Mount Airy News

Donna Fargo itinerary for Mount Airy visit announced

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Fans will have several opportunities to interact with local celebrity Donna Fargo over the weekend.  The Grammy-winning country music/pop singer will serve as grand marshal Saturday in the Mount Airy Christmas Parade, which kicks off at 9 a.m. After the parade travels up Main Street and concludes at the Southern end of the Main Street business district, Fargo will stop by the Earle Theatre for a brief noon appearance with Kelly Epperson of WPAQ.  The singer will next be whisked off to the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History for a meet-and-greet and autograph signing slated to begin about 12:30 p.m.  On Sunday, Nov. 27, a book signing will begin at Pages Book Store on Main Street at 2 p.m. until closing.  Representatives from the bookstore indicated that Fargo will be releasing a new book but did not provide any additional details.

“I think you will not find a famous person with more affinity for her fans than she has,” said Matt Edwards, museum director. “She loves her fans as much as they love her.”  Edwards noted that he grew up “functionally post-Donna Fargo,” and that his appreciation for Fargo was developed after he began work at the museum.  “I didn’t have a clue,” he said, but became familiar with Fargo’s historical significance while developing her exhibit at the museum.  “Working with her, she’s a great lady,” he said. “I cannot say enough good things.”

Fargo is best known for her music career, during which she released hits such as “The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.” in the 1970s.  But a lesser-known detail impressed Edwards as far as her historical contribution.  “She was the first woman to host her own TV variety show,” he said. “That’s pretty impressive. Everybody remembers Barbara Mandrell because her show ran for several years, but Donna’s show preceded that.”  The show, which was produced by the Osmond Brothers, ran for a year beginning in 1978 and ended so Fargo could address serious health concerns.  “It wasn’t because it wasn’t popular enough and it wasn’t because people didn’t love it,’ Edwards said. “She made the decision to step away.” 

Though the museum meet-and-greet is scheduled to continue until 5 p.m., the director said fans won’t be turned away.  “She will stay until everybody gets the opportunity to do so,” he said. “In many cases it’s really an old home feeling,” he said, a reunion of sorts for those who knew Fargo back in the day.  Edwards said, “Even if you aren’t one of those people, she treats you like you are.”

Fundraiser a success despite changes

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Even without the gaming included in past events, a fundraiser for the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History ended up being a successful event, says the museum’s director. While attendance was down, Matt Edwards said the museum staill raised more than $40,000 at its Casino Royale night, which saw some last-minute changes that Edwards worried would hinder the museum’s efforts at its largest fundraising event of the year. A little more than a week prior to the Casino Royale event, which took place on Sept. 17, Edwards received a phone call from a state agency warning him the gaming, which included roulette, black jack and craps, violated state law. Though the museum had held the event featuring such gambling games using fake money for a number of years prior, museum staff opted to make a last-minute change to the night’s entertainment. “I was really impressed with the band,” said Edwards of the Durham-based cover band Risse. “They drew a lot of compliments from the crowd, and I’m glad they were able to put together such a quality show on such short notice.”

When the gaming aspect of the event was scrapped, Edwards said he was concerned some supporters might be driven away. “It potentially could have been disastrous. We were very fortunate it went well,” explained Edwards. “We had very few people ask for refunds, and we also sold a few tickets as a result of the change.” Edwards noted attendance dropped from about 150 people in past years to 95 this year. Still, ticket sales for the draw-down were at an all-time high, and the silent auction proceeds were only $100 shy of the 2015 event. The $10,000 draw-down prize was split by five winners, said Edwards. “A few of them were generous enough to make full or partial donations of their winnings back to the museum,” explained Edwards. “We don’t budget for that, but it’s always nice when it happens.” Edwards said the $40,500 raised is a “sizable hunk” of the museum’s $300,000 operating budget for the year.

Looking forward

Now that the dust has settled from the debacle over the evening’s events, Edwards and others are left to ponder what sort of unique entertainment the museum may offer at future fundraisers. The casino part of Casino Royale appears to be scrapped for good, pending a change in state law. “I’ve already started working with talent-booking agencies to explore other options,” said Edwards. “We lost our hook – the thing that made us unique and different.” Edwards said he’s not sure in what direction the event will go in. At whatever conclusion he arrives, he hopes to offer something unique and different again next year.

Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.

Ghost tours continue to be major draw at museum

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Having attempted a wide assortment of downtown tour options, the downtown ghost tours offered by the Mount Airy Regional Museum of History still remain the most popular. According to Matt Edwards, executive director, the museum has tried several different types of downtown tours over the years, but none of the tours have received the fanfare and attendance as the original ghost tours that Mark Brown was instrumental in putting together. “Mark was really the perfect person to take charge of the program,” Edwards said.  Brown comes from a theatrical background and did the majority of the research and scripting of the tours to ensure local historical accuracy. “We were pleasantly surprised, there was a lot of success right when we started,” Brown said. Terri Ingalls served as the tour guide on the Friday night ghost tour, having started as a tour guide during the second year of the program. Throughout the tour, Ingalls carried a lantern and regaled the group with stories of Mount Airy’s past. Ingalls doesn’t refer to ghosts as ghosts, rather “permanent residents.” Two of the permanent residents that she spoke of were Edgard and Mary, both of which reside in the building that houses the Mount Airy Regional Museum of History. The Friday night tour attracted people from Ohio and Charlotte, with the people from Charlotte driving up specifically for the tour. Ingalls stressed the fact that the permanent residents of downtown Mount Airy are benevolent and have no ill will about them.

