Saturday morning was a great time for umbrella salesmen, but even better for “Andy Griffith Show” fans as thousands converged on downtown Mount Airy for the annual Mayberry Days Parade.
A steady downpour for much of the event did not keep parade-goers from lining the entire length of North Main Street from Independence Boulevard to Rockford Street, and along that route all the way to the Andy Griffith Playhouse.
And while the umbrellas were out in full force, so were the people, who stood two and three deep in some cases. The parade drew about 3,500, based on city police estimates, many of whom arrived well in advance of its scheduled 9 a.m. starting time to secure choice spots.
They filled virtually every inch of sidewalk space along the way, with those without rain gear crowded under all available store awnings to glimpse an array of sights and sounds associated with “The Andy Griffith Show.” It was difficult to find not only a place to stand, but some spot that did not obstruct the view of onlookers or their camera lenses.
And their devotion to the Mayberry mystique soon was repaid when they were treated to a “show” that brought a predominantly black-and-white television series to life in the form of a procession lasting about 45 minutes.
The parade included actors from the show, perched atop vintage pickups or riding in antique as well as elegant modern vehicles.
Fans got to see such notables as Betty Lynn, known for her role as Thelma Lou on the show; Ronnie Schell (a guest star for multiple episodes but best-known as Cpl. Duke Slater on “Gomer Pyle, USMC,” a series spinoff); Maggie Peterson Mancuso (Charlene Darling); Jackie Joseph (“Sweet Romeena”); Peggy McCay (Andy Taylor’s old girlfiend Sharon DeSpain); and others.
Dean Webb, who played one of the musically talented Darling boys as well as a mean mandolin — and performed for two Doug Dillard tribute concerts Friday — also was spotted in the procession. Webb was joined by fellow musicians including LeRoy McNees, who appeared once on “The Andy Griffith Show,” and Ginger Boatwright.
Then there were impersonators and more impersonators, led by the Mayberry Deputy David Browning, although about seven other Barney Fifes also were present. The list further included at least two Opies and others such as Floyd the Barber, Goober, Otis the town drunk and the Darlings.
All waved to the crowd and paused for pictures along the way.
At various times, the Mayberry Deputy (Browning) could be seen riding in a motorcycle sidecar reminiscent of a popular “Andy Griffith Show” episode or working the crowd lining the streets, keeping spirits high.
“Half of these people won’t even need their Saturday bath,” he quipped at one point while pacing a sidewalk when the rainfall had become heaviest.
A veritable fleet of 1960s Ford Galaxie Mayberry squad cars ambled down North Main Street as well, many with sirens blaring. And the North Surry High School Marching Band added to the atmosphere by performing the theme song to “The Andy Griffith Show.”
Meanwhile, chapters of organizations such as the Andy Griffith Rerun Watchers Club also were represented at the parade. One group carried a big sign displaying the face of Andy. Another held a banner bearing the words “Thanks for the Memories” and referenced the deaths earlier this year of Griffith, Dillard (another Darling family musician) and George Lindsey (Goober).
Fans’ Enthusiasm High
Anyone who questioned the continuing popularity of “The Andy Griffith Show” needed only to attend Saturday’s parade for verification that this phenomenon shows no signs of diminishing.
That was evidenced not only by the huge crowd itself, but what some of its members had to say.
“The people are beautiful,” was what John Gelsomino of West Warwick, R.I., gave as the reason why he has now attended Mayberry Days for six years in a row.
While dodging raindrops in front of a downtown store with his wife Jessica, who hails from China, Gelsomino said the 23rd-annual event seems to get better with time. “There’s more and more things to see,” he said.
The Gelsominos, who must ride 12 hours, one way, to reach Mount Airy, said they now stay in this area for an eight-day period that encompasses Mayberry Days.
Raymond Morris, a visitor from Conover in this state, had come to Mount Airy for a gospel singing event Saturday night related to the annual event, and said attending the parade just seemed like the thing to do.
“It was Mayberry Days — so I thought I’d come up and enjoy the weather,” Morris joked as he stood under an umbrella in front of the F. Rees clothing store at the corner of North Main Street and Moore Avenue.
Jean Crowder, who came from Pennsylvania, was more philosophical in her observations about the parade and the deeper significance of Mayberry Days.
“I grew up watching ‘Andy of Mayberry,”’ Crowder said, referring to a syndication title for the series. “I loved all the characters and I thought they were some regular people.”
Crowder, who lives about an hour north of Philadelphia, attended Mayberry Days for the first time this year after reading about the event in a magazine. She has been staying at a bed-and-breakfast establishment in Pilot Mountain and fell in love with this area, partly because of the small-town values it reflects which are not unlike those highlighted on the show.
The Pennsylvania resident who also has lived in Texas professed a love for the South, and said she is considering moving to this part of North Carolina based on just one visit.
“This is like America to me — what it should be,” Crowder said, likening all she’s witnessed while here to the way of life she grew up with in the 1950s and 1960s.
“Things have changed so much, and I feel like I’m back in America.”
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.