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Monday, February 2, 2015

Mayberry mania reigns in Mt. Airy, not Raleigh

It's a monumental kind of bungle that would have an exasperated Sheriff Andy Taylor shouting at his befuddled deputy, "You beat everything, Barney, you know that!"

How did it happen? How did the monument commemorating one of the most beloved, homespun figures in television history end up in an urban park more than a two-hour drive from its obvious small, town origins? Is Barney Fife to blame?

"I tell ya, it is a puzzle, all right" says Jack Fallis, owner of the Mayberry Bed & Breakfast in Mount Airy, N.C. "Each and every day, hundreds of tourists come from all over the world to Mount Airy to see where Andy Griffith grew up and the town he used as the setting for 'The Andy Griffith Show.' Mount Airy is Mayberry. No one goes to Raleigh."

As of now, some might. Because that's where on Oct. 28, beloved actor Andy Griffith, local dignitaries, officials from TV Land network and hundreds of fans met in Raleigh's Pullen Park to dedicate a statue of Sheriff Andy Taylor strolling hand-in-hand with his son, Opie.

Anyone familiar with the show and its history will recognize one thing: The two are a long hike from home.

Charming, simple Mount Airy, pop. 7,343, is about 120 miles from state capital Raleigh, a town of strip malls and industrial complexes so big and alien to small-town sheriffs that you might as well call it Sprawleigh. The town of 243,835 earns several mentions in the show, usually as a foreboding "big city" where hayseeds visit to be awed by zooming street cars, newfangled electronics and other modern advances as yet unavailable in bucolic hinterlands like Mayberry.

Since the CBS show enjoyed its indelible 1960-68 run, Mount Airy has embraced it and its lovingly eccentric characters. And why not? Griffith, 77, was born at 711 E. Haymore St. here in 1926 and he repeatedly mentioned the names of people and places in Mount Airy.

The Mount Airy phone book lists 43 businesses that capitalize on the name Mayberry. These include The Mayberry Mall, The Mayberry Motor Inn, Mayberry Consignments Shoppe and the incongruously homespun-sounding Mayberry Septic Pumping Services. Familiar namesake landmarks include The Andy Griffith Parkway, The Old Mayberry Jail and Weaver's Department Store. Each September, the town hosts a phenomenally successful Mayberry Days where thousands of aficionados from as far away as Australia descend to swap lines like "Nip it in the bud!" and join strangers in impromptu whistled outbursts of the show's legendary Earle Hagan-composed theme song.

By contrast, Raleigh only has three "Mayberry" businesses, one of them a coincidentally named well-digger who trades under the name "Aubrey Mayberry."

Not only does Mount Airy have a Floyd's Barber Shop, it's got its very own Floyd. He's Russell Hiatt, an amiable hair cutter who's usually too busy to barber.

"Some days I don't cut any hair," says Hiatt, who turns 80 on January 28, 2004. "I'm too busy. Some days, I'll take more than 500 pictures. Most people just come in to chat about Floyd and the show and take a picture."

The price for a flattop haircut is $7. The price for a picture is free, as long as you agree to smile for Hiatt in return. The walls of the three-chair barber shop are covered with more than 24,000 Polaroids of Andy Griffith fans from around the world.

"The statue belongs right here in Mount Airy," Hiatt says. "This is Mayberry."

Next door to Floyd's is Snappy Lunch, a family restaurant in continuous operation at the same location since 1923. Lines for Snappy's cross the front of Floyd's as people wait up to an hour each day to get in and order one of their famous Pork Chop sandwiches for just $3. Griffith in two episodes mentions eagerly anticipated lunches at Snappy's.

Ann Vaughn's the executive director of the Mount Airy Visitor's Center (www.visitmayberry.com). She has the refined manners of a southern belle, but gets testy when asked about the Griffith monument being so far from Mayberry's spiritual home.

"I like to think I've gotten past it," Vaughn says. "Everyone knows this is the real Mayberry. He says on the show that he's going to have to go to Raleigh, the state capital. That means Raleigh couldn't be Mayberry."

Few would dispute that, but why did Raleigh get the nod when the evidence that Mount Airy is Mayberry is so compelling that a crafty old lawyer like Ben Matlock (another Griffith signature character) would have even cynical jurors laughing at the argument?

Vaughn says there is no argument and Mount Airy may act to set the record straight: "We're looking toward the future. We want a statue of our own -- and it's gonna be bigger than the one in Raleigh!"

Such Andy-escalation is not out of the question, according to TV Land spokesman Paul Ward, who deflects criticism that the network made the monumental mistake.

"Yes, we did get a lot of calls when we announced the statue would be in Raleigh," Ward says. "I think I heard from everyone in Mount Airy. Clearly, Raleigh is not Mayberry. Sheriff Taylor never liked going there because it was too big city and he was always uncomfortable there. Barney liked Raleigh because he could enjoy its cosmopolitan ways, maybe see a foreign movie or enjoy what he called an 'I-talian dinner.'

"We recognize that Mount Airy should be honored in some way. There is talk of putting a replica up so that people can enjoy it when they visit all the other Mayberry attractions in Mount Airy."

Ward says Raleigh was chosen, in part, because the beloved show was an idealized composite of Southern life at the time. The Raleigh statue is inscribed with: "A simpler time. A sweeter place. A lesson. A laugh. A father and a son."

Griffith has said that the show's universal and enduring appeal can be traced to that sentiment. He said: "Mayberry is a quiet place that people want to return to. It's a quiet, gentle place."

Maybe tourists shouldn't look for Mayberry in either Raleigh or Mount Airy. Maybe it's been in our hearts all along.

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