MAYBERRY — A welder’s torch briefly gave new meaning to the tender moment captured between Opie and Andy in the bronze sculpture outside the Andy Griffith Playhouse on Tuesday.
On the eve of the 27th Annual Mayberry Days, artisan Ray Moose worked to reattach Opie’s fishing pole that had come loose after a few too many picture-taking fans leaned against the statue.
The pair of unforgettable characters from “The Andy Griffith Show” looked as if they were at the doctor’s office, with Opie about to get a shot, peering up at his dad.
The repair means Andy and Opie will be once again heading down to the fishin’ hole as intended for the festivities beginning today.
“The pole has been missing for several months, and we’ve had several fans asking about it,” said Surry Arts Council Executive Director Tanya Jones.
“We begged to have it done by Mayberry Days,” said Jones, explaining that a TV Land-sanctioned specialist had to be located and contracted to do the work.
Moose, of the Seagrove-based foundry Carolina Bronze Sculptures, came through.
“Opie is back,” Jones confirmed.
The welders fit into the bustle of preparation for the event, which Jones dubbed the “happy chaos of Mayberry Days.”
Special guests began rolling in Tuesday, while, not far from the statue, workers busily erected shelters in front of the playhouse.
“We end up setting up a lot of tents,” Jones explained. “Carolina Carports generously offered to put up simple carports. They decided to give us deluxe carports. It’s a major construction site. We didn’t expect shelters that were this beautiful.”
The Mayberry Confidential landed Tuesday, delivered in copies of The Mount Airy News and various drop spots throughout town.
The publication of the Surry Arts Council signals the start to Mayberry Days, and includes the schedule and information for of all associated shows and events as well as local arts programming information through December 2017.
The paper also features an essay by Jim Clark, The Andy Griffith Show Rerun Watchers Club founder, and a spotlight on Betty Lynn.
Lynn portrayed Barney Fife’s sweetheart Thelma Lou on “The Andy Griffith Show,” and an exhibit dedicated to Lynn, who lives in Mount Airy, recently opened in The Andy Griffith Museum.
Mayberry still draws
The 2016 Mayberry days will be a well attended if early ticket sales are any indication.
“Our sales of tickets through August were 20 percent ahead of last year,” Jones said. “I don’t know if that’s timing, I don’t know what the explanation is but for us it’s certainly a significant and positive trend as far as Mayberry Days being as popular as ever.”
Jones said the return of Ronnie Dapo, who portrayed Arnold Winkler in two of his three appearances on “The Andy Griffith Show,” is another indicator of success for the event organizers.
“Last year was his first-ever Mayberry Days event, and he was here to watch and observe,” she explained. “Afterwords he said, ‘Okay, I’m in. I’ll come back again next year and I’ll participate.’ He had a great time and really liked what we were doing. So it’s really special for us to get that kind of reaction from somebody who for 50-some years had not been involved, and then comes and has fun and enjoys the event. So we’re really excited he’s returning.”
Another good sign is the celebrity guests who not only return year after year, but who add their own friends and family to the mix.
Ronnie Schell, who appeared as Jim Martin and Bernie the furrier in “The Andy Griffith Show,” is accompanied by his filmmaker son, Greg Schell.
Greg Schell’s documentary film about Mayberry Days will screen at the Earle Theatre following Ronnie Schell’s new show on Friday.
Margaret Kerry’s son, comedian Eric Norquist, will also make an appearance with Kerry, who will present a new show.
“We’ve got great people coming,” Jones said.
Mayberry still delights
Several folks visiting Mount Airy stumbled upon Mayberry Days early in the week.
Janet and David Monroe, and Helen Brinegar, of Springfield, Ohio, stopped by on the way traveling south.
“She watches Andy Griffith every day,” Janet Monroe said of Brinegar. “From 9 (a.m.) to noon, and from 5 (p.m.) to 9 (p.m.)”
The Hignite family, of London, Kentucky, were also headed south and stopped over in Mount Airy.
“We absolutely love it,” said Todd Hignite, who said visiting Mayberry was a childhood dream, one his wife, Vickie Hignite, and their two children, Gracie and Kyler, experienced with him.
“I watched it all my life and just wanted to be a part of it,” he said, adding that he was nicknamed “Opie” as a youngster due to his likeness to the character.
With Mayberry Days just about underway, the foursome were particularly enthusiastic about potentially grabbing a glimpse of Maggie Peterson, who portrayed the singer Charlene Darling.
As Vickie Hignite said, “it just brings the show to life.”
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.