If you were alive in the late 1970s, you could have eaten Andy Griffith brand meat.
If you were alive in the late 1970s, you could have eaten Andy Griffith brand meat.

Andy Griffith Museum

Field review by the editors.

Mount Airy, North Carolina

Andy Griffith was born in Mount Airy in 1926. He grew up, moved away, became a successful actor on Broadway and in Hollywood, and then turned memories of his Mount Airy childhood into the fictional town of Mayberry when he created The Andy Griffith Show.

The view across Andy's sheriff desk in Mayberry.
The view across Andy's sheriff desk in Mayberry.

Today, real-world locations of hit TV shows are eager to lengthen their moment in the spotlight. But The Andy Griffith Show was filmed in Hollywood, not small-town North Carolina, and the formative years of television tourism saw Mount Airy keep its distance from Mayberry. Its first "Mayberry Days" festival wasn't held until over 20 years after series ended its run in 1968. Another 20 years passed before the town finally opened an Andy Griffith Museum, in 2009.

And yet The Andy Griffith Show -- or "TAGS" as devoted fans call it -- has remained so popular that the decades-long delay didn't matter. Mayberry tourism is now Mount Airy's most thriving industry.

"Some people in town still don't see it as sustainable," said Abigail Linville, the Andy Griffith Museum's director of collections. "But we see our visitor numbers increasing every year. That's fascinating to me."

Andy Griffith returned to Mount Airy when it screened his first Hollywood film. He starred as a bad guy.
Andy Griffith returned to Mount Airy when it screened his first Hollywood film. He starred as a bad guy.

The words "wholesome" and "sweetness" pop up regularly when discussing The Andy Griffith Show, full of lovable characters, harmless joshing, and happy endings in a town where sheriff Andy never even carried a gun. "It teaches us to be neighborly; to take care of one another," said Abigail. A volunteer in the gift shop described a typical museum visitor: "They want to step back to a simpler time. I've seen some of them cry when they go through."

Those could be tears of bewilderment after visiting the Andy Griffith Museum, which, as Abigail pointed out, "is not the Andy Griffith Show Museum." It has enough TAGS relics on display to warm the hearts of faithful viewers -- but it also has many reminders of Andy's Griffith's other roles and projects. Displays call attention to his two Tony award nominations on Broadway and the Grammy that he won for his gospel singing (just like Elvis). There are examples of his shameless promotion of everything from Harrah's Casinos to Post Toasties Corn Flakes. His restaurant chain flopped -- just like Conway Twitty's Twitter Burger -- and then he slapped his grinning face on everything from canned beans to whole hog sausage. They flopped as well.

Barney Fife's salt-and pepper suits. Photo is from Andy Griffith Show episode #1.
Barney Fife's salt-and pepper suits. Photo is from Andy Griffith Show episode #1.

Among the relics in the museum is a photo of Andy gleefully holding dozens of dead birds that he killed on The American Sportsman, an LP of his narration from the Rankin/Bass cartoon Frosty's Winter Wonderland, and the white suit he wore in a 2008 Brad Paisley music video, which was Andy's last on-screen performance (he died in 2012). One showcase is devoted to Matlock -- Grandpa Simpson's favorite TV program -- which actually had a longer run than The Andy Griffith Show. The display includes a prop murder weapon from an episode in which Andy played both Matlock and his dead father.

Otis the Town Drunk display, in a replica of Mayberry's Jail.
Otis the Town Drunk display, in a replica of Mayberry's Jail.

The museum also calls attention to the dozens of movies in which Andy appeared and no one remembers. He often played bad guys. There's a replica of the Earle Theatre marquee as it appeared when Mount Airy first screened Andy's debut Hollywood film, A Face in the Crowd (1957), an amazing film in which he leads as a rising performer-turned-media-star-turned-despicable-populist-scoundrel. Andy plays a murderous sociopath in Pray for the Wildcats (1974), a manipulative drunk in Under the Influence (1986), an armless maniac in Spy Hard (1996). Abigail said that "most people have no clue," about Andy's varied roles, and visitors are encouraged to use some of their museum time to watch video clips from his other films. "I tell them, 'Give Andy a chance to fly,'" said Abigail.

Goober bronzed his beanie.
Goober bronzed his beanie.

But most Andy Griffith Museum visitors seem content to keep Andy firmly grounded in Mayberry. Tangental exhibits in the museum tend to be bypassed by eager fans who want to eyeball TAGS icons such as Andy's sheriff shirt and desk, Barney Fife's salt-and-pepper dating suit, Otis the Town Drunk's battered hat, Goober Pyle's gas station outfit -- he was "meticulous about the placement of the pends, pencils, and tire gauge in the shirt pocket," according to its display -- and his Jughead beanie, which he'd bronzed and placed on his fireplace mantle.

There are so many Andy Griffith relics -- this is, after all, the largest collection of Andy Griffith memorabilia in the world -- that they spill into an adjacent annex building, where visitors can see Aunt Bea's backscratcher, eyeglasses, and driver's license; a selection of Andy Griffith's personalized Christmas cards; and an entire showcase devoted to Barney's sweetheart, Thelma Lou, played by actress Betty Lynn, who liked Mount Airy so much that she moved there.

Abigail said that exhibit veracity is not a problem when it comes to the museum's TAGS items. Although Mayberry is a fictional world, its fans know it extremely well; they are familiar with every detail, and would call attention to any discrepancy in the museum -- if there were any, which there likely aren't. Abigail routinely watches the show's 249 episodes to keep the displays accurate. "I have to be meticulous," she said. "I really have to know what I'm talking about."

Aunt Bea (Frances Bavier) driver's license and SAG card.
Aunt Bea (Frances Bavier) driver's license and SAG card.

Andy Griffith had a complex relationship with his TAGS fame. "He was very protective of his space," said Abigail, and visitors are sometimes surprised to learn that he moved out of Mount Airy for good when he was 23, he isn't buried out back, and that there's no eternal flame in his memory anywhere in town. But Andy also kept many of the props from his namesake TV series, and recognized that most actors, even very talented ones, aren't lucky enough to have their own museums. When he began giving his TAGS mementoes to his Mount Airy friend, Emmett Forrest, he probably knew that their eventual public display was inevitable.

There may be a bit too much Andy Griffith Show in the Andy Griffith Museum to have pleased Andy Griffith, but devoted TAGS fans have embraced it as a shrine to their favorite place and people on earth. To them, Andy Griffith will never be a Hollywood actor. He will always be Sheriff Andy Taylor, and Mount Airy will always be Mayberry.

Andy Griffith Museum

Address:
218 Rockford St., Mount Airy, NC
Directions:
I-77 exit 100 to Hwy 89/Pine St. east into town. At Moody's Funeral Home, turn right at the traffic light onto Graves St. At the top of the hill, turn right onto Rockford St. The museum is part of the Surry Arts Council complex. Look for the brick buildings on the right.
Hours:
M-Sa 9-5, Su 1-5 (Virus outbreak may affect access to attraction. Call to verify.)
Phone:
336-786-7998
Admission:
Adults $8.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Chang and Eng, Famous Siamese TwinsChang and Eng, Famous Siamese Twins, Mount Airy, NC - < 1 mi.
Andy and Opie StatuesAndy and Opie Statues, Mount Airy, NC - < 1 mi.
Andy Griffith TV Town of MayberryAndy Griffith TV Town of Mayberry, Mount Airy, NC - < 1 mi.
In the region:
Winston the Steakhouse Bull, Winston-Salem, NC - 32 mi.

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