MOUNT AIRY, N.C. — Each September, hundreds of people gather in Mount Airy for the annual Mayberry Days festival – a four-day tribute to “The Andy Griffith Show” and Griffith’s hometown.
People come for different reasons. Some like to experience the downtown charm of Mount Airy, which features various shops that tie into the Andy Griffith theme. Others attend shows and wait to get autographs from the many Andy Griffith Show stars who attend Mayberry Days.
This was Brenda Padgett’s fifth trip to Mayberry Days from Canton, Ga., but the first one without her husband, Ronnie. He died in June, so the trip became the family’s way to honor his memory.
“He would be happy. He’s smiling right now, probably laughing,” Brenda Padgett said Friday morning after watching her five grandchildren gather for photos with David Browning, an actor who models his “Mayberry Deputy” character after the beloved Barney Fife character.
Padgett said her husband was a huge fan of the show and especially loved Barney. After Ronnie Padgett’s death, they even played the show on a screen at the funeral home before putting up a photo slideshow.
“Anything Andy Griffith, we’ve got it,” Brenda Padgett said, noting that her kids grew up watching the show and could recite the episodes.
Padgett’s sons Lance and Zach and their families also made the five-hour drive to Mount Airy for the weekend.
“He would want us here,” Lance Padgett said of his dad.
The Padgetts gathered with dozens of other families Friday morning at the Blackmon Amphitheatre for the Mayor’s Proclamation Ceremony, which kicked off the main events for the 24th annual Mayberry Days. The amphitheatre is across the street from the Surry Arts Council, which sponsors and organizes Mayberry Days.
All of the celebrity guests in town sat on stage during the ceremony and took turns offering remarks, singing songs and sharing jokes.
Last year, the Arts Council began dedicating stars in front of the Andy Griffith Museum to special “Mayberry Friends.” This year, stars were dedicated in honor of Russell Hiatt, thought of as Mount Airy’s own Floyd the barber, and Charles Dowell, who ran the Snappy Lunch until his death last year.
Dowell’s family and Hiatt were recognized at the proclamation ceremony.
Mount Airy Mayor Deborah Cochran presented keys to the city to George Lindsey Jr., whose father, George Lindsey, portrayed Goober, and Roland White of The Country Boys, a band that performed on the show. This year Lindsey presented to the museum a jumpsuit his dad wore on the show.
During the ceremony, Maggie Peterson, who played Charlene Darling in the show, donated an original script to the museum that she recently found at her home.
“It belongs in the museum,” she said. “I was delighted to give it to them.”
This was her 18th year attending Mayberry Days.
“Every year it gets better,” Peterson said, noting that she sees a lot of the same folks from all over the country each year.
Peterson believes the show’s huge following can be attributed in part to its positive message and humor. Often people feel worse after watching television shows, she said, but the Andy Griffith Show makes people feel good.
Many fans tried to catch her for an autograph after the ceremony. Daniel and Jennifer Vinson brought their 8-year-old daughter, Jenna, to Mount Airy from Fayetteville. Jenna and a friend were able to get Peterson’s autograph.
“We just love the show,” said Jennifer Vinson.
Vinson grew up watching the show and said it is wonderful to see her young daughter get excited about meeting some of the show’s stars.
“I just love the wholesome moral values of it. It’s a simpler time,” Vinson said of the show.
James Best is perhaps best known for his role playing Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane on “The Dukes of Hazzard.” He also appeared on “The Andy Griffith Show” and has attended Mayberry Days several times.
“It’s like coming back home,” he said.
He also believes the show’s ethics and hometown feel are what made it resonate with so many people.
The depth of the show’s impact on fans and on the city of Mount Airy becomes apparent as people walk downtown during Mayberry Days. Long lines formed at the Earle Theatre, the Snappy Lunch and other businesses Friday morning.
Steve Yurish, of Mooresville, attended Mayberry Days for the fourth time and said he has waited almost two hours before to get in the Snappy Lunch to try the famous pork chop sandwich. But the wait is worth it, he said.
“It’s just down home fun, no matter how many people are here,” he said of Mayberry Days.
“It’s become something that’s very significant to the local economy,” said Tanya Jones, executive director of the Surry Arts Council.
Freddie Quesinberry, owner of Opie’s Candy Store, said the event is “tremendous” for business.
“It brings the whole city to life,” said Cochran.
Jones said many of the Mayberry Days visitors come back to Mount Airy at other times during the year. Last year more than 60,000 people visited the Andy Griffith Museum, which is open seven days a week.
But this weekend, Mayberry Days is the drawing card. The festival offers tribute concerts, comedy acts, a golf tournament, a parade, contests, museum tours, autograph sessions and much more.
This Sunday at 9:30 a.m., there will be a special hometown tribute to Emmett Forrest, who was a friend of Griffith’s and benefactor of the museum. Forrest passed away in January.
Arts Council leaders already have their sights set on the 25 th Mayberry Days, scheduled for Sept. 25-28, 2014.
Jones said this year’s festival got off to a great start, and everyone is wondering how they can top it.
“But we will,” she said.
Credit: The Winston-Salem Journal