When Great Things Happen to Mediocre Museums

In 2016 I wrote about a visit to the Andy Griffith Museum in Mount Airy, NC.  At the time I thought the museum was a fairly average small town attempt to acknowledge a local guy who did good in the big world beyond Mount Airy. You can read my post about it, but the truth is the museum left a lot to be desired with clothing on hangers and improperly mounted, a jumbled up narrative, and redundancies galore. At the time we were told that an update was in the works so that made me feel somewhat better about the experience.

If you aren’t familiar with Andy Griffith and his TV show from the 1960s, it was based on a small town sheriff in the town of Mayberry, which was based on Griffith’s home town of Mount Airy. Today there is an entire industry built around the TV show, with local businesses taking on the persona of the TV equivalent.  It’s a bit of an Andy Griffith theme park, but it is working for Mount Airy. All the shop fronts are filled with local businesses, and there are plenty of visitors, looking for the Mayberry experience.

I am happy to say that the museum has been completely renovated and reimagined. It’s no longer a haphazard bunch of stuff, but today tells a coherent story of the man and the TV show that put his hometown on the map.

Above you can see one of the shirts Andy wore as the sheriff of Mayberry. previously this shirt was on a clothes hanger in a space so small that the bottom of the shirt wadded up on the bottom of the case.The only good thing was that the label could be seen. It’s now hidden, but the exhibit notes tell the visitor that the shirt was made by the famous Nudie Cohn of Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors in North Hollywood.

The first part of the museum tells about Andy’s childhood in Mount Airy. The setting for this area consist of reproductions of some of the local landmarks. The Snappy lunch is located on Main Street and was mentioned in episodes of the TV show.

You can still eat lunch there today.

One of the best things about the renovation is the excellent exhibit notes. Artifacts are clearly explained along with photos from the show. The two tweed suits above were made for actor Don Knotts in his role of Deputy Barney Fife. The one on the left is from the original series and first appeared on screen in 1960. The one on the right was made for a Mayberry reunion movie.

This pinstriped brown suit was based on one first worn by Jim Nabors as Gomer Pyle. After he left the show in 1964 the suit was altered to fit his replacement, George Lindsey as Cousin Goober Pyle. Goober wore the suit so much that it became quite worn, and so the Western Costume Company took apart the original to make this replacement.

Even in 1960 the suit was terribly out of style, but Goober kept wearing it until Mayberry RFD, the successor to The Andy Griffith Show, ceased production in 1971.

Goober was usually dressed for his job as an auto mechanic. I have often wondered how he kept his pants waist so high above his waist. The outfit is actually one piece, with the pants sewn to the shirt.

The Mary Maxim type sweater on the right was a gift from Andy to childhood friend Emmett Forrest. It was Forrest’s collection that forms the foundation of the museum’s collection.

Hal Smith played the town drunk, Otis Campbell. He was usually seen in the town jail, and so his costume is surrounded by bars.

This mockup of Andy’s office in the Mayberry Courthouse contains many of the original items from the set. There were screens set up around the museum showing scenes from the show and interviews with the actors.

One of my favorite displays is this one that features two dresses from actress Maggie Peterson. Maggie was Charlene Darling on the show, but these dresses were worn in a 1967 variety show in which some of the show’s actors reunited with Griffith.  Maggie’s dresses were designed by Bob Mackie, and she donated them to the museum along with the original Mackie illustrations.

The museum continues in the basement of an adjoining building. There is a nice display devoted to actress Betty Lynn who portrayed Thelma Lou, Barney’s girl friend, in the show. At the age of seventeen, Betty Lynn joined the USO and was sent to the Pacific theater. That’s her gun that was given to her, just in case.

This is a hand mirror that was a gift from Don Knotts. Betty Lynn is now in her nineties, and she actually lives in Mount Airy. She relocated there in 2006 after a public appearance there.

Outside the museum they have an old motorcycle sidecar for kids visiting to climb into for a photo. I couldn’t resist.

 

3 Comments

Filed under Museums, North Carolina, Road Trip

3 responses to “When Great Things Happen to Mediocre Museums

  1. Jacq Staubs

    LOOKING GREAT LIZZIE!!!! NICE PHOTO!

    Like

  2. ceci

    You sure look cute with your sheriff’s star! I bet it was hot there in the sun, however.

    ceci

    Like

  3. Sounds like the good folks there did a real fine job portraying memories of Andy Griffith’s show for all of us “just visiting” folks to enjoy!😉 I really do appreciate you sharing these memories. I hope they still sell Aunt Bee’s famous dill pickles?😂

    Liked by 1 person

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