Mr. Rogers pay phone altar affects Richmond neighborhood: 'We need kindness'

Posted at 10:30 PM, Jul 22, 2022

RICHMOND, Va. — On the surface, the crossroads of Patterson Avenue and North Sheppard Street do not stand out from the rest of Richmond.

Cars come and go.

But upon closer inspection, this neighborhood might be the friendliest in all of Virginia.

“It is possibly the quirkiest part of the neighborhood yeah,” Carter Blough said.

Right outside the 7-Eleven in Richmond’s Museum District stands an altar dedicated to television legend Mr. Rogers.

Visitors pay homage to St. Fred The Neighborly in the most unlikely of places — an old phone booth.

Mr. Rogers altar
Right outside the 7-Eleven in Richmond’s Museum District stands an altar dedicated to television legend Mr. Rogers.

“In the old days there used to be pay phones. I’m not sure if you knew about this, Greg. Now it has been turned into a shrine,” said Carter. “Be the person Mr. Rogers knew you could be. And you could light a candle should you wish. So.”

Carter Blough said the payphone disappeared years ago. The site morphed into a magnet for stickers and artwork since.

No one knows for sure when the altar to the public television icon popped up nor who is responsible.

“When I see this I thank God for artists,” said Sam Davis. “I think the using of the phone booth is a great recycling of the old phone booth.”

Fred Rogers
This June 28, 1989 file photo shows Fred Rogers rehearsing the opening of a segment of his children's television show program, Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

The original drawing accompanied by trinkets is a big hit with Sam, who lives in The Fan.

“I’ve never noticed the art before. It was not until St. Fred was pictured here that I noticed this and now I will come all of the time to see it,” said Sam.

Neighbor Josh Gunn passes the booth every day. He hopes the mystery creator steps out of the shadows to take a bow.

“Never seen the artist. Never seen a sticker get put up. Never seen anything get put into it. Nothing,” said Josh. “It’s fun to be a surprise, but it is kind of like but you also want to thank people that add a little joy to people’s lives.”

During his decades-long run, Fred Rogers was defined by his calming presence.

Abu Kahn lives a few doors down and can’t think of a more perfect patron saint for his slice of the city.

“The whole show was about being your friendly neighbor. And in turn, I think I grew up a friendly person and a friendly neighbor to the people around me,” said Abu. “Easily it has become our favorite piece of the neighborhood for me and my roommate. I got super excited when I saw this. I think he protects the neighborhood in some way.”

Patty Carr admires the artwork. But calls the shrine a stark reminder of the passage of so much time.

“It is extremely very creative,” said Patty. “But I’m sad to say that the correlation to this payphone not being in use and my age and Mr. Rogers is kind of a little sad.”

Fred Rogers
This June 3, 1993 file photo shows Fred Rogers during the taping of a segment for his children's television program, Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

The last original Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood show aired in 2001. The luminary passed away two years later at the age of 73. But in many ways, Mr. Rogers still inspires.

Josh Gunn said the soothing, sweater-wearing soul is needed now more than ever.

“I think even the younger generation has a clue who it is. I don’t think you need to be in your 40s or 50s to know Mr. Rogers and the impact he had,” said Josh. “As things get outdated I think that one thing that doesn’t get outdated is the idea that we need kindness.”

At this intersection of make believe, the shrine to Mr. Rogers probably is not going to boost property values. But more importantly, the saint living next door will always lift your spirits.

“He is not known for his combativeness. We could certainly use more Fred Rogers,” said Carter. “I think he should be theoretically ranking much higher each year that is the kind of guy you want in your neighborhood.”

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