By LARRY VAUGHT
After Frances Bavier’s death in 1989, there was an auction to sell many of the items that belonged to the woman who played “Aunt Bee” on the Andy Griffith Show.
On somewhat of a whim, Alma Venable went to the auction with her husband. They owned the Mayberry Motor Inn, but they were at the auction because Venable was from Mt. Airy, N.C., the town the city of Mayberry in the TV show was patterned after.
Venable bought some items. Actually, she bought a lot of times and brought them back to Mt. Airy. Now they are proudly on display in the Aunt Bee Room at the inn that is located on The Andy Griffith Parkway on about 10 acres at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Griffith grew up in Mt. Airy and Venable knew his mother well.
“His mother was a down to earth woman. She was a very sophisticated lady and she loved Andy,” Venable said. “Once he got to be a big star she told me that he would send a little money to her every year but that she would just put it in the bank because she worried he might need it.”
Venable and her three grandsons run the hotel now that her husband has passed away. You will find a Mayberry squad car at the inn along with Emmett’s pickup truck. She purchased both over 20 years ago and both still run perfectly. One guest was even trying to buy the truck during my visit.
Once you go into the office you see plenty of Andy Griffith memorabilia but also memorabilia from Donna Fargo, another former star from Mt. Airy. There’s also a Thelma Lou’s trail at the Mayberry Motor Inn named in honor of one of the show’s former stars that now lives in Mt. Airy and is a person Venable admires and appreciates.
For Mayberry Days the last weekend in September, the same guests come back to stay so often that many have plaques in the room with their names. All 27 rooms are always full.
“They come every year and stay in the same room. I can tell you already who will be here next year for Mayberry Days and most of them just come to relax and visit and don’t even go downtown,” Venable, age 79, said.
Venable for years has played the role of Aunt Bee. She bears a remarkable resemblance to the TV actress.
“I love talking to people and being able to meet people,” she said. “I think being compared to Aunt Bee is quite a compliment. I have had fun with it. Anything you want to call me, I will answer to. But I can guarantee you I had no idea when I went to that auction all those years ago that it would turn into something like this.”
I can’t begin to describe all the items in the Aunt Bee room. However, one thing jumped out at me thanks to her grandson, Mikel Snow. It’s a contract the actress had in the early 1960’s showing her weekly salary was $2,500.
That’s a lot more than I thought it would be and just one of many reasons time spent in the Aunt Bee Room or with Venable is well worth it for any Andy Griffith Show fan.
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Mayberry Motor Inn is located at 501 N. Andy Griffith Parkway in Mt. Airy. Call 336-786-4109 or go to www.mayberrymotorinn.com for more information.