As I thought about the countless hours of enjoyment Andy Griffith had given me over the years, I looked back on a truly magical day I spent in the “real” Mayberry.
A few years ago, my niece was married in North Carolina and the entire family flew there for the weekend. The day before the big day was free for most of us, and my brother (an equally big fan of “The Andy Griffith Show”) came up with the idea of visiting Mt. Airy, the birthplace of Andy Griffith and the model for the fictional town of Mayberry.
As we arrived in Mt. Airy and drove down Main Street, we noticed a familiar vehicle parked in front of the police station - a 1962 Ford Galaxie squad car bearing the license plate JL 327. Great attention to detail, I thought. We pulled over and set out on a walking tour of Mayberry.
Our first stop was The Andy Griffith Playhouse. (It has since been relocated and renamed The Andy Griffith Museum.) Inside were hundreds of pieces of memorabilia from Griffith’s career in television and film, including several props used on “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Matlock.” A suit worn on the show by Otis (Hal Smith) was displayed in a glass case.
Around the corner was the “Old City Jail,” and it was…old. It didn’t really look much like the jail on the show and it smelled very musty, but it was kind of cool to visit. We saw a battered desk adorned with an old two-piece telephone and a “Justice of the Peace” sign. When Andy was growing up, this was the location of the Mt. Airy Police Department and a temporary stop for any ne’er do wells who felt like stirring up trouble.
Down the street from the jail is Wally’s Service Station - built in 1937. As a boy, Andy used to visit this gas station for a bottle of pop. These days, it’s a gift shop that also offers squad car tours of Mt. Airy.
If you visit Mt. Airy, a stop at Snappy Lunch is imperative. Since 1923, this little diner has been serving up tasty and inexpensive fare to locals and tourists alike. It also has the distinction of being the only existing Mt. Airy business referenced on the show. On a summer Saturday or Sunday, people line up out the door and down the street for one of their famous deep fried pork chop sandwiches.
After filling up at Snappy Lunch, it’s time for a haircut next door at Floyd’s City Barber Shop and some quality time with the “real” Floyd. Russell Hiatt, 88, has been cutting hair since the 1940s and frequently took a little off the top for his friend Andy Griffith. When Andy sat down to map out the characters of Mayberry, Russell became Floyd Lawson (portrayed on the show by Howard McNear).
Hiatt still cuts hair five days a week and seems to love interacting with the people who visit his shop. I looked around at the thousands of Polaroid photos of smiling customers lining the walls and waited for my chance to sit in his chair.
After some conversation about life in Mt. Airy and its similarities to small towns in Maine, Hiatt leaned in and said, “I’d like to take your picture for my wall. You’ve got the damnedest big head on the littlest body I’ve ever seen.” I laughed out loud – what an honor. By the way, a haircut by the “real” Floyd will only set you back about eight bucks.
Unless you knew what you were looking for, it would be easy to miss one of Mt. Airy’s most important attractions, and it was our final stop. When Andy was 9 years old, he and his family moved to a ranch-style home on Haymore Street that his parents purchased for $600. He lived here until graduation and the home remained with his family until 1966. The two bedroom/one bath home, decorated in 1930s style and adorned with Andy Griffith memorabilia, is now a bed and breakfast. It’s too small for a front porch, but there is no doubt that much of Mayberry’s magic originated within its walls.
Who hasn’t watched an episode of “The Andy Griffith Show” and wished they could spend time on the front porch with Andy, Barney, Opie and Aunt Bee after enjoying one of her famous meals? We would listen to Andy strum some chords on his guitar while the pie cools on the window sill. We might close our eyes and hear the sound of crickets chirping in time with the creak of the porch swing. Then Barney will clear his throat and say something like, “Well, I guess I’ll go over to Thelma Lou’s, have some homemade ice cream and watch that George Raft movie on TV. Yes sir, that’s what I’m gonna do.” 15 minutes later, Barney would still be there. It sounds like heaven, and I’m pretty sure that’s where Andy is right now – out on the big porch with Barney, Aunt Bee, Floyd, Otis, Goober and even Ernest T. Bass.