external events unexpectedly intervened. With the outbreak of the First World War the whole issue of Irish autonomy was moved to the back burner by the British government with the Suspensory Act of September 1914, justified on the grounds that now was not the time to proceed with a major reorganization of the state. 

This delay was supposed to last just one year, until September 18, 1915, but the changing political landscape threatened to make it permanent. In the spring of 1915 the crisis in British munitions production led to the “Shell Scandal,” which forced Prime Minister Herbert Asquith to form a new coalition government including members of the opposition. One of the key figures in the new cabinet was the Ulster Unionist Edward Carson, who as a Protestant bitterly opposed Irish Home Rule and demanded continued “Union” with the rest of Britain. 

Carson joined the cabinet as Attorney General of England and Wales, giving him considerable influence over domestic policy; meanwhile the Irish Nationalist Party led by John Redmond, which represented Irish Catholics demanding Home Rule, was the only parliamentary party not included in the coalition. 

Following this political realignment, it came as no surprise when the cabinet issued an Order in Council renewing the Suspensory Act on September 14, 1915, just a few days before it was due to expire – deferring Irish Home Rule for the duration of the war (which everyone now realized would probably last for years). 

Moderates Eclipsed 

As the British government reneged yet again on its promises of Irish Home Rule, discontent was mounting rapidly among Irish nationalists, many of whom now turned their backs on the policy of peaceful legislative change advocated by moderates like Redmond, and embraced more radical (meaning, violent) solutions. 

Even before the cabinet renewed the Suspensory Act, in May 1915 the radical nationalist leader Thomas Clarke had secretly formed the Irish Republican Brotherhood Military Council, which would be responsible for organizing the failed Easter Uprising in April 1916. The IRB Military Council would coordinate the activities of the Irish Volunteers (top), a paramilitary led by Patrick Pearse that seceded from John Redmond’s National Volunteers (below) over the issue of service in the British Army, and the smaller Irish Citizen Army led by James Connolly. 

By fall 1915 British intelligence was well aware that rebellion was brewing in Ireland. In one secret report filed in November (which, like many Irish people, mistakenly identified the rebels as belonging to the nationalist organization Sinn Fein) British agents warned that the advent of conscription, then under debate, might trigger an uprising: “This force is disloyal and bitterly Anti-British and is daily improving its organisation… its activities are mainly directed to promoting sedition and hindering recruitment for the Army and it is now pledged to resist Conscription with arms.” 

Indeed, the preparations were more or less open in many parts of Ireland, as ordinary people made no secret of their hostility to Britain – even to the extent of shunning their own family members who served in the British Army. Edward Casey, a “London Irish” (Irish Cockney) soldier in the British Army, recalled a visit to his cousin’s family in Limerick in the company of a priest in mid-1915: 

He took me in[to] the house without knocking, and when my Aunt (who is a widow) saw us together, [she] said in her deep Irish Limerick brogue: “And what in the name of God are you bringing into my house? A British soldier! And I’m telling you Father, he is not welcome.”… The atmosphere in the room was very chilly… It was a very anxious time for me. They were the only Relations I have known. But they accepted me, as a relation.

Later Casey and his cousin visited a pub, the latter telling him on the way: 

“I feel very sorry for you.  The Germans are going to win this War, and we (us Sinn Feiners, both Men and Women) will do all we can to help.”… He then made a little speech telling his friends who I was, and finished with the words, “Blood is thicker than water, and like someone said on the Cross, “we forgive you, ye know not what ye do.”… When one man, asked Himself who the hell I was, Shamas repeated, “This is my first cousin from London. He is my Mother’s Sister’s Boy. And I’ll have you treat him with respect. If you don’t, I’ll ask you all to come outside and take your coats off and fight.” 

Another Irish soldier serving in the British Army, Edward Roe, also recalled the rebellious mood prevailing in Ireland during a visit home in July 1915: 

What a change of sentiment since 1914. Home Rule had not materialized; there was a dread of conscription; even my friend Mr. Fagan (Tom the Blacksmith) had turned pro-German and cheers for the ‘Kaizar’ [Kaiser] when leaving the village pub at ‘knock out.’ The ‘Peelers’ [police] have threatened to jail him several times, but he still defies them. 

