News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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July 4, 2012

So long, sheriff

In ‘Mayberry of the Midwest,’ Griffith’s spirit alive and well

CLAY CITY, IND. — The people of Clay City, a town self-identified as the “Mayberry of the Midwest,” were saddened Tuesday as word spread of the death in North Carolina of Andy Griffith, the father-figure, sheriff and star of the classic television series, “The Andy Griffith Show.”

Griffith created the fictional town of Mayberry as a place where the telephone operator is on a first-name basis with everyone, where the town drunk is a lovable character who locks himself in jail at night, where the sheriff doesn’t carry a gun and where the deputy sheriff is limited to a single bullet.

In late 1999, civic-minded residents of Clay City, a small Clay County town, voted to make “Mayberry of the Midwest” the town’s slogan. The next year, Clay City USA, an organization promoting tourism and business, had the slogan trademarked. Donations paid for signs at the city’s main entrances welcoming visitors to the “Mayberry of the Midwest.”

Some people, at the time, objected, but it was hard to find anyone Tuesday who didn’t embrace the association.

“I’ve lived here all my life,” said Jeff Fritz, owner of the Mayberry Malt & Coffee Shoppe, about a block from Main Street. The shop features dozens of pictures from the “Andy Griffith Show” and offers the “Mayberry Loyalty Punch Card” for repeat customers.

“Things don’t change a lot in Clay City,” Fritz said.

Last summer, the bluegrass musicians known as The Dillards, who played the backwoods Darling family on the “Andy Griffith Show,” made a stop at the Mayberry Malt Shoppe, Fritz recalled. They played bluegrass music and answered questions about the classic TV program, which aired from 1960 to 1968. Fritz asked one of the Dillards whether it was as fun to be a part of the TV program as it appeared.

“It was more fun than that,” was the answer, Fritz said.

Clay City’s connection to Griffith’s “Mayberry” seems genuine. Most people interviewed Tuesday said the town of fewer than 900 lives up to its adopted slogan.

“Most everybody’s friendly,” said Lynne Brough, a Clay City native, who was eating Tuesday afternoon at the Clay City A&W Root Beer restaurant with her husband and fellow native, Fred.

“Nobody knows a stranger. Everybody knows everybody in town,” Lynne said.

“If I didn’t like it, I’d have moved a long time ago,” Fred added before sipping his tall A&W Root Beer.

In addition to the relatively new malt and coffee shop on the other side of town, several Clay City businesses capitalize on the Mayberry connection. Bob and Angie’s Hometown Restaurant on Main Street features Mayberry fries and the local IGA grocery store sells the Mayberry salad, to name only a few.

“Everyone just goes with it,” said Maggie Dryer, chef and restaurant manager at the 1950s-style Glory Days Restaurant and Pub, also on Main Street. “We’re a very small town. Everybody’s kind of close knit. Everybody’s there to help one another out.”

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at (812) 231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com.

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