Mount Airy, NC (written by Laura Bly/USA Today) -- For more than two decades, the organizers of Mount Airy, N.C.'s annual Mayberry Days festival have wooed visitors "who long for the days when life was simple and the sheriff didn't carry a gun."
The sheriff in question -- Mount Airy native Andy Griffith, who played Mayberry lawman Andy Taylor in the beloved TV sitcom The Andy Griffith Show -- died in July at age 86. And, says civic booster Tanya Jones, "we get asked all the time whether we think interest will decline after his passing. The answer is an emphatic 'no.'"
In fact, says Jones, executive director of Mount Airy's Surry Arts Council, tourism at Mayberry's alter ego is up sharply since the actor's death.
About 10,400 people visited the Andy Griffith Museum in July, almost double the 5,300 who visited the same month a year earlier, and the town expects about 30,000 acolytes to show up for the Sept. 27-30 Mayberry Days.
This year's event, featuring Mount Airy resident Betty Lynn (who played Barney's girlfriend Thelma Lou) as parade grand marshal, will include tributes to both Griffith and George Lindsey (Goober), who died in May.
Folks come to Mount Airy -- where the Mayberry tie-ins include haircuts at Floyd's City Barbershop and tours in a vintage Ford Galaxie 500 squad car -- "to see the town that was such a big influence on Griffith's life," says Jones.
Sustaining tourism and the mythology Griffith built around his hometown "sometimes means keeping the real world at bay, just as the show did," notes the Associated Press.
"The show aired during the tumultuous years of 1960 through 1968, but its scripts studiously avoided references to current events, serving instead as a refuge from headlines about the Vietnam War, civil rights clashes and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy," AP notes. "You won't learn about Griffith's politics at the museum named for him, and political and advocacy groups are prohibited from taking part in Mayberry Days, where guests are asked to avoid politics in their speeches."
"On that weekend, we're celebrating the anniversary of The Andy Griffith Show and Andy Griffith's legacy and life," says Jones. "And we're celebrating the whole atmosphere of Mayberry, the simpler time."