Conflicts Behind the Front 

Although armed rebellions like the Easter Uprising were relatively rare, the First World War exacerbated ethnic tensions and stoked nationalist movements across Europe, presenting yet another challenge to governments which found themselves grappling with angry dissidents on the home front at the same time as foreign enemies abroad. 

This was especially true in Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and Russia – polyglot empires ruled by dynastic regimes which dated back to the feudal era, and were ill-equipped to deal with the competing demands of their rival nationalities. 

In Austria-Hungary Emperor Franz Josef sat uneasily on the two thrones of his divided realm as the Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, trying to steer a common military and foreign policy with mixed results. Meanwhile both the Austrian Germans and Hungarian Magyars were pitted against the Dual Monarchy’s numerous minority nationalities, including the Italians, Romanians, and various Slavic peoples (including Czechs, Slovaks, Ruthenes, Poles, Slovenians, Croats, Bosnian Muslims, and Serbs). Indeed it was Franz Josef’s desperation to neutralize these centrifugal nationalist movements that precipitated the First World War.    

Unsurprisingly nationalist resentments were rife within the ranks of the Habsburg armed forces. As early as September 1914 Mina MacDonald, an Englishwoman trapped in Hungary, recorded a Slavic military doctor’s gleeful prediction: “I assure you, whichever way it goes, it’s the end of Austria: if the Central Powers win we become simply a province of Germany: if they lose, it’s the disintegration of Austria. A country composed, as Austria is, of so many races, each one more discontented than the other, must not risk going to war.” 

For their part at least some Austrian Germans had already given up on the idea of a multinational empire altogether, instead embracing the pan-German ideology first espoused by George Schönerer in the late 19th century and later by Adolf Hitler. Bernard Pares, a British observer with the Russian Army, recalled meeting a Habsburg prisoner of war in mid-1915: 

There was one very militant Austrian German, who would have it that Austria would win; he was so rude about the Austrian Slavs that I asked him at the end whether Austria wanted the Slavs. He said they wished to be quit of Galicia, and in fact of all their Slav provinces; I suggested that Austria proper and Tirol might find their rightful place inside the German empire; he answered with alacrity, “Of course, far better under Wilhelm II.” 

Similar tensions afflicted the Russian Empire, memorably described by Lenin as a “prison house of nations,” which ruled non-Slavic or ethnically mixed populations in Finland, the Baltic region, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. Even when the subject peoples were also Slavic, as in Poland, nationalist feeling often fueled resentment of the “Great Russians” who ruled the empire – and this feeling was certainly reciprocated. 

In January 1915 a Russian soldier, Vasily Mishnin, casually noted of the Polish inhabitants of Warsaw, part of the Russian Empire for a century: “The crowd seeing us off are not our people, they are all foreigners.” And in August 1915 another British military observer, Alfred Knox, noted the dilemma faced by a Polish aristocrat who didn’t want to abandon his estate to the approaching Germans: “Many officers sympathised with the poor landowner who had been our host. He wanted to remain behind, but Colonel Lallin, the Commandant of the Staff, spoke to him brutally, telling him that is he remained behind it would simply prove that he was in sympathy with the enemy.” 

The Armenian Genocide, precipitated by the Christian Armenians’ support for the invading Russians, was only the most egregious example of ethnic conflict in the decaying Ottoman Empire. The Turks also expelled around 200,000 ethnic Greeks during this period, resulting in widespread misery among refugees temporarily housed on Greek islands (eerily foreshadowing the migrant crisis unfolding now), as recalled by Sir Compton Mackenzie, who described the encampment on Mytilene in July 1915: 

There was nowhere one could walk but a small emaciated hand would pluck at one’s sleeve and point mutely to an empty hungry mouth. Once a woman dropped dead on the pavement in front of me from starvation, and once a child. No street was hot enough to dispel that chill of death. There were, of course, many organized camps; but it was impossible to cope with this ever increasing influx of pale fugitives.

