Indiana town trying to steal Mayberry?

By Tom Joyce

March 4, 2014

Ever since Mount Airy native Andy Griffith first pinned on a badge and assumed the role of Sheriff Taylor on television, “Mayberry” has been considered the exclusive property of his hometown. That’s changing, however.

The Mayberry phenomenon is now spreading to a small town in central Indiana, based on plans for an upcoming “Mayberry in the Midwest” festival there.

It is scheduled for May 17-18 in Danville, Ind., which is similar in size to Mount Airy with a population of fewer than 10,000 people.

The planned activities for the two-day festival also bear a ring of familiarity with those of annual Mayberry Days celebrations here — a checkers tournament is on the list and so is an Aunt Bee’s Pie-Eating Contest. There’ll be a Miss Mayberry contest in Danville, too.

Special guests who have been part of Mayberry Days over the years are slated to attend the Midwest festival as well, namely Mayberry Deputy David Browning and actress Maggie Peterson Mancuso (who played Charlene Darling on “The Andy Griffith Show”). Eight impersonators of characters including Floyd the Barber and Ernest T. Bass also will be part of the lineup.

Rodney Dillard, a member of the bluegrass family who portrayed The Darling Boys on the show, will perform a Saturday night concert, similar to one held here.

That’s where the similarities end, according to Tanya Jones, the head of a local organization that sponsors Mayberry Days. On one hand, the executive director of the Surry Arts Council is heartened by the notion that the Mayberry phenomenon is growing, rather than diminishing as critics sometimes assert.

But when it comes to authenticity, the spirit of the fictional town of Mayberry — the setting for “The Andy Griffith Show” — rightfully resides in only one place in America, Jones says.

“If you want to walk where Andy walked, you have to come to Mount Airy,” she added Tuesday.

“No one can do it like we can,” Jones said of putting on a Mayberry celebration. “Nobody else is authentic.” Crowds flock to this city each fall to soak up “Andy Griffith Show” flavor.

“Mayberry Days continues to get larger every year, and this is the 25th year,” Jones said of the 2014 event that will be staged from Sept. 25-28.

One True Mayberry?

Meanwhile, most of the activities during the Danville, Ind., event in May will occur in the Hendricks County Courthouse Square. Plans for the festival originated with Danville’s Mayberry Cafe, an eatery that has adopted the Mayberry theme.

In comparison, Mount Airy can boast about the fact that numerous local references can be found in the old black and white episodes of the TV show. For years, it was commonly accepted among city residents that Griffith had based the fictional Mayberry on his hometown, which he confirmed during an appearance here in the decade before his death in 2012.

Some might argue that Mount Airy has become synonymous with Mayberry, with a check of a local telephone directory revealing more than 30 entries of business and other entities using the Mayberry name.

Plans for the “Mayberry in the Midwest” event have been grabbing headlines nationwide, but the accompanying news reports make mention of Mount Airy’s primary role in the phenomenon.

Jones said she first learned about the Danville, Ind., festival last week. Ironically, it was on the same day she was interviewed by members of a team representing the state Main Street Program who were visiting to gather input from various local leaders regarding the economic future of downtown Mount Airy.

After expressing her confidence in the longevity of the Mayberry craze to the state team that might be considered skeptical and of the opinion that Mount Airy should explore new growth areas, Jones received an email about the Indiana gathering.

“And I said, ‘this is exactly what I’m talking about,” Jones said of her belief about Mayberry’s staying power.

“For all those who think that Mayberry is waning in popularity, it is certainly not in the minds of those who visit here and want to mimic us.”

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-719-1924 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.