Four decades later, the spirit of Mayberry lives on in the town that claims to be its muse. While it's widely believed that Griffith's childhood in Mount Airy inspired Mayberry, it's absolutely certain that Mayberry has inspired Mount Airy. Tourism has made the marketing of small-town flavor good business, and Griffith's hometown has taken the ball and run with it.
Everywhere you turn in the community, there is a Mayberry reference, explicit or otherwise. The names of businesses downtown — Mayberry Trading Post. Mayberry's Music Center. Mayberry Memories, Barney's Cafe — are testament to the exuberant opportunism Griffith made possible. An annual fall festival, Mayberry Days, draws tens of thousands of people to Mount Airy.
And at 129 North Main St., the owner of the six-decade-old City Barber Shop even added the word "Floyd's" at the front of its name two decades ago to evoke the TV show's Calvin Coolidge-loving tonsorial expert.
Melvin Miles, 69, of Mount Airy, has an idea why people are so attracted to this stuff. Miles works for Squad Car Tours, which owns five Ford Galaxys, replicas of the cars used on the show. He remembers a town where people gathered on porches and — lacking Facebook or 300 channels — just visited.
"The people long for the simple way of life," Miles says. "And that does not exist in too many areas anymore."
Mayberry today is shorthand for a shiny America that may or may not have existed at all, yet endures. Just whistle the theme from the show and Griffith's vision is summoned. Listen to politicians talking about traditional values, and Mayberry is there. Eat at a Cracker Barrel restaurant anywhere in the republic and walk through its "general store," replete with striped candy sticks, jars of apple butter and rocking chairs priced to move, and Andy Taylor is lurking. Try and watch the movie "Pleasantville" without thinking of Mayberry.
Like the folks in "Pleasantville," ''The Andy Griffith Show" eventually moved from black and white to color. Its final episode in 1968 begins at Mayberry's bucolic railroad depot. But the arriving train brings a chaotic, voluble Italian family to town — or, if you're looking for symbolism, the larger world arrives. There is no going back.
Americans loved, and still love, the notion of the small town as a manageable, nonthreatening, friendly, finite community — an idea all but upended in the 21st century, where the truly isolated town is, for all practical purposes, no more. The black-and-white world that Andy Griffith shaped so masterfully is there for our perusal from a distance, but it is not coming back — either on television or anywhere else.
EDITOR'S NOTE — AP writers Martha Waggoner and Allen G. Breed contributed to this report. Ted Anthony, who writes about American culture for The Associated Press, can be followed at www.twitter.com/anthonyted .
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