Although Muslim Arabs fared somewhat better than the Armenians or Greeks under Ottoman rule, they remained politically and socially marginalized, stoking bitter resentment against the Turks among Bedouin nomads and townspeople alike. Ihsan Hasan al-Turjman, a young, politically aware middle class Palestinian Arab living in Jerusalem, wrote in his diary on September 10, 1915 that he would rather die than be drafted to fight the British in Egypt, decisively (if privately) renouncing his Ottoman identity along the way:

However, I cannot imagine myself fighting in the desert front. And why should I go? To fight for my country? I am Ottoman by name only, for my country is the whole of humanity. Even if I am told that by going to fight, we will conquer Egypt, I will refuse to go. What does this barbaric state want from us? To liberate Egypt on our backs? Our leaders promised us and other fellow Arabs that we would be partners in this government and that they seek to advance the interests and conditions of the Arab nation. But what have we actually seen from these promises? 

Ironically some British troops, who understood Britain’s Irish troubles well enough, had a hard time grasping that their foes faced similar internal tensions. A British officer, Aubrey Herbert, remembered trying to convince ANZACs at Gallipoli that some captured enemy soldiers really wanted to collaborate with the invaders: “It was a work of some difficulty to explain to the Colonial troops that many of the prisoners that we took – as, for instance, Greeks and Armenians – were conscripts who hated their masters.” 

Allied Hatreds 

Internal ethnic tensions were only part of the picture, as traditional national rivalries and prejudices continued to divide the nations of Europe – even when they were on the same side. Although the war forced Europe’s Great Powers into marriages of convenience, which official propaganda did its best to portray in rosy terms of popular sympathy and mutual admiration, reality tended to fall rather short of this warm embrace. 

For example, there was no getting around the fact that many British and French people simply disliked each other, as the always had (and still do). Indeed, while Brits of all classes sympathized with their French allies and paid tribute to their bravery, there was no question these feelings existed alongside traditional less flattering images, rooted in a millennium of warfare and colonial competition and reinforced by a cultural inferiority complex – and the French, despite their gratitude and affection for some British institutions, fully reciprocated this resentment and scorn. 

One common British stereotype was that the French were incompetent when it came to warfare. Mackenzie recalled the contempt felt by the British officers at Gallipoli for their French colleagues in the Corps Expeditionnaire d'Orient: 

It would be absurd to believe that the General Staff credited French G.Q.G. at Helles with as much military ability as themselves. They did not. They regarded French fighting much as Dr. Johnson regarded a woman’s preaching. Like a dog walking on his hind legs it was not done well, but they were surprised to find it done at all. The French and English were never intended by nature to fight side by side in joint expeditions. 

The ordinary rank and file British soldiers seemed to share these views, and many French civilians made no secret of their dislike for the British. The novelist Robert Graves recalled an honest conversation with one young French peasant woman in the small village where he was billeted: “She told me that all the girls in Annezin prayed every night for the War to end, and for the English to go away… On the whole, troops serving in the Pas de Calais loathed the French and found it difficult to sympathize with their misfortunes.” 

Typically the Brits, famous for their lack of interest in foreign ways, made little effort to bridge the obvious linguistic or cultural gap. On September 5, 1915, Private Lord Crawford complained in his diary about the lack of British translators: “It is a pity we can’t find officers of our own who can talk French well enough – but the linguistic ignorance of our officers is positively phenomenal.” 

It’s worth noting that even within the British Empire, linguistic differences reinforced national prejudices and colonial resentments; thus one anonymous Canadian stretcher-bearer confided in his diaries, “I hate the very sound of the English accent.” In fact sometimes communication was almost impossible. Edward Roe, the Irish soldier, described his mystification at the rural accents he encountered in the English countryside while on leave in October 1915: 

I go for long walks on Sundays and visit country pubs, and listen with amusement to country yokels talking in their quaint accent about cows, sheep, oats, cabbages and boars. I could not understand them, as they seem to speak a language all their own. One Sunday… I got into conversation in a pub with a bewhiskered old farm labourer. The subject we “were on” was sheep. I could only reply in yes’s and no’s… I could not understand a word of what he said.

An anonymous ANZAC soldier recorded a similar mix of disdain and incomprehension for rural English folk: “Our camp lay within two miles of Bulford village… inhabited by a bovine-looking breed, whose mouths seemed intended for beer-drinking but not talking – which, in a way, was just as well, for when they did make a remark it was all Greek to us.” 