Edwards explained that the tours draw in roughly 1,000 participants during its season, which typically runs from Memorial day to the end of October, however this year the museum has decided to lengthen its season to the end of November due to the regular demand for the tours, as well as the generally mild November temperatures.  The museum offers a Downtown History and Architecture Walking Tour and the more popular Historic Downtown Mount Airy Ghost Tours on Fridays and Saturdays. Edwards explained that the Downtown History and Architecture Walking Tours are in fact “good tours,” but have failed to capture as wide of an interest base as the Historic Downtown Mount Airy Ghost Tours have. “We’ve been fortunate over the success of the ghost tour concept,” Edwards said. “Everyone that has been on them have loved them, but they haven’t had as large of turn outs as the ghost tours have,” Edwards said of the history and architecture tours. Edwards explained that the addition of the Downtown History and Architecture Walking Tours was made following urging from the tourism center to add such a event, and the museum wanted to duplicate the success of the ghost tours. The history and architecture tours can be customized to either focus on the residential or business districts. “The downtown walking tours is a great way to delve into the history of the town,” Edwards said. A tour that the museum tried out for a period of time, but ultimately decided to cease operation were guided tours by costume clad period characters.  “It was a great theory, but it just didn’t materialize,” Edwards said of the period character tours.

A new concept that the museum is working on and hopes to have up and running in the next six weeks are the addition of guided tour bus tours, in which a guide will step onto the bus and provide a tour of the town as the bus drives along.  “In addition to serving the tourism facet, we’re also a great resource to the local community,” Edwards said of the tours that the museum provides to local school groups.  When the tours initially launched, there was a core group of 13 stories that the guides would tell, but now offerings consist of 20 stories. Edwards explained that each tour is different and allows a lot of flexibility in terms of what stories the six tour guides that work for the museum tell.  The tours last for 90 minutes and spans roughly 0.3 miles.  The Historic Downtown Mount Airy Ghost Tours cost $13, whereas the Downtown History and Architecture Walking Tours cost $11.

Aila Boyd may be reached at 336-415-2210.

New museum programs afoot for summer

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The Mount Airy Museum of Regional History will kick off its summer season Memorial Day weekend with expanded hours, the return of the Ghost Tours and two new programs offering unique ways for local residents and visitors to engage with local history.  One new program will be a downtown history and architecture walking tour.  “It’s a great opportunity to learn about the evolution of architecture in this community,” said Matthew Edwards, museum director.  The tours will depart from the museum at 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Tickets for the approximately 90-minute tours cost $11 including tax and will be available for advance purchase at the museum and online.

The tour, currently clocked at about 3/4 of a mile, highlights architecture both in the downtown business district and nearby residential areas.  “We’re still tweaking the route,” Edwards said, referring to the early stages as “beta-testing.”   Tour guides have been training over the past several weeks, and a group from the visitors center will take the tour on Wednesday.  Combining both business and residential areas provides a way to tie in the stories of the buildings with the stories of the people who built them.  “Many people who built our historic district today lived within sight,” Edwards explained.  He gave the example of W.E. Merritt, the owner of a local brick yard who built the museum building and lived in a house on Main Street.  The tour also places the Mount Airy specific elements within a broader context.  “The architecture follows the trends happening throughout the south between the 1880s and 1920s, with a push towards modernization and urban renewal in the 50s and 60s that dramatically altered things,” the director said.  “Recently, there’s been a little more interest turning them back to their original aesthetic, which is not just happening here, it’s happening all over the country.”

Costumed guided tours offered

Museum visitors will have the option to take a guided tour led by a costumed character from the area’s history on Saturdays.  For $4 added to the admission fee, the 1.5 hour tours will depart from the museum’s front desk at 11, 1 and 3 p.m.  The guides, some of whom are trained actors, come armed with a “ton of stories,” each offering a different perspective on the exhibits and history.  “Everyone has their areas,” he said. “There’s one-and-a-half hours of personal narrative and interesting stories.”  “I think it’s going to be a neat little add on,” he said.  “I’m excited about it. You may get me one day,” the museum director said without disclosing which historical character he would portray.  Edwards noted that new programs reflect an ongoing effort to find creative ways to engage folks with history and diversify the non-profit organization’s revenue stream.  “My hope is it’s going to go really well,” he said. “You just never know until you try it.” 

