June 01--Mount Airy, like most any small town, has a somewhat checkered history with stories of murder, mayhem, and moonshine, stories that caused Mount Airy to be known to many in the past as Little Chicago. Some of those tales will come to light in the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History's new walking tours -- The Darker Side of Mayberry.
The tours will be held every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m., through October, although the time could change as need arises, Museum Director Matt Edwards added. "We wanted to establish a daytime tours for locals and out-of-town visitors, to go with our Friday and Saturday evening ghost tours," Edwards shared.
Edwards shared that the idea began when the museum was working on the ghost tours, and came across a few "interesting" stories that did not fit in with the ghost tour theme, so they hung on to the tales for a possible future tour. "The stories were kind of dark in nature, such as true crime stories, but not ghostly in any sense of the imagination. We squirrelled them away in our memory banks."
The museum also teamed up with local author Donna Smith, whose book "Murder in Mayberry" inspired many of the stories shared on the tour. Edwards said Smith did a "ton of archival research" for the true stories in the book, so Edwards and Smith worked together to compile stories for the tour. Local resident Mark Brown's "flair for the dramatic and scripting" came in handy, Edwards said, and Brown developed the script for the tour. Brown also wrote the script for the museum's ghost tours.
"This is a great way to explore a bit of the darker side of this community's past," Edwards remarked. "We kicked around the name Little Chicago Tours for a while, but decided against it. A lot of folks don't' realize Mount Airy was known as Little Chicago in the past, but other communities also claim to have been known by that moniker. It was a fairly common name for communities where unsavory activities once happened."
Edward also shared that Mount Airy was on the "direct transit line for illicit moonshine and illegal alcohol activity moving in and out of the region" during the days of prohibition, which will be discussed on the part of the tour.
"We have a lot of really interesting stories on the tour. A lot of folks don't realize that Mount Airy is home to the second mail bombing in the United States, so that will be on the darker side tours. Small towns often have big secrets, and this kind of brings some of those back to the surface. We don't want to disparage the community, since we've moved past that darker period in our history, but this is an opportunity to look back and recognize there is more to this community in the past than America's hometown. We've done a great job over the past four or five decades in transforming Mount Airy into America's hometown."
Edwards said the tour guides are the same guides used for the ghost tours, but they are staggered, so if someone goes on a Darker Side of Mayberry tour on Saturday afternoon, the ghost tour guide for the evening will be different.
The tours are not scary or grotesque, Edwards shared, although some of the stories do deal with true crime events like murders, so it is up to parents and the maturity of the child for parents interested in bringing their children on the tour. Several of the stories shared on the tour tie in with items in the upcoming Memories on Main exhibit, which opens at the museum in mid-June.
The tour lasts about 90 minutes, and it is a walking tour, covering about a quarter of a mile. The first tours take place this weekend.
Donna Smith's "Murder in Mayberry" book is available for sale at the museum's gift shop as well as multiple other locations in downtown Mount Airy.
The museum will be open for extended hours this summer, Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. Tickets cost $11 per person and are available at the museum or online at www.darkersideofmayberry.com or www.littlechicagotours.com. Tickets may also be purchased at the door, prior to the tours, as room allows.
For more information about Darker Side of Mayberry Tours or the ghost tours, call the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History at 786-4478.
Reach Jessica Johnson 719-1933 and on Twitter @MountAiryJess.
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