Gloria Joyner Johnson had one wish for her birthday. She wanted to go to Mayberry.
So Johnson and her friend Addie Lisby traveled 100 miles north of Charlotte, NC to Mt. Airy, Andy Griffith’s hometown and the inspiration for The Andy Griffith Show. “I have every DVD, but I still watch the reruns,” said Johnson. “The show captures a more peaceful time. Mayberry was a real neighborly place, a place where funny things happened, but there wasn’t ever any cussin’ or real problems. Andy practiced ‘Do Unto Others,’ which is something I believe in.”
The show, which first aired in 1960, inspires a cult following, with a regular stream of pilgrims fueling Mt. Airy tourism. Visitors can take a Mayberry squad car tour in a black and white Galaxy police car, stopping at landmarks like Wally’s Fillin’ Station, Floyds Barber shop, Snappy Lunch and the Griffith’s homestead.
Emmett Forrest, Griffith’s friend since grade school, curates the Andy Griffith Museum, an impressive collection of memorabilia that includes Sheriff Andy Taylor’s original office set, one of Barney Fife’s dandy suits, and the keys to the town jail. In front of the museum, a statue of Andy and his son Opie (played by the young Ron Howard), is a popular place for photo opps.
Lisby and Johnson got lucky and ran into Betty Lynn, the retired actress who played Thelma Lou, Barney Fife’s girlfriend from 1960-1965. Lynn, whose resume includes June Bride with Bette Davis and Cheaper by the Dozen with Myrna Loy, moved to Mt. Airy from Hollywood a few years ago. “I was tired of all the craziness. Here, I have a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and I like small town life. Everybody still calls me Betty Lou, but I really don’t mind.”