For their part troops from the British Isles found their peers from Canada, Australia, and New Zealand alarmingly undisciplined. Roe noted of some Australian convalescents who shared an English hospital with more reserved British counterparts: 

They are a wild, devil-may-care lot and have upset the discipline of the whole hospital… Some are minus an arm and some a leg. They broke out into town the second night they were in hospital. Legs or no legs, arms or no arms, they scaled a 12 foot wall, set Devonport on fire and got uproariously drunk. It took the whole crew of a super-dreadnought in combination with the Military Police to shepherd them back to hospital… They do not understand discipline as it is applied to us. 

Seething Central Powers

These tensions paled in comparison to the mutual antipathy between the Germans and Austrians, fueled by the Germans’ contempt for Austrian fighting prowess following the disastrous defeats in Galicia in the early part of the war, complemented by Austrian resentment of German arrogance, which only grew with the German-led victories after the breakthrough at Gorlice-Tarnow in May 1915. 

These attitudes were shared by elites and ordinary people alike. In the fall of 1914 the anonymous correspondent who wrote under the name Piermarini recalled a deliberate social snub at the Berlin opera: “… [I]n front of me were two Austrian officers, while at my side some German people were discussing the war. They were speaking loudly about the battle in Galicia, and passed many untactful remarks, evidently meant to be heard by the Austrians. They carried this to such a length that the two officers left their seats and walked out.” The German author Arnold Zweig, in his novel Young Woman of 1914, recalled the bitter tone in spring 1915: “In every German beer-house men sat and jeered at these feeble allies, and the increasing reinforcements that they called for – which now amounted to entire German armies.” 

The Austrians returned the German contempt with interest. In September 1915 Evelyn Blucher, an Englishwoman married to a German aristocrat and living in Berlin, noted in her diary: 

The chief subject of discussion is the feeling between Austria and Germany… One cannot help being slightly amused to notice how the point of the whole war is forgotten in the greater interest of internal jealousies. I asked Princess Starhemberg one day whether there was much hatred against England in Austria. “Well, when we have time to, yes, we do hate them; but we are so busy hating Italy and criticizing Germany that we don’t think of much else at present.” 

The dislike translated into a social gulf between German and Austrian officers, even when on foreign assignments where they might be expected to fraternize, if only because of their shared tongue. Lewis Einstein, an American diplomat in the Ottoman capital Constantinople, noticed the frigid relations between the “allies” there: “It is odd how little the Austrians and Germans mix. At the Club each sit at separate tables, and not once have I seen them talking together… The Germans make their superiority felt too much, and the Austrians loathe them.” 

At least the Germans and Austrians in Constantinople had one thing in common – their complete disdain for their Turkish hosts, which Einstein also noticed: “It is odd to see with what scorn both Germans and Austrians talk of the Turks… If they do this as allies, what will it be afterward?” Of course the Turks, sensing more than a whiff of racism in these attitudes, weren’t shy about sharing their opinions of their esteemed guests. On June 23, 1915, as fighting raged at Gallipoli, Einstein noted: “There are more reports of growing ill-feeling between Turks and Germans. The former complain that they are sent to attack while the Germans remain in safe places. ‘Who ever heard of a German officer being killed at the Dardanelles?’ a Turkish officer asked… From the provinces as well come reports of the same ill-feeling.”

See the previous installment or all entries.

Anthony Blunt: The Art Historian/Russian Spy Who Worked at Buckingham Palace

Samuel West portrays Anthony Blunt in The Crown.
Samuel West portrays Anthony Blunt in The Crown.
Des Willie, Netflix

*Mild spoilers for season 3 of The Crown on Netflix ahead.

Viewers of the third season of The Crown on Netflix will likely have their curiosity piqued by Anthony Blunt, the art historian who is revealed to be a spy for the Russians during his 19 years of service to the Queen at Buckingham Palace. Instead of getting the boot once he was discovered, however, Blunt went on to remain under Her Majesty's employ for eight more years—until his official retirement. While treason never looks good on a resume, the royal class had good reason to keep him on.

