Saturday, May 14, 2011

Mt. Airy & Greensboro, North Carolina

Thur, May 5th - Wed, May 12th

Shazam! We are in Mayberry. The guide book said to go to Wally's service station and get a tour of the local sights in Sheriff Andy's patrol car. So off we went to get our tour. We didn't see Gomer or Goober anywhere.

Here are some folks getting ready to take their tour around town. When we pulled out, our guide turned on the old siren. He said the local cops don't like it when they blow the siren, but he did it several times during our tour anyway.

Next to the service station sat the Darling's truck and the old taxi in front of mock movie sets of the mayor's office, sheriff's office, and court house. The Darlings probably came to town to complain about Ernest T. Bass again.

Otis Campbell was named after two local Mt. Airy police officers, Otis and Campbell. He wasn't here today. He said, "I'm dead sober Andy...but I expect I'll get over it".

This is the Andy Griffith Playhouse and Museum. It used to be the school where Andy first stood on stage in the third grade and sang "Your Old Gray Bonnet". The kids laughed at him, but his dream was to be an opera singer. Notice the TV Land statue on the right of Andy and Opie going fishing.

The museum has lots of stuff collected by an old friend of Andy's. There are two of Barney's suits, Otis's suit, Matlock's suit and a Thelma Lou display. Did you know that Andy once had a line of canned foods, such as black-eyed peas and collard greens? Maybe that's where Paul Newman got the idea. There is also a room in honor of the Old Time Surry County musicians who played and sang what they call Round Peak music, unique to this mountain area (referred to as "The Hollows"), very snappy style with banjo, fiddle and mandolin.

There was a sign downtown for $8.00 haircuts at Floyd's Barber Shop. So of course John got a haircut by an 87 year old man who went to school with Andy and used to cut his hair. He said he might work another 10 years or so and then try retirement to see if he likes it. The barbershop was absolutely a hoot! Several locals stopped in while we were there with gossip and ribbing in there mountain drawl. I could have sworn we were right in the middle of filming. They were just perfectly and naturally in character. We could have stayed there all afternoon being entertained. We also had lunch at Snappy Lunch where Andy used to go for a pop and a hot dog when he was a kid. It is also mentioned on the show a few times. But we didn't make it to the Bluebird Cafe where our driver said they have the best onion rings.

Then our driver took us by Andy's homeplace where he was born in 1935 and grew up. His father was a foreman at a furniture factory. His mother grew up in the mountains nearby. He remembered visiting his grandmother at Maybry, a small village in the mountains where there is still a gristmill and a few other things. Our driver said he thought a lot of the characters were based on local people and perhaps Andy's relatives who lived in the mountains around Maybry.

Then he drove us by the Gertrude Smith home. She was an elderly woman with no heirs, so she left her home and money to the city to keep it as a museum. While we were there, they had an exhibit of "Gone With the Wind" dolls on display.

The tour was free and the volunteer guide was very interesting. There were a couple other old homes in town that you can tour, but we didn't get there.

Our next stop was the world's largest open surface granite quarry which has been in operation since long before the railroad came thru in 1888. They made crypts for two of the largest mausoleums in early 1900s in Lancaster, Pa. and Chicago with over 2,000 crypts and many Egyptian sphinxes which were in style at the time.

"They call it that good ol' mountain dew-ew-ew, and them that refuse it are few. I'll shut up my mug, if you fill up my jug, with that good ol' mountain dew." Just one of the songs these guys sang, as I sat and enjoyed the free entertainment. They were awesome! Every Saturday morning they have the Merry-Go-Round (their version of the Grand Old Opry) live on the radio. It's in the local downtown theater and the musicans are whoever shows up. They have anywhere from a half dozen to as many as 100. They take turns and it is free to sit in and enjoy.

Back at the Mayberry Campground on Rustic Village Drive, we passed Andy Taylor Street, Barney Fife Boulevard, Opie Taylor Lane and drove down Eng & Chang Way to our campsite. Our campground is actually located on part of the homestead that belonged to the original Siamese Twins, Eng and Chang Bunker. They were celebrities, like the Justin Bieber of their time. When they quit touring, they came here, bought a farm, married sisters (a minister's daughters) and raised 21 children. Their parents objected to the marriage because of their yellow skin, not their physical condition. They started out living together in one home, but as their families grew they needed more room and built two homes and rotated every three days from one home to the other.

