Almost 14 years of quiet work is close to bearing fruit for Christian Activities publisher Kathryn Darden. Around the turn of the century, Darden launched a campaign to bring attention to