Perennial favorites return

On the don’t knock it ‘till you try it note, Edwards admitted he was not an early supporter of the ghost tours.  “I’m happy to say I can be wrong,” he said, noting that more than 4,000 people have taken ghost tours since their inception in 2011.  “It’s been a strong and consistent revenue stream for us, and a tremendous asset to the museum.”  The ghost tours will also resume Memorial Day weekend, as the website states, “dearly” departing from the museum at 8 p.m. each Friday and Saturday. Tickets cost $13 and can be purchased in advance at  This year the tours will be capped at 2o people per tour. With tours in past years sometimes drawing up to 50 people who “may have been missing out on some of the experience at that point,” Edwards said, adding that if the smaller sized tours fill up, “we’ve booked additional tour guides to add tours.”  The director noted that the content of the ghost tours is continually evolving.  “We have more stories in our arsenal than you can fit into a given tour,” he said. “Each guide has their own little spin, and each time someone takes the tour they get something different.”  Beginning Memorial Day weekend the museum will be open seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.  For more information or to purchase tickets call 336-786-4478 or visit

Local Youth History Club Wins Big at State Competition

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RALEIGH — Mount Airy was well represented here over the weekend when a group of junior historians won several awards in a statewide competition.  The Tar Heel Junior Historian Association held its annual convention and contest on April 29 at the North Carolina Museum of History, drawing about 250 youth from about 90 chapters throughout the state.  Members of the local chapter, the Jesse Franklin Pioneers, earned a handful of first-place individual awards, one second-place individual and one group first place. 

“This is an amazing group,” said Glenda Edwards, club advisor. “They had an incredible interest in what they were learning.”  The group of about 25 youngsters in fourth through seventh grades had been developing projects for the past several months both as a group and individually, picking a project type from a number of different categories.  Sponsored by the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History and Chick-fil-A, the club meets weekly after school at the museum.  “It’s really one of our hallmark programs at the museum,” said Matthew Edwards, museum director.  “One of the really cool things about winning is that THSHA is the largest youth state history association in the country,” he said, adding that winning projects are placed on exhibit at the NC Museum of History.  “I think we have a really top-notch program,” he said. “This year’s team did a great job.”  Glenda Edwards said that while the association is all focused on state history, “we try to focus on local history.”  They participate in a variety of activities and field trips throughout the year, have ample opportunity to dig around the collection room at the local museum, with the projects and contest a culminating event.  Kinlee Reece, a Jones Intermediate fourth-grader who wrote an essay about the Autumn Leaves Festival, said learning about past club members’ projects and successes at the contest engaged her with the club.  “It wasn’t all about winning, but it gave me hope about winning,” said Reece. “Plus it seemed like pretty fun projects.”  Lily Morris, also in the fourth grade at Jones Intermediate School, agreed that the projects helped make history fun.  “In school you have to do exactly like the teacher says to do. We got to go free with ourselves, to put our own twist to it,” said Morris, who wrote an award-winning essay about African-American education.  Not having to worry about getting a grade, the historians said they focused more on the content of their projects.  “We worried about if it’s good enough for us,” Caroline Morris explained.

For the group project, the youngsters complied research about several historical families into a simulated special issue of Time Magazine titled “Mount Airy’s Founding Fathers,” featuring a photograph of James Henry Crossingham.  The article inside, by Emily Hoge and Hunter Stanish, details how Spencer’s Inc. was founded and relocated eventually in Mount Airy, and expanded to produce baby clothes.  “In fact, the overlapping neck of baby onesies today was invented and patented by James Crossingham Sr.,” the article states.  Glenda Edwards explained that fostering that kind of connection of between familiar sights around town with their history is one of the best parts of the club.  The advisor also noted that many of the students had a personal connection to their project.  Her daughter, Olivia Edwards, a seventh-grader in her third year as a junior historian, researched military medals found in her grandparents’ house.  “She just wanted to know more about him because he was killed in World War II,” Glenda Edwards said.  Another student, Max Filcher, researched a butter churn used by his grandmother on a daily basis.  Ava Utt’s project focused on a scale her great-grandmother used to weigh babies as a nurse at Martin Memorial working for Dr. E.C. Ashby.  “All these things had a personal family connection,” Glenda Edwards said. “They were able to take that and put that into this larger community going on at the time.”  The winners of each category are kept secret until announced at the convention.  When Lily Morris heard her name, “I thought I was going to fall down on stage my legs were so wobbly.” Caroline Morris had a similar experience.  “My whole body was kind of shaking.”

The winners:

Artifact Search Contest:

• Ava Utt, Olivia Edwards and Max Flinchum.


• Jesse Franklin Pioneers, 1st place, elementary group.

• Cora Branch, 1st place, elementary individual.


• Max Oakley, 1st place, houses.


• Lily Morris, 1st place, African American Historical, elementary

• Madison Lawson, 1st place, American Revolution Historical, intermediate

• Kinlee Reece, 2nd place, THJH Historical, elementary

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