MOUNT AIRY — Goober's suit came Friday to this foothills town that inspired television's Mayberry and was instantly enshrined in a museum.
So now you've seen everything: the words "Goober" and "museum" in the same sentence.
But don't laugh - actor George Lindsay's costume attracted overflow crowds at the Andy Griffith Museum, both a shrine to the namesake favorite son and part of a Mayberry renaissance powering the economy in Mount Airy, population 10,800.
As Surry County's textile and furniture manufacturing base withered from foreign competition over the last two decades, tourism has come to replace it.
Mount Airy's quaint downtown 100 miles north of Charlotte has grown into a Mayberry theme park based on the rural hamlet in "The Andy Griffith Show," a No. 1 show on CBS from 1960 to 1968.
Andy Griffith was born here, and he inserted references to his hometown throughout the scripts: street names, geography (Mount Pilot/Pilot Mountain) and Snappy Lunch (still on Main Street).
Nowadays, businesses play along - a barber shop on Main Street is called Floyd's and even an auto salvage yard bears the name Mayberry. Three 1960s Ford Galaxies painted like sheriff Andy Taylor's cruiser prowl the city, giving rides to tourists.
Mount Airy's Mayberry Days festival, which grows in attendance annually, pumps about $5 million into the town's economy every September, according to a study by the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
But pilgrims are drawn year-round to the city. About 200 a day pay the $3 admission to the museum packed with Griffith memorabilia.
A new generation
Decades after they first aired, Griffith's show lives on in reruns on the TV Land network and in syndication, and appears to keep finding new audiences.
"I think people want a nostalgic kind of show and they don't have that on TV anymore," said Jessica Icenhour, of the chamber of commerce. She's surprised by the number of children who know every episode, after watching it with their parents.
"Mayberry is the hook that brings people to Mount Airy," she said, "and will continue to be the hook for years to come."
Last year's Mayberry Days drew about 30,000 visitors; organizers are expecting about 50,000 this year, pegged to the 50th anniversary in October of the first episode of "The Andy Griffith Show."
"It has created a huge tourism business," said city manager Barbara Jones, who welcomed visitors to Goober's exhibit.
Lindsay, who is 75 and doesn't travel much, didn't appear Friday, but sent Jim Clark to speak for him. "He told me to say Goober says, 'Hey!'" Clark told museum visitors.
Because of fire regulations, only 135 were allowed inside for the unveiling while dozens of others queued up outside.
Clark said the suit, an unsophisticated double-vested, brown pinstripe number with white socks, was worn by Lindsay in numerous episodes, as well as when Lindsay appeared as Goober years later on "Hee Haw."
Lindsay appeared in 86 episodes from 1964 to 1968 and in one episode of the spin-off "Gomer Pyle, USMC," after taking over duties at Wally's filling station when cousin Gomer joined the service.
Though most of Lindsay's acting jobs consisted of slow-witted rustics like Goober, he was a science teacher in his first career.
After Don Knotts, who played the bumbling deputy Barney Fife, left the show in 1965, producers turned increasingly to Lindsay to provide the core comic relief.
Clark heads The Andy Griffith Show Rerun Watchers Club with about 20,000 members (and a Web newsletter called "The Bullet"). He is an expert on the smallest details on the show. Some of Clark's expert insider factoids: Fix-it man Emmett Clark has shoelaces exactly 27 inches long. In the episode about Aunt Bea's kerosene pickles, you'll see a little boy holding a balloon in the background. Clark says that child's real name is Robert Dean, and Dean - who grew up to be a photographer - will be one of the cast members coming to this year's celebration, Sept. 23-26.
The spell of Mayberry
Clark believes the show draws fans two generations later because of its quality and unique nature.
"Primarily, it's great storytelling," he said. "And wholesome - it's got lots of nostalgia."
Clark's favorite episode is "Man in a Hurry," about a businessman going to Charlotte whose car breaks down in Mayberry on a Sunday.
Exasperated by the slow pace of repairs, he gradually falls into synch with the town's gentle, front-porch pace, succumbs to Mayberry's charm and decides to stay a spell. Clark says it is emblematic of the show's lure.