Mabel Rosenheck seemed a bit out of place in the Andy Griffith Museum Tuesday.
In contrast to the usual Mayberry fans arriving to eagerly eyeball various Griffith memorabilia, Rosenheck carried a notebook that she frequently scribbled entries into and a small camera to make pictures — something not usually allowed in the museum.
No, she wasn’t an international spy trying to unearth government secrets in an unlikely setting, but a graduate student at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., working on a special project.
It involves trekking around the U.S. to research museums that are dedicated to movies, television and popular music. Rosenheck is studying the origins of such facilities and how they operate for a dissertation she is preparing in order to earn her doctorate degree.
Most people might think of a museum as a massive complex such as the Smithsonian Institution that is a repository for artifacts on a national scale. Rosenheck, however, is interested in those that operate in smaller communities honoring hometown figures of the entertainment world such as Griffith.
Rosenheck, 28, who hails from New Haven, Conn., became familiar with “Mayberry” at an early age. “I grew up watching Nick at Nite and TV Land,” she said of two networks that have shown episodes of “The Andy Griffith Show” over the years.
She later enrolled at Northwestern and became a student in its communications department, reflecting her interest in the performing arts. “My department in general does a lot of work with film and television history,” Rosenheck explained.
Before embarking on her dissertation project, Rosenheck had never heard of the Andy Griffith Museum, although she was aware of the annual Mayberry Days celebration here.
“I think it was just from Googling online,” the student said of Internet research to find museums honoring people such as Griffith, which informed her of the local facility’s existence.
She identified about 10 to 15 places nationwide with such facilities.
In addition to the Griffith site, the Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Museum in Jamestown, N.Y., is on the list, as is the Ava Gardner Museum, located in Smithfield, not far from Raleigh. After arriving in Mount Airy Sunday night and researching the Griffith museum Monday and Tuesday, Rosenheck planned to head to Smithfield next.
She was impressed by the wealth of items on display in the Rockford Street facility which were the personal collection of the late Emmett Forrest, a longtime friend of Griffith’s.
“Andy Griffith really had all this wide range of things that he did,” the Northwestern student said Tuesday while surveying the souvenirs there. In addition to props and other mementoes associated with “The Andy Griffith Show” and his “Matlock” TV series, there are reminders of Griffith’s long career in mediums such as movies and music.
“I think it’s a great example of what you can do without a lot of money,” Rosenheck said of the local museum.
It is rooted in one man’s (Forrest’s) “vision” in maintaining a wealth of material in remembrance of a close friend, she added, with its presence also helping to bridge the gap between Mount Airy and the fictional Mayberry.
Rosenheck does regret not being able to meet Forrest, who died last month. But she was thankful for the opportunity to access an audio guide containing comments from the man behind the museum, including personal stories about selected items in the facility.
Her notebook was full of information collected and by Tuesday the student also had taken about 200 pictures while here.
“The whole project is about two and a half years,” Rosenheck said of her dissertation effort, which has been under way for around three months.
After gathering material from the other museum sites on her itinerary in addition to Mount Airy, Rosenheck will put it in written form. “Ultimately, ideally, it will get published as a book” or a collection of essays, she said.
“I do hope that it will be disseminated more widely,” including on the Internet, Rosenheck said.
In the meantime, the student is maintaining a research blog (at the address http://yourmuseumspeaking.wordpress.com), to which she hopes to add material about Mount Airy and the Andy Griffith Museum within the next week.
The title of her blog seems to sum up Rosenheck’s approach to her project: “This is Your Museum Speaking: Public Media History from No Place Like Home to At Home in the Wasteland.”
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.