MOUNT AIRY, N.C. — It’s the most iconic collection of "The Andy Griffith Show" characters in the world.
“I been all over. I just got out!” tribute artist Ken Junkin said smiling, dressed up as the character Otis.
What You Need To Know
Mayberry Days returned to Mount Airy this week
Ken Junkin has been coming to the festival for 30 years
The only festival he missed was the very first for an Alabama-Georgia football game — he's a big fan of the Crimson Tide
Junkin received the "You're the Cat's" award this year
Junkin has been coming to Mount Airy for the Mayberry Days festival for 30 years. There’s one particular thing that keeps him coming back.
“All the fans. They are so unique, and they’re individuals, and they love the show,” Junkin said while signing autographs. “They’re so excited about being part of Mayberry.”
He came all the way from Gordo, Alabama, to celebrate the show and its connection to Mount Airy, Griffith’s hometown.
“This is a dream come true,” Junkin said. “When I was 12 years old, if you would have told me I would be doing this as an adult, I’d have died of excitement before my first event.”
He’s one of a few hundred people who come from all over the country to the celebration. In fact, the organizers did a quick poll Friday morning to see where everyone was from. Over 90% were from out of town.
“I really think they want to see the real Mayberry, and they’re so intrigued, they love the show,” Junkin said. “It’s become part of their lives.”
To outsiders, it may seem odd to celebrate a show that ended more than 50 years ago. But the small-town culture the fictional Mayberry represents isn’t really fictional.
It’s a reminder of the intimacy this community embodies.
“Small-town America is like, almost all of them, it’s one big happy family,” Junkin said. “You know everybody’s secrets.”
In the small city of Mount Airy, it’s no secret Junkin is a bit of an icon. This year, the Surry County Arts Council gave him the annual “You’re the Cat’s” award for his contributions to the festival over the years.
“A deserving person who really epitomizes all the good things about Mayberry,” Surry County Arts Council Executive Director Tanya Jones said in a speech with tears in her eyes.
“I do not know of another award on this Earth I would rather have,” Junkin said. “I can’t explain what it means, but it was very emotional, I’ll tell you that. I got weak-kneed. It was special of the special.”
Mayberry Days runs through Sunday, Sept. 26.