A new face in Mayberry has the whole town afraid and angry. While Andy is helping the barber, Floyd, trim Barney’s sideburns a man named Ed Sawyer gets off the bus and comes into the barbershop to say “hi.” He has them at a disadvantage, though, because Ed knows who everyone is but no one knows a thing about him. They follow Ed to the hotel, where he greets the clerk Jason and asks for a room he knows has been recently painted. Along the way Ed stops to coo at baby twins, who he can tell apart to their mother’s amazement.
Ed’s encyclopedic knowledge of a town he’s never been to before and generally eccentric tendencies rub the whole town the wrong way and they pressure Andy to arrest him. He refuses because Ed hasn’t committed any crimes, even though his deputy is convinced that the newcomer is a “foreign spy.” Ed continues to try to set down roots in his new hometown, attempting to purchase a gas station that is for sale and to woo Lucy Matthews, who he is madly in love with despite having never seen her. Andy finally asks Ed about his odd behavior. He reveals that in the Army he befriended a Mayberry native who told him all about the town. Ed became so enamored with the charming hamlet we all know and love that he got his own subscription to the local newspaper and studied it diligently, learning everything he could about his destination. When he found out that the gas station was for sale he made his move and tried to blend in.
Shortly after Ed leaves Andy’s office he is confronted by an angry mob, who yell that he should go back “where he come from.” Andy steps in and defends Ed from Lucy’s brother Bill, who wants to fight him. Andy gives the following speech.
You’re all trying to run this boy out of town. Now, what’s his big crime? What’s this boy done to make all of you so mad at him? Nothing. Not nary a thing. He just picked Mayberry to be his hometown is all. Picked it right out. And how come he knows so much about everybody? He’s been taking our hometown paper by mail. Been reading and studying up on everybody and then he decided he wanted to come here and live, fit in, and act like one of you. His only crime was he tried to fit in a little too fast. Got overanxious about it. Made some of you feel suspicious. Made some of you feel foolish. Scared some of you. But out of all the towns he picked Mayberry to be his hometown. It looks like to me you’d be proud to have a fella who thinks so much of you to want to come settle down and live amongst you. [Ed says “Andy, forget it.”] I don’t blame you. I don’t blame you nary a bit for wanting to forget it. Some fellas pick the wrong woman. I reckon you picked the wrong town. I wouldn’t blame you nary a bit if you left here and never set one foot in here again and the way I feel right now, I’ve a great mind to go with you.
After Andy’s speech the tide turns. Lucy says she’d like for Ed to call on her, the gas station owner George agrees to the sale, and Jason invites him to stay at the hotel for many months to come. Having finally been embraced by the town Ed stops in to Floyd’s barber shop for a proper haircut as a full-fledged Mayberry citizen.
- Ed Sawyer does not appear on the show again.
- Ellie’s move to Mayberry is bumpy but a little easier than Ed’s. I suppose in Mayberry an uncle qualifies as a “bona fide relationship.”
- This is only the first of many appearances by Floyd Lawson, the barber. He is played by Walter Baldwin for this episode alone. He will soon be replaced by Howard McNear.
- This is the last of four episodes written by Arthur Strander, who also wrote the back door pilot episode of Make Room for Daddy, “Danny Meets Andy Griffith.”
The Moral of the Story
Several episodes of The Andy Griffith Show in just the first half of the first season are about fear. Among them “Stranger in Town” is the most poignant and relevant parable of the dangers of fear, specifically of outsiders. An unknown quantity steps off the bus and all it takes is a little odd behavior to work up the citizens into a fury. They are terrified and outraged because this outsider has the gall to consider himself one of them, to think he would be welcome in a place famous for its hospitality. For years he has done nothing but dream of building a new life in this Promised Land but when he arrives he is told he doesn’t belong. Sound familiar?
I imagine the conversation surrounding immigration was quite different than it is now but this episode almost feels like it’s intended as a parable on the topic in the 21st century. It is especially relevant since President Donald Trump has apparently declared war on immigrants. A centerpiece of his agenda is limiting immigration from Mexico and the Middle East, specifically Muslim-majority countries. In his first week in office he signed an executive order banning immigration from Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, and Iraq for 90 days. That order was quickly blocked by a judge in Seattle. A revised ban was put into place in March, with some small changes indcluding the removal of Iran from the list. That ban was also quickly blocked. In late June the Supreme Court agreed to a weakened version of the ban and it was enacted on June 29.
Meanwhile, Donald has had no difficulty whatsoever in his mission to deport Mexican immigrants, as we’ve already discussed. Immigration and Customs Enforcement saw a 40% increase in arrests just in Donald’s first four months as President. Almost 11,000 of those who have been arrested committed no crime other than immigrating without the requisite documentation. Donald also plans to build a wall along the Mexico-U.S. border but such an ambitious project will obviously take more time.
Donald himself, of course, is a product of immigrants. His grandfather, Friedrich Trump, moved to the U.S. from Germany, then moved back to Germany, where he was deported back to the U.S. for failure to serve in the military (that part must run in the family). I point this out not call Donald a hypocrite but to restate what apparently can’t be stated enough, that the United States is a nation of immigrants. Immigration is at the very heart of our collective narrative. We celebrate Christopher Columbus every year purely because he was the first person from a certain part of the world to come to America (even though we probably shouldn’t). One of our most important holidays is Thanksgiving, when we celebrate the Pilgrims who traveled here from England to escape religious persecution and the indigenous people who welcomed them (even though they probably shouldn’t have). We gloss over the problems with these historical events for one simple reason, nothing is more American than coming to America.
Donald claims that his actions against immigrants are intended to protect Americans but that is nonsense. He claims that Muslim immigrants will terrorize but that is wildly unlikely. Terrorism is a real threat but it is so rarely committed by Muslims in America that it’s almost a statistical impossibility. He says that Mexican immigrants tend to be rapists, but that is also a bold-faced lie; a claim so outrageous that the fact-checkers at the Washington Post hesitated to acknowledge it at all.
If immigrants don’t really pose that much of a threat, why are Donald and his supporters so afraid of them? Why are they so willing to accept the lies? Maybe because Mexicans talk funny and Muslims wear odd hats. Or because Mexicans work too hard and Muslims pray to God using another name. Maybe the problem isn’t the immigrants but spoiled, ungrateful children of immigrants (because nearly all Americans are descended from immigrants). After all, Ed Sawyer never hurt anyone; it was the town that was wrong. It was wrong at first, at least. The people of Mayberry came around in the end, once they learned the truth about Ed. Maybe, just maybe, there’s hope for Donald’s supporters as well, if they’re just willing to listen and learn about the people they’re so afraid of.