They were joined by a small band of flesh at the breastbone about wrist size and 3 to five inches long. They were born in Siam (Thailand) in 1811. Haley's Comet made an appearance about that time and people thought it was an evil omen. The King of Siam had originally ordered them put to death, but later changed his mind when he met them. They were brought to Europe and America by a ship's captain and his business partner. They educated them and dressed them well for showing them on tour. While they were in London, a young woman fell in love with them and wanted to marry them both, but it wasn't allowed. They were never in the circus, but did do a few shows for Barnum and Bailey at their New York venue. At age 21 their contract with the captain and his partner expired. They then toured on their own with a manager who was a friend. They did well financially and decided to settle down in Mt. Airy.

From our campground it is about a half mile hike up a switch back trail thru the woods to the church and cemetery where they are buried, along with quite a few of their over 1,000 descendents. There was originally a lot of shame associated with being part of their family, but over time that has changed. Now they have huge reunions with the heirs of both families. Lots of them still live in the area and have streets named after them. It is one of the great-granddaughters who spent two years researching and preparing their exhibit at the Andy Griffith Museum. One of the wives is actually not buried here, because she felt someone should be buried with the slaves (and possibly infant babies who did not survive) who were buried on the farm. There was a set of grandsons who were twins. On one of their graves (1980), it proudly says "Grandson of Siamese Twin Eng". Their middle names were Eng and Chang. Eng's wie had a baby 9 months after the wedding and Chang's wife had one six days later.

During their lifetimes they didn't talk to each other a lot, because what one did or saw so did the other, so there wasn't much to say. They didn't get along the best all the time either. One liked to drink and the other did not. They sometimes got in violent fights with each other and were even known to take each other to court over issues. When the Civil War was coming, Chang sold his slaves to Eng and Eng paid him with Confederate dollars. So in the end they both lost. They had 60 slaves to work their 1000 acre tobacco farm and they were gone. Two of their sons fought for the Confederacy and one was born after Lee's surrender and was named Robert Edward. One of their slaves, Grace Gates, was a wedding gift in 1843. They called her "Aunt Grace" and she served as a wet nurse for the children. She was believed to have died in 1921 at the age of 121. The twins went back on tour for several years to recoup their finances. n 1869 they had an audience with Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace. She gave them two gold watches with chains. Chang died of a stroke at 63. The doctors were on their way to try separating them, but Eng died within a couple hours.

Their regional history museum was well worth the price of $3.00. I liked this collection of 2,800 cars in 8 cases like this. The cars ranged from the very first cars ever made to 1960s or so.

How many museums would have an actual still along with a picture of the guys who ran it and directions on how to make corn mash whiskey?

This is the flags of the original 13 colonies after the Revolutionary War in the order in which they ratified the constitution. They also had a Donna Fargo Exhibit. She grew up just a few miles from town. Tommy Jarrell, famous Round Peak musician from here, also has an exhibit.

For a community whose economy used to depend mostly on tobacco (they had a bunch of cigar making shops), they have surely filled the gap with a lot of tourist attractions. The downtown seems to be hopping all the time.

One afternoon we drove down to Pilot Mountain, the town and the state park, Mount Pilot in the TV show.

They were having Mayfest in town, arts and crafts. We went out to the state park and hiked around the knob. The woods were just full of rododendrons blooming everywhere.

They get 400,000 visitors a year. Probably because it's beautiful and free.

North Carolina is beautiful. We will be heading to Lexington, Viginia next.

On Mother's Day we went to the Depot Restaurant just a couple miles outside Dobson. John said, "Order anything you want. I'm sending the bill to the girls." I'm not sure he had discussed that with them. It used to be a water park, but was made over into a rustic resort-like venue. There is this church (the prettiest little church I've ever seen), an outdoor stage, a gazebo, restaurant with general store decor on the outside, a big dance hall/entertainment building and a half dozen or so rustic cabins. It would be a great place for a wedding, family reunion, etc. The meal was excellent and reasonable. We enjoyed walking around the beautiful grounds until our name was called.

Another day we drove over to Greensboro to see the Revolutionary battlefield of Guilford Court House. General Nathanael Greene was the hero of the battle. Even though Greene was defeated, Cornwallis suffered many losses, which led to the victory at Yorktown. On the 125 acres there are lots of trails to walk around and picture the progress of the battle plus 32 monuments.

Downtown there is a little plaza dedicated to O. Henry (Wm. Sidney Porter) who was born here in 1862, went to school and worked in his uncle's drugstore. He published 274 short stories and 12 poems in 14 volumes, including "The Gift of the Magi" and "The Ransom of Red Chief".

These four brave freshman college students did the lunch counter sit-in at the Woolworth store in 1960, which inspired similar protests across the nation and is remembered as a defining moment in the civil rights struggle. The Woolworth store is still there and houses the International Civil Rights Center and Museum.

Whistlin' my way down to the fishin' hole.

Have a great day!


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