Blunt, who was born and raised in England, visited the Soviet Union in 1933 and was indoctrinated as a spy after being convinced of the benefits of Communism in fighting fascism. He began recruiting his university classmates at Cambridge before serving during World War II and leaking information about the Germans to the KGB. Blunt was one of five Cambridge graduates under Soviet direction. Two of them, diplomats Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess, relocated to the Soviet Union in 1951. Another, Kim Philby, went undetected until 1961. John Cairncross escaped notice, too, but was eventually outed.

However, it was Blunt who had a post at Buckingham Palace. After being tipped off by American intelligence, MI5 interrogated Blunt. He confessed to his treachery in 1964 and was granted immunity from prosecution. Why was he able to remain employed? One theory has it that British intelligence was so embarrassed by Blunt's ability to circulate in the upper levels of the monarchy that firing him would have raised too many questions. Another thought has Blunt having knowledge of some bizarrely congenial wartime correspondence between Adolf Hitler and the Duke of Windsor (a.k.a. King Edward VIII, whose abdication led to Elizabeth's eventual ascension to the throne).

Whatever the case, the Queen was advised by MI5 to keep Blunt around. In his role as art curator, he had no access to classified information. Blunt was at the Palace through 1972 and spent another seven years roaming London giving lectures. His actions remained a tightly guarded secret until Margaret Thatcher disclosed his treason in 1979.

As for that speech seen in The Crown, where Olivia Colman's Queen Elizabeth makes some not-so-subtle digs at Blunt at the opening of a new exhibition, there's no record of such a takedown ever happening. While the two reportedly kept their distance from each other in private, according to Miranda Carter's Anthony Blunt: His Lives:

“Blunt continued to meet the Queen at official events. She came to the opening of the Courtauld’s new galleries in 1968, and in 1972 she personally congratulated Blunt on his retirement, when the Lord Chamberlain, knowing nothing of his disgrace, offered him the honorary post of Adviser on the Queen’s pictures—inadvertently continuing his association with the Palace for another six years.”

Stripped of his knighthood as a result of the truth about his actions being made known, Blunt became a recluse and died of a heart attack in 1983. His memoirs, which were made public by the British Library in 2009, indicated his regret, calling his spy work "the biggest mistake of my life."

41 Wonderful Facts About Mister Rogers

PBS Television, Getty Images
PBS Television, Getty Images

Fred Rogers remains an icon of kindness for the ages. An innovator of children’s television, his salt-of-the-earth demeanor and genuinely gentle nature taught a generation of kids the value of kindness. Just ahead of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, a new biopic in which Tom Hanks stars everyone's favorite "neighbor," here are 41 things you might not have known about Fred Rogers.

1. Fred Rogers was bullied as a child.

A publciity image of David Newell (L) and Fred Rogers (R) from 'Mister Rogers' Neighborhood' is pictured
Focus Features

According to Benjamin Wagner, who directed the 2010 documentary Mister Rogers & Me—and was, in fact, Rogers’s neighbor on Massachusetts's Nantucket island—Rogers was overweight and shy as a child, and was regularly taunted by his classmates.

"I used to cry to myself when I was alone," Rogers said. “And I would cry through my fingers and make up songs on the piano."

2. Rogers left Dartmouth College after one year.

Rogers was an Ivy League dropout. He spent his freshman year at Dartmouth College, then transferred to Rollins College, where he pursued a degree in music.

3. He was an accomplished musician.

Fred Rogers in a still from 'Won't You Be My Neighbor?' (2018)
Focus Features

Rogers transferred to Rollins College in order to pursue a degree in music and graduated Magna cum laude. In addition to his talent for playing the piano, Rogers was also an incredible songwriter.

4. He wrote the music for Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.

Need proof of Rogers's songwriting prowess? He wrote all the songs for Mister Rogers' Neighborhood—plus hundreds more.

5. Playing the piano was his favorite stress-reducer.

Whenever Rogers began to feel anxious or overwhelmed, he would play the Mister Rogers' Neighborhood theme song on the piano as a way to calm his nerves.

6. He had a strict daily routine.

Rogers was a stickler when it came to his daily routine: He started his day at 5 a.m. and made time for a prayer as well as some studying, writing, phone calls, swimming, and responding to his fan mail.

7. He weighed himself daily.

Mister Rogers
Getty Images

Another part of Rogers's daily routine included a daily weigh-in. He liked to maintain a weight of exactly 143 pounds.

