"If I had to give a warmth award, I can't think of who in the history of television would exceed Sheriff Andy Taylor."
This Mayberry spirit extends far beyond Mount Airy. Marsha and Dave Scheuermann own the Taylor Home Inn in Clear Lake, Wisconsin. When I called them, the answering machine clicked on with the show's whistling theme, followed by a sign-off message: "Have a very Mayberry day!" Marsha and Dave met in an online chatroom for Andy Griffith fans, then in person in 1997 when a group of Internet buddies traveled to Mount Airy for Mayberry Days, an annual September event celebrating all things Andy. Marsha and Dave married soon after. They discussed building a room devoted to Andy Griffith in their new home‚ but then their dream, as dreams will do, got unruly. Why not the whole house? And why not share it with others?
The inn, which opened in 2006, is a meticulous replica of Andy Taylor's TV home. They designed it by watching every episode, some as many as 200 times ("It wasn't bad punishment," Marsha notes). They built a two-foot-square model of Andy's home to work out the details, employing a clever geometry. Knowing that Andy was a little over six feet tall, they used him as a unit of measurement‚ call it a "Griffith," when plotting out room sizes. "My husband is a stickler for details," says Marsha, perhaps unnecessarily.
Within weeks of the inn's opening, thanks to an Associated Press story, Marsha and Dave received some 750 e-mails and 1,000 calls. Guests choose one of three rooms (Andy's, Opie's, or Aunt Bee's) and often wander the house, admiring artifacts that remind them of the show. When they see the elixir bottle on the piano, visitors frequently break into "Toot Toot Tootsie": "That's what Aunt Bee sang when she got tiddly," says Marsha.
"We've had people come in and, honestly, they have wept," Marsha continues. "Everybody wants to get back to Mayberry. It was simpler, it was slower, it was friendlier. The world was not the scary place it is now."
The newly expanded Andy Griffith Museum, which reopened in November 2009, is housed in a Mount Airy building next to the Andy Griffith Playhouse, formerly the elementary school where a young Andy first appeared on stage. Here I meet Emmett Forrest, a retired electric-company administrator who owns most of what's on display. After I admire a seersucker suit worn by Otis, the Mayberry town tippler, and an advertisement for Andy Griffith Country Ham, Emmett steers me to an old black-and-white photo of school kids. He points to himself, then to a fellow with large ears. (That's Andy.) I ask Emmett if Andy was a good student. He thinks for a moment. "Mediocre," Emmett replies. Was Andy popular? "Oh, yeah, but no more popular than anyone else. He was an average young man."
This averageness may be part of Andy's appeal. It's paradoxical—Andy's averageness is vastly above-average. Andy projects averageness the way Bogart projects cool, or Meg Ryan projects a frisky sexiness.
On the show, Andy is the good-hearted uncle we all wish we had, the kindly man who could solve your vexations with quiet wit and efficiency while not drawing undue attention. In Mayberry, Sheriff Taylor rarely made jokes at someone's expense. He had a way of cocking his head upward before delivering any line that had a slightly ironic edge, just to let you know we were all in this together. Andy gathers us in the comfortable middle. Think of it as a Mayberry of the mind.
In the pilot and the early shows, Andy played a comic hayseed sheriff, drawing big laughs. But that quickly changed, says Robert Thompson, Ph. D., a professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University. "Andy let Sheriff Taylor become the pillar of normalcy and sanity, and let the jokes go to Barney. That's hard for a star to do." Because of that, Andy emerged as caring and wise. "If I had to give a warmth award," adds Thompson, "I can't think who in the history of television would exceed Sheriff Andy Taylor."
After a ten-minute walk from the museum, I found myself outside Andy's boyhood home, now a B&B owned by the local Hampton Inn. The house is humble and undistinguished, a small brown-and-beige bungalow across the street from a hulking water tower. It is, I would say, a very average home.