Andy Griffith Museum opens in Mount Airy

The Andy Griffith Museum has opened, providing a permanent place for the world’s largest collection of Andy Griffith memorabilia.

The museum is located next door to the Andy Griffith Playhouse, a half-mile from the actor’s boyhood home. It houses a treasure trove of items collected by Emmett Forrest, a schoolmate and close friend of Griffith.

Forrest’s collection has been displayed at various places in Mount Airy over the last 15 years, but never had a true home until the doors opened in mid November to a new 2,500-square-foot museum that cost more than half a million dollars to build.

Fans of “The Andy Griffith Show” will marvel at the memorabilia on display. Griffith gave many of the items to Forrest, including the iconic signs from the show’s courthouse doors that read: “Sheriff” and “Justice of the Peace.” There are also mementos from Griffith’s movies and his music career.

“I’ve been collecting this for 25 years,” says Forrest. “Every piece is like one of my children. My favorite items are the signs from the courthouse doors. They identify the show. You see them in almost every episode. Another favorite item is Barney’s salt-and-pepper suit. Also, Andy gave me items from his desk and the keys to the jail, so those are very special.”

The collection contains several items donated by Francey Knotts, widow of actor Don Knotts, who played Deputy Barney Fife on the show. Those include Barney’s chair, bronzed and signed by cast members when Fife left the show, and an autographed copy of the script Knotts used for the television movie, “Return to Mayberry.”

Actress Betty Lynn, who played Thelma Lou on the show, donated to the collection as well. Lynn moved to Mount Airy in 2007 after several visits to the Mayberry Days Festival.

“Anything he ever did is in that museum. It’s really a lovely tribute to Andy and a great museum for people to enjoy,” Lynn said. “I’m grateful to be a part of it.”

The unsung hero of the Andy Griffith Museum is Tanya Jones, executive director of the local arts council. Jones secured financing through grants and donations to ensure this unique collection had a proper home. The museum is owned by the City of Mount Airy and operated by the Surry Arts Council.

“Andy and Emmett wanted the collection to be on this site because it had sentimental value to them,” Jones says. “And, it made sense to have the collection, the TV Land Landmark statue of Andy and Opie, and the Andy Griffith Playhouse all in one location.

“All the folks from ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ who have seen it are thrilled. The guests and visitors who have come so far are also thrilled. When Betty Lynn happens to be there, people get tears in their eyes when they walk in the door and see her.”

Forrest spends a good amount of time at the museum, often giving impromptu tours. He said the collection attracted people from all 50 states and 43 countries during its 20 months on display next door in the basement of the playhouse. With 2010 being the 50th anniversary of the debut of “The Andy Griffith Show,” he predicts as many as 40,000 visitors will tour the museum.

“Now that we have a first-class facility to display the collection, I think it will be a banner year,” he says.

The museum is open seven days a week and admission is $3 per person. Hours are: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday; 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays; and 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sundays.

For info on the museum, call (336) 786-1604, or visit:

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