8. His weight had a special meaning.

Rogers's regular weight of 143 had special meaning to him. "It takes one letter to say I and four letters to say love and three letters to say you," Rogers once said. "One hundred and forty-three."

9. Pennsylvania celebrated 143 day in 2019.

In 2019, Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf declared May 23 to be 143 Day in the state. Rogers was born near Pittsburgh and lived his whole life in the area. By honoring Rogers with his own holiday, the individuals behind the 143 Day campaign wanted to encourage people to be kind to their neighbors on May 23—and every other day of the year.

10. Rogers responded to every fan letter he received.

Rogers took time out of each day to respond to his fan mail, and he responded to each and every letter he received—approximately 50 to 100 letters per day. "He respected the kids who wrote," Heather Arnet, an assistant on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He never thought about throwing out a drawing or letter. They were sacred."

11. No feeling was too big—or small—for Mr. Rogers to talk about.

A promotional image of Fred Rogers for 'Mister Rogers' Neighborhood' is pictured
Amazon

Over the many years he worked with children, Rogers spoke very openly about his and their feelings on every sort of topic, from why kids shouldn't be afraid of haircuts to divorce and war.

12. He spent five episodes talking about nuclear war.

Since its inception on Pittsburgh's WQED in 1968, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood had informed its young audience about topical issues in subversive and disarming ways. When civil rights were discussed, host Fred Rogers didn’t deliver a lecture about tolerance. Instead, he invited a black friend, Officer Clemmons, to cool off in his inflatable pool, a subtle nod to desegregation.

Rogers conceived and taped a five-episode storyline on the subject in the summer of 1983, which wound up being prescient. In November 1983, president Ronald Reagan ordered the invasion of Grenada to topple a Marxist regime.

“Little did I know we would be involved in a worldwide conflict now,” Rogers told the Associated Press. “But that’s all the better because our shows give families an opportunity for communication. If children should hear the news of war, at least they have a handle here, to assist in family communications.”

13. Rogers had a special way of talking to kids.

Mr. Rogers knew children well. He knew how they thought, what they liked, what they feared, and what they struggled to understand—and he went to great lengths to ensure he never upset or confused his devoted viewers.Mr. Rogers knew children well. He knew how they thought, what they liked, what they feared, and what they struggled to understand—and he went to great lengths to ensure he never upset or confused his devoted viewers.

Maxwell King, author of the forthcoming book The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers, wrote in The Atlantic that Mr. Rogers carefully chose his words while filming Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. He understood that children think in a literal way, and a phrase that might sound perfectly fine to adult ears could be misinterpreted by younger audiences.

Rogers was “extraordinarily good at imagining where children’s minds might go,” King said, adding that Mr. Rogers wrote a song called “You Can Never Go Down the Drain” because he knew this might be a fear shared by many children.

14. Rogers used King Friday to make Friday the 13th less scary for kids.

King Friday XIII, son of King Charming Thursday XII and Queen Cinderella Monday, is an avid arts lover, a talented whistler, and a former pole vaulter. He reigns over Calendarland with lots of pomp and poise, and he’s usually correct.

Fans of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood may also remember that King Friday XIII, who reigned over Calendarland, was born on Friday the 13th, because his birthday was celebrated on the program every Friday the 13th. Though the math isn’t perfect—according to Timeanddate.com , Friday the 13th sometimes happens two or three times a year—the reason behind it absolutely is.

Rogers explained that he wanted to give children a reason to look forward to Friday the 13th, instead of buying into the negative superstitions that surround the dreaded date. “We thought, ‘Let’s start children out thinking that Friday the 13th was a fun day,’” he said in a 1999 interview. “So we would celebrate his birthday every time a Friday the 13th came.”

15. Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister.

Rogers was an ordained minister who preached tolerance wherever he went. When Amy Melder, a 6-year-old Christian viewer, sent Rogers a drawing she made for him with a letter that promised “he was going to heaven,” Rogers wrote back to his young fan:

“You told me that you have accepted Jesus as your Savior. It means a lot to me to know that. And, I appreciated the scripture verse that you sent. I am an ordained Presbyterian minister, and I want you to know that Jesus is important to me, too. I hope that God’s love and peace come through my work on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

16. Rogers was not a fan of foul language.

If Rogers used the word mercy, it probably meant that he was feeling overwhelmed. He was typically heard saying it when he sat down at his desk in the morning and saw the mountain of fan mail awaiting him. But mercy was about the strongest word in his vocabulary.

