For 26 years, fans of Sheriff Andy Taylor from all over the South and beyond have traveled to Mount Airy, North Carolina—Mayberry, to them—in late September. They’ll gather again this September 21 to 25 for Mayberry Days, a celebration of Surry County’s most famous native son and the series that defined America’s small-town idyll, The Andy Griffith Show.
The festival, hosted by the Surry Arts Council, includes events and activities as wholesome as the show it commemorates. Take a tour of Mount Airy (population roughly 10,000) in a squad car like Sheriff Taylor drove and see the childhood home of Griffith, who had a hand in each festival until his death in 2012. Try a round of checkers or practice your aim with a game of horseshoes. Nip a sinking spell in the bud with a bite of Surry County’s native cobbler-like dessert, sonker, at Aunt Bee’s Bake Sale.
“The festival has evolved to be a reunion of The Andy Griffith Show fans who love the simple pleasures—drinks out of glass bottles, ice cream in cones, and laughing,” says Tanya Jones, executive director of the Surry Arts Council. “It’s laid-back, and we focus on sharing the whole town.”
For many, the highlight of Mayberry Days is a chance to meet special guests in attendance, such as Deputy Sheriff Barney Fife’s girlfriend, Thelma Lou, played by now-90-year-old Betty Lynn. The Surry Arts Council celebrated Lynn’s recent milestone birthday with the unveiling of an exhibit in her honor at Mount Airy’s Andy Griffith Museum. Other guests include Karen Knotts, whose tribute show “A Deputy’s Daughter” features personal stories and photos from the life of her Emmy award-winning father, Don Knotts AKA Barney.
According to Jones, Mayberry Days lures nearly 50,000 people each year, and she knows exactly why. “The Andy Griffith Show appeals to everyone—all ages,” she says. “Wholesome with happy endings is not a bad thing these days.”