Fans of The Andy Griffith Show like to play a guessing game: find the similarities between the fictional town of Mayberry and Mount Airy, N.C., (Griffiths birthplace and, some say, the model for Mayberry).
First-time visitors walking along Main Street will recognize the Bluebird Diner, Snappy Lunch, and the barber shop. Nearby towns and landmarks bear familiar names: Pilot Mountain (Mount Pilot), Siler City, Fancy Gap, Bannertown. And thats just the beginning.
Andy Griffith has never revealed that Mayberry was based on Mount Airy, a town of about 8,000 just a stones throw from the Virginia border. Indeed, Ann Vaughn, Mount Airy Visitors Center director, refers to an interview Griffith gave several years ago: He said something like, How could Mount Airy and Mayberry be one and the same, because Mayberry was a fictional town we made up. We made up the problems and we solved those problems on a weekly basis, where Mount Airy is a real town with real people and real problems.
But Vaughn, along with thousands of The Andy Griffith Show fans who visit Mount Airy, arent convinced. I tell people that there are too many coincidences, Vaughn says with a laugh. Theres lots of speculation, but that also leaves it a mystery, so people dont lose interest.
Thats unlikely. Since 1994, tourism has increased 431 percent, thanks to Mayberry Daysthree September days of music, trivia contests, and the chance to meet actors and others associated with the showlaunched 11 years ago by the Surry (County) Arts Council to celebrate the 30th anniversary of The Andy Griffith Show.
We are so fortunate to have the Andy Griffith link because I feel that it brings people here for all the right reasons, Vaughn says.
Mount Airys residents also have embraced the Mayberry connection; quaint downtown shops include Mayberry Collectables, Mayberry Five and Dime, and Mayberry Consignments and Souvenirs.
People in Mount Airy are rather proud to be associated and compared to Mayberry, says Emmett Forrest, a childhood friend of Griffiths who has amassed an extraordinary collection of the hometown actors memorabilia. Filling three rooms at the visitors center, the collection includes movie posters, rare early recordings, and the rocking chair built by Griffiths father for his mother after his 1927 birth.
Best of all, the town has retained its originality. One thing Im proud of is we dont have a Mayberry USA, no theme park, Vaughn says. We like to keep it a small, quaint, friendly hometown to come visit.
A community favorite is Snappy Luncha mainstay since 1923that specializes in boneless pork chop sandwiches, the diners trademark thats so tasty it has customers waiting in line.
Owner Charles Dowell, who started there in 1943 sweeping floors and serving sandwiches, remembers Griffith among the school kids who came in for lunch. So he was elated when, in the early 1960s as he watched The Andy Griffith Show, he heard Sheriff Andy Taylor suggest to Deputy Barney Fife that they take their dates to the picture show and then to Snappy Lunch.
It just thrilled me to death, says Dowell, a lifelong resident.
At Floyds City Barber Shop, owner Russell Hiatt, whos been cutting hair since 1946, answers the question asked by nearly everyone who walks in. Yes, he says, I cut Andys hair a few times.
No, he says, the character, Floyd the barber, was not based on him (City Barber Shop was renamed Floyds for fun.) There were six barbers here at one time, Hiatt explains. I hear that he took all six barbers and made Floyd out of them.
The Mayberry mystique may be the most popular, but its not Mount Airys only attraction, Vaughn says. About 90 to 95 percent of people who walk in my front door are (here) for the Andy Griffith connection, but when they hear of other fascinating aspects of the town, they want to stick around, she says.
Mount Airy was home to Tommy Jarrell, the father of old-time music, and country singer Donna Fargo. Its also home to the largest open-face granite quarry in the world.
But its the mythical Mayberry that most visitors seek. And theres a good bet theyll find a piece of it in Mount Airy.
We get so many repeat visitors that say everyone is so friendly, Vaughn says. Its probably as close to Mayberry as you can possibly get.