17. Rogers was not a fan of television, which is why he gravitated toward it.


Rogers’s decision to work in television wasn’t out of a love for the medium. "When I first saw children's television, I thought it was perfectly horrible," Rogers told Pittsburgh Magazine. "And I thought there was some way of using this fabulous medium to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen."

18. There's a reason why the stoplight is always yellow in the opening sequence to Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.

In the opening sequence of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, the stoplight is always on yellow as a reminder to kids—and their parents—to slow down a little.

19. Rogers believed that patience was a virtue—even if it meant dead air time.

Rogers wasn't afraid of dead air: He once invited a marine biologist onto the show and put a microphone into his fish tank, because he wanted the kids at home to see (and hear) that fish make sounds when they eat. While taping the segment, however, the fish weren't hungry so the marine biologist started trying to egg the fish on. But Rogers just sat there, waiting quietly. The crew figured they'd need to re-tape it, but Rogers didn't want to. He thought it was a great lesson in teaching kids the importance of being patient.

20. Rogers always made sure to announce that he was feeding his fish for a very specific reason.

Rogers always mentioned out loud that he was feeding his fish because a young blind viewer once asked him to do so. She wanted to know the fish were OK.

21. Rogers was not a fan of ad-libbing.

Rogers was a perfectionist, and very much disliked ad-libbing. He felt that he owed it to the kids who watched his show to make sure that every word on his show was thought out.

22. Kids who watched Mister Rogers' Neighborhood retained more than those who watched Sesame Street.

A Yale study pitted fans of Sesame Street against Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watchers and found that kids who watched Mister Rogers tended to remember more of the story lines, and had a much higher “tolerance of delay,” meaning they were more patient.

23. Animals loved Rogers as much as people did.

It wasn’t just kids and their parents who loved Mister Rogers. Koko, the Stanford-educated gorilla who understood 2000 English words, was an avid fan, too. When Rogers visited once her, she immediately gave him a hug—and took his shoes off.

24. Rogers's mother knitted all of his sweaters.

If watching an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood gives you sweater envy, we’ve got bad news: You’d never be able to find his sweaters in a store. All of those comfy-looking cardigans were knitted by Fred’s mom, Nancy. In an interview with the Archive of American Television, Rogers explained how his mother would knit sweaters for all of her loved ones every year as Christmas gifts. “And so until she died, those zippered sweaters I wear on the Neighborhood were all made by my mother,” he said.

25. One of rogers's sweaters lives in the Smithsonian.

In 1984, Rogers donated one of his iconic sweaters to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

26. Rogers's sweater collection was actually challenging to maintain.

Fred's mother, Nancy Rogers, died in 1981. Rogers continued wearing the sweaters she had made for years ... until it became obvious that they wouldn’t endure many more tapings of the show. Replacements were sought, but art director Kathy Borland quickly discovered that the search was not unlike trying to replace Superman’s cape. A Fred Rogers sweater needed a zipper with a smooth operation so it wouldn’t snag on camera. It also needed to be vibrant.

Nothing fit the bill until Borland saw a United States Postal Service employee walking down the street in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania—where the show taped—and took note of his cardigan. Borland phoned postal supply distributors and was able to secure a fresh inventory of sweaters (which she bought white, and then dyed) that kept Rogers looking like himself through the show’s final episode in 2001.

27. Rogers changed into sneakers as a production practicality.

According to Wagner, Rogers’s decision to change into sneakers for each episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was a production-related consideration. “His trademark sneakers were born when he found them to be quieter than his dress shoes as he moved about the set,” wrote Wagner.

28. He invited the driver who took him to a PBS dinner to eat with them.

While being transported to a PBS executive's house, Rogers heard his limo driver say that he was going to have to wait outside for two hours while the party dined—so Rogers insisted that the driver join them for dinner.

On the ride back home, Rogers sat in the front of the car with the driver, who mentioned that they were passing his house on their way back to Rogers's home. So Rogers asked if they could stop in to meet the family. According to the driver, it was one of the best nights of his life: Rogers played piano for the family and chatted with them until late into the night.

