The official opening ceremony of Mayberry Days is usually a joyous occasion, with plenty of laughs and jokes, introduction of the show’s stars and other entertainers in town to put on shows, and the mayor’s proclamation recognizing Mayberry Days.
This year’s opening had all of that, but plenty of tears as well. Tears of emotion when describing friendships, and tears of longing and grief as fans said good-bye to one of “The Andy Griffith Show’s” favorite stars.
Perhaps the most emotional part of the opening ceremony was the Betty Lynn memorial. Lynn, famous for her portrayal of Thelma Lou and a Mount Airy resident for more than 15 years, passed away in October. Tanya Jones, executive director of the Surry Arts Council and a close friend of Lynn, said earlier this year that, instead of a memorial service held immediately after Lynn’s death, she wanted to include the service in this year’s Mayberry Days so that her fans could take part.
Many of those fans packed the Historic Earle Theatre Friday morning, with a standing-room only audience for both the opening ceremonies and the memorial to Lynn.
That service featured images of Lynn from her life — including pictures of her youth, on set with Andy Griffith and Don Knotts, promotional and on-set photos from various films and television shows she appeared in, along with photo spreads and other pictures. While the photos faded one to another, a recording of the song “Precious Memories,” sung by Andy Griffith, played over the theater’s speakers.
Among the crowd were fans of “The Andy Griffith Show” — some dressed as their favorite Mayberry character, or at least the character they most resembled — others dressed in Mount Airy or Mayberry t-shirts, and nearly everyone there watched in rapt attention, the only sounds that of Griffith’s deep baritone voice and the occasional sniffling or quiet sobbing from Lynn’s fans and friends.
Shortly prior to the memorial presentation, Jones and Allan Newsome, a long-time Floyd the Barber tribute artist and host of the long-running podcast “Two Chairs No Waiting,” led the opening ceremony. Guests who were in town — those who appeared on the show, their family members, or other entertainers here to put on a presentation for Mayberry Days fans — took their introductions, some making remarks, others simply acknowledging the fans.
Toward the end of the ceremony, after the mayor’s proclamation for the annual event, Jones became emotional as she described the person who would be this year’s You’re the Cats award winner, recognizing someone or some group which has made significant contributions to Mayberry Days and the effort in keeping the spirit of Mayberry, and the memories of those actors who starred in the show, alive.
Jones recalled how she had even played a role in his meeting the woman who would become his wife before revealing Jeff Koontz was winner.
Koontz said afterward he was shocked to be named the award-winner.
“I’m just a volunteer,” he said of his role in the annual gathering of the Mayberry faithful. Koontz, who lives in Brevard with his wife, Claire Armbruster, said he began volunteering with Mayberry Days in 1990, during the first such gathering when it was just a one-day event.
And he confirmed that Jones did, indeed, play a role in he and his wife meeting.
“She introduced us,” he said, adding they had been married since 2000. “I owe that to Tanya.”
While several hundred Mayberry fans were inside the Earle Theatre for the morning’s ceremonies, hundreds more were already outside, walking Main Street, taking in the sights and doing some shopping.
Among the sights many were checking out were no less than four autos made up to look like Sheriff Andy Taylor’s squad car, all parked along Main Street, while additional such cars patrolled the street.
Walt McClelland, of Johnston, Pennsylvania, was among those in town for the festival — an annual sojourn he makes with his wife and their Ford Galaxie gussied up just like one of Andy Taylor’s old squad cars.
“I bring that car down every year,” he said of the squad car, adorned with a life-sized photo of Deputy Fife in the back seat, along with pictures and flyers detailing places McClelland had taken the car. “We’ve been here every year since 2010,” he said. McClelland said he spends a good bit of the day sitting in a folding chair, next to his car, while others come along and sit next to him, ask questions about the car, striking up conversations about “The Andy Griffith Show” and untold other subjects that pop up.
Mike Pyburn and Pete Taggett were two local musicians spending their day on Main Street, next to Pyburn’s 1931 Ford Model A, while the two of them strummed a few bluegrass tunes — Pyburn on the claw hammer banjo and Taggett on the washtub bass.
Pyburn, who is retired, said he spends some time most days on Main Street, playing his music for anyone who passes by.
“I usually get a smile from people who pass by, which is all I can ask for,” he said. Pyburn said he regularly played in the downtown gazebo, but construction work at the partially collapsed Main Oak building is too much competition.
“My throat’s not strong enough to sing over that,” he said, so he moved several blocks down the street, where he and Taggett were set up on Friday.
There, Sue Creager, of Springfield, Ohio, was fascinated with the washtub bass, getting an impromptu lesson on playing the instrument from Taggett, and even a few tips on how to build her own when she returns home.
“I can’t get over the sound,” Creager said several times after stroking the long string of the instrument. Her husband, Kevin Creager, said his wife plays the dulcimer, though she may be pursuing a new interest in the washtub bass.
Kevin Creager said he and his wife have made several trips to Mount Airy, but his is the first time they’ve been able to visit the town during Mayberry Days.
“Usually, we’re working. But now we’re both retired, so we were able to come,” he said, both clearly having a good time.
And why not? Even during an emotional opening earlier in the day, Newsome, the ceremony’s emcee and resident Floyd the Barber, put it succinctly when he described what Mayberry Days means to Andy Griffith Show fans.
“It’s like going to Disney World.”