A Trip Down Memory Lane Leads To North Carolina’s Mount Airy
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Outside the Andy Griffith Museum, an iconic bronze statue of Andy and Opie, titled
"Goin' Fishin,'" was dedicated by TV Land in 2004.
Growing up, I watched “The Andy Griffith Show” more than any elementary school-aged kid I knew. It was part of a weekly afternoon tradition, where my mom would come home from work every day at 5:30, just in time for us to whistle along to the theme song and watch Andy and Opie carrying their fishing poles to the pond. Back then, I knew just about every line of every episode—and could guess which episode it was within the first 15 seconds of dialogue.
Those moments vividly flash through my mind as I sit in the dining room at Mount Airy’s Cross Creek Country Club, heart pounding with excitement as I anxiously await the arrival of Betty Lynn, better known as the one and only Thelma Lou.
Lynn makes a quiet entrance, assisted by a couple local friends who help her to get around. At 89 years old (at the time; she's now 91), Lynn looks much different from the Thelma Lou I’d grown up with. She doesn’t get around as easily as she once did, but her mind and memory are still sharp as ever, and her eyes still have that friendly sparkle that I remember watching on TV.
As it turns out, Lynn is just as heartwarming in person as the character she played—and she loves “The Andy Griffith Show” just as much as any fan. “I think it’s the greatest show that’s ever been on television,” she proclaims. Even before she started acting on the show, she thought it was something special. “I had seen the show twice. I was all alone in my living room, and ... I heard this laughter, and it was me,” she chuckles. “There weren’t many funny things on that would make me laugh like that, and I thought, ‘Boy, that’s a good show.’”
Betty Lynn signs autographs on the third Friday of each month at the Andy Griffith
In 1961, she was cast as Thelma Lou, the good-hearted girlfriend of Deputy Barney Fife. Even though she became a main character on the show, Lynn made only $500 per episode and was never officially contracted. Once, she asked for a $50 pay increase. “They said, ‘We’ll replace you,’” she recalls.
Aside from that, Lynn fondly reminisces about her time on set, saying how much she adored Griffith and Don Knotts. “They were so great to work with. Everybody was,” she says.
Lynn reveals to us that Griffith didn’t particularly feel comfortable being approached by crowds of fans and that Knotts could only handle it to a point. But Lynn happily obliges fans eager to meet her and take photos with her. “They’re so sweet,” she says. “They come to the [Andy Griffith] Museum, and they all stand in line. They come and talk to me about the show and tell me how much they love it and what it meant to them. Some people cry—and I cry. It’s so sweet, the feelings that this show has. It touches their hearts. And you want to be able to touch people in some way.”
Life in Real-Life Mayberry
Lynn visited Mount Airy, N.C. several times for the annual Mayberry Days festival (held the last weekend in September), and it was during her 2006 visit that she decided to relocate here from Los Angeles. The people were friendly here, and she figured it was the closest thing to living in Mayberry.
After all, Mount Airy is Griffith’s hometown and seems to be an inspiration for the show’s fictional town of Mayberry, even though Griffith maintained that it wasn’t. It’s hard to deny the resemblance though, when businesses like Snappy Lunch and the (now closed) Bluebird Diner sit prominently on Main Street and Pilot Mountain (similar in name to the fictional nearby town, Mount Pilot) can be seen in the distance. Of course, many other businesses popped up once the tourism aspect caught on, including Floyd’s City Barber Shop, Barney’s Café, Opie’s Candy Store, Aunt Bee’s Barbecue, Walker’s Soda Fountain and The Loaded Goat.
Situated adjacent to Wally's Service Station, the Mayberry Replica Courthouse is a
popular picture-taking spot.
Inside the Mayberry Replica Courthouse, guests can tour the courthouse and have a
seat at Andy's desk.
There’s even a Mayberry Replica Courthouse where visitors are invited to sit at Andy’s desk for photo opps or pick up the candlestick phone to make a pretend call, where you might ask Sarah to put you right through because this is a trouble check. Opposite from the desk are two jail cells so similar to that of the show that you might expect to see an intoxicated Otis stumble through the door at any moment and lock himself up.
Next door at Wally’s Service Station, visitors can peruse Mayberry-centric items in the gift shop or sit a spell for a game of checkers as they await the Mayberry Squad Car Tours. Today, I’m doing just that, eager for my chance to hop in the squad car and spin around town.
Many visitors to Mount Airy delight in hopping in one of the Ford Galaxies for a
Mayberry-centric tour around town. The fleet consists of a 1962, '63, '64 and '67.
Don Bunn gives lively, entertaining and informative tours of Mount Airy.
The squad car pulls up, and I meet our driver, Don Bunn, who’s dressed as Barney Fife. Some people call him Don Knotts, and some call him Don Nuts, on account of he’s the one who likes to have a lot of fun. We pile into the back seat, and Bunn takes off, blaring the siren and yelling in a distinctly Gomer Pile tone, “Citizen’s arrest! Citizen’s arrest!”
Aside from its claim to fame for Mayberry, Mount Airy is home to the world's largest
open-face granite quarry.
Aside from its fame to Mayberry, Mount Airy is home to the North Carolina Granite Corporation, along with the world’s largest open-face granite quarry. It’s so large, in fact, that, according to NASA, astronauts can see the quarry all the way from outer space. As we pass through town, Bunn points out different architectural structures that were built with granite, hence the town’s nickname, “The Granite City.” As we continue the tour, after Bunn has pointed out yet another stone-built church, he wittily replies, “We take ’em all for granite,” to which the carload erupts in laughter.
After showing us the house where Griffith was raised, Bunn shares some little-known trivia about the show’s characters. We learn that Hal Smith (Otis Campbell) never took a drink in his life; Griffith and Frances Bavier (Aunt Bee) didn’t get along as well as their characters would have it seem; and Howard Morris (Earnest T. Bass) was much more intelligent than he appeared on TV (he even directed a few of the show’s episodes).
As we approach a couple crossing the street, Bunn leans out the window to yell, “Don’t be jaywalkin’ now! Move it, move it, move it!” Then he glances back at us and says with a grin, “You think I enjoy my job?”
Bunn tells that at some point in his career, Griffith began sending memorabilia from “The Andy Griffith Show,” as well as items from previous and later work, including “Matlock,” to his Mount Airy friend, Emmett Forrest. Forrest went on to collect artifacts from other characters in the show. These items, plus many more, can be viewed at the Andy Griffith Museum, home of the single largest collection of artifacts and memorabilia related to Andy Griffith.
Inside the museum, fans will recognize many pieces from the show: shirts and badges for Griffith and Knotts, keys used to unlock the jail, plaques on the courthouse doors, Andy’s gavel, Otis’s suit and hat, Barney’s salt and pepper suit, Goober’s hat, the polka-dotted blouse of Daphne, the “fun girl” and the painting of Old Man Rimshaw, whose eyes seemed to follow a very spooked Barney as he explored the Rimshaw House. Best of all, Betty Lynn visits the museum the third Friday of every month to meet fans, sign autographs and pose for pictures.
The museum also houses the Andy Griffith Playhouse, where today, Professor Neal Brower is giving a lecture. Brower has taught classes on “The Andy Griffith Show” at community colleges across North Carolina, where he goes deep into the episodes and shares back stories and production techniques. After discussing the show in great detail (this guy’s a super fan), Bower takes some time to share his adoration for Mount Airy. “This is a wonderful town. You can come here, park your car and spend hours just walking up and down the streets,” he says. “If you love ‘The Andy Griffith Show,’ this is the place.”
Start planning your trip at VisitMayberry.com.