29. No, Rogers was never a sniper.

The internet has stirred up all sorts of bizarre rumors about Rogers, including one that he served in the army and was a sniper in Vietnam and another that he served in the army and was a sniper in Korea. As exciting as that might make an upcoming biopics, these are both untrue.

30. Rogers was partly responsible for helping to save public television.

In 1969, Rogers—who was relatively unknown at the time—went before the Senate to plead for a $20 million grant for public broadcasting, which had been proposed by President Johnson but was in danger of being sliced in half by Richard Nixon. His passionate plea about how television had the potential to turn kids into productive citizens worked; instead of cutting the budget, funding for public TV increased from $9 million to $22 million.

31. Rogers also helped to save the VCR.

Years after he appeared before the Senate, Rogers also managed to convince the Supreme Court that using VCRs to record TV shows at home shouldn’t be considered a form of copyright infringement. Rogers argued that recording a program like his allowed working parents to sit down with their children and watch shows as a family. Again, he was convincing.

32. At least one professor believes that rogers's impact on kids wasn't all that positive.

LSU professor Don Chance is one of the few people who isn't 100 positive about Rogers's legacy: He believes that Rogers created a, "culture of excessive doting" which resulted in generations of lazy, entitled college students.

33. He was regularly parodied—and loved every second of it.

Rogers was regularly parodied, and he loved it. The first time Eddie Murphy met Mr. Rogers, he couldn't stop himself from giving the guy a big hug.

34. Rogers was colorblind.

Those brightly colored sweaters were a trademark of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, but the colorblind host might not have always noticed. In a 2003 article, just a few days after his passing, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote that:

"Among the forgotten details about Fred Rogers is that he was so colorblind he could not distinguish between tomato soup and pea soup."

35. Michael Keaton got his start on MISTER ROGERS' NEIGHBORHOOD.

Oscar-nominated actor Michael Keaton's first job was as a stagehand on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, manning Picture, Picture, and appearing as Purple Panda.

36. Rogers gave George Romero his first paying gig, too.

It's hard to imagine a gentle, soft-spoken, children's education advocate like Rogers sitting down to enjoy a gory, violent zombie movie like Night of the Living Dead, but it actually aligns perfectly with Rogers's brand of thoughtfulness. He checked out the horror flick to show his support for then-up-and-coming filmmaker George Romero, whose first paying job was with everyone's favorite neighbor.

“Fred was the first guy who trusted me enough to hire me to actually shoot film,” Romero said. As a young man just out of college, Romero honed his filmmaking skills making a series of short segments for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, creating a dozen or so titles such as “How Lightbulbs Are Made” and “Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy.” The zombie king, who passed away in 2017, considered the latter his first big production, shot in a working hospital: “I still joke that 'Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy' is the scariest film I’ve ever made."

37. Rogers paid a visit to Sesame Street in 1981.

Though Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and Sesame Street were both PBS shows, they were technically competitors—though the show’s producers didn’t exactly act like it. As a result, Rogers made an appearance on Sesame Street in May 1981.

The video opens with Rogers wearing a suit and tie instead of his usual cardigan sweater. He's standing outside of a storefront when Big Bird approaches and asks if he’ll judge a race between him and Snuffy. (The theme of the segment was competition and, more importantly, maintaining friendships whether you win or lose.)

38. He made a guest appearance on Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, too.

Rogers once played a pastor's mentor on Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman.

39. Many of the characters on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood were named after people in Rogers's life.

McFeely, for example, was Rogers's grandfather's name; Queen Sara was named for Rogers's wife.

40. Rogers got his own stamp in 2018.


USPS

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the United States Postal Service issued a stamp with Rogers's image on it. On it, Rogers—decked out in one of his trademark colorful cardigans—smiles for the camera alongside King Friday XIII, ruler of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.

41. He was turned into a Funko Pop!

Also in honor of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood 50th anniversary, the kindest soul to ever grace a television screen was honored with a series of Funko toys, including a Funko Pop! figure.

Ready to learn more about Fred Rogers? Watch the video below, where John Green brings you a whole pile of things you should know about everybody's favorite neighbor.

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