“The Andy Griffith Show” ended 45 years ago, but the man who played the affable sheriff and the town he patrolled have never been far from the collective conscience of their legions of fans.
The show has aired in original broadcasts and reruns somewhere continuously since its debut on October 3, 1960. And the town of Mayberry? The “locals” know it as Mt. Airy, a North Carolina town of 10,000 near both the Smokies and the Blue Ridge Mountains, whose people and places were referenced so liberally in “The Andy Griffith Show” during its eight-year run.
Thelma Lou's bucket list adventure
For aficionados of all things Andy, it is Mayberry right down to its friendly people, spit-shined Main Street and noticeable absence of parking meters in the heart of downtown. And every September, thousands make the pilgrimage for Mayberry Days, a wholesome family-friendly festival (would Griffith have had it any other way?) that last four days and harkens back to a simpler time with parade, music, rib-sticking eats, pie eating contests – even an official Mayor’s Proclamation.
You won’t find Sheriff Andy Taylor or his high-strung deputy, Barney Fife, but you’ll likely spot “Thelma Lou,” aka Betty Lynn, the actress who portrayed Fife’s girlfriend on the show and in the 1986 movie, “Return to Mayberry.” She makes appearances not only for Mayberry Days, but year-round, signing autographs at the Andy Griffith Museum. Lynn moved to Mt. Airy in 2007.
“A visit is a bucket list adventure for a lot of people,” said Lynn. “People really love coming here. I’ve met people who say they’ve moved here because of the show. They get here and it’s such a pretty town – the land, the trees, the mountains, the sky – and the people are very kind.
“Of course, I moved here because of the show. I think it’s something people wish the world was really like. It’s a sweet and funny show, and it makes people laugh. It lifted their spirits when things were bad.”
Indeed, the magic of Mayberry never seems to diminish.
“I think the bottom line of the show’s popularity is that ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ is just outstanding storytelling and entertainment,” said Jim Clark, president of The Andy Griffith Show Rerun Watchers Club (TAGSRWC). Noting the impossibility of calculating how many fans there are worldwide, Clark said TAGSRWC itself has over 1,400 organized chapters in about a dozen countries.
“The writing, directing, casting, acting and other aspects of the show’s production were among the very best of their time and of all time,” he said. “Quality tends to endure through time. Generations of viewers are being entertained. Andy Griffith always said the secret to the show was love and no one would know better than he.”
Every day's a Mayberry day
For those coming to Mt. Airy in September for Mayberry Days, it’s a chance to see Lynn and other celebrity guests, including Elizabeth MacRae (“Betty Parker” in “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Lou-Ann Poovie” in “Gomer Pyle USMC”); James Best, best known for his role as bumbling Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane in the 1980s television show, “The Dukes of Hazzard”; actor George Lindsey, Jr., son of George “Goober” Lindsey; and Roland White of bluegrass group, The Country Boys, that appeared in two episodes of the show.
On stage at the Andy Griffith Playhouse, the Historic EARLE Theatre and other Mt. Airy venues will be music, shows and lectures, including the VW Boys’ “Tribute to Mayberry”; “Tied Up in Knotts,” daughter Karen Knotts’ homage to growing up with Don Knotts; and the TAGSRWC’s annual meeting, open to all and with Clark, “Presiding Goober, Emeritus” and founding member at the helm.
During the festival – and any time of year – you can take a vintage squad car tour – the very same kind of cruiser Andy and Barney drove. Drop by Floyd’s Barber Shop for a haircut. Slip into Otis’ cell at the Old Jail. Shop at places that have carried the spirit of the show right down Main Street: Opie’s Candy Store, Wally’s Service Station, Mayberry Toy Co.
Order the sandwich du jour at Snappy Lunch, mentioned a number of times in “The Andy Griffith Show.” If you’re going to throw down some gastro-trash, their fried pork chop sandwich with coleslaw, tomato, chopped onion, chili sauce and yellow mustard is it in the very best sense of the word. You can get this sloppy and delicious morsel anytime during the diner’s hours of 5:45 a.m. to 1:15 or 1:45, depending on the day – it’s always good.
Wander over to the bronze statue of Andy and Opie smiling at each other as they clutch their fishing poles. You’ll be inclined to smile right back. Just beyond is the Andy Griffith Museum, where thousands visit monthly – 8,000 were there in July – to see memorabilia from “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Matlock,” Griffith’s wonderfully charming crime drama that ran from 1986 to 1995. There are also treasures from Griffith’s childhood, including his rocking chair, items relating to Betty Lynn and her TV and movie career and director’s chairs from “Matlock,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and “Diagnosis Murder.”
Andy Griffith fans can happily lose the better part of a day touring through the museum, accompanied by an audio guide and reading all the newspaper clippings, letters written by Griffith and stories behind some of the exhibits, including the “joke” behind the infamous puckered gray suit he wore in “Matlock,” on display not far from original jail keys and a sheriff’s shirt Griffith wore in “The Andy Griffith Show.”
IF YOU GO
What to do: Mayberry Days, Sept. 26-29, 2013. Tickets are available online for the various events and activities at www.SurryArts.org/MayberryDays/index.html.
Where to stay: The Andy Griffith Homeplace, the two-bedroom bungalow at 711 East Haymore Street that was Andy’s boyhood home, managed by Hampton Inn; the charming and comfy Cabins at White Sulphur Springs; Mayberry Motor Inn on the outskirts of town; there’s an homage to actress Frances Bavier with the inn’s Aunt Bea Room, furnished with items bought from Bavier’s estate.
Other reasons to visit: Wine lovers will be interested to know that there are 36 vineyards producing some highly regarded, award-winning wines in the area’s picturesque Yadkin Valley – but that’s an adventure for another bucket list.
Mount Airy Visitors Center: www.VisitMayberry.com, 800-948-0949.
Surry County Tourism: www.VerySurry.com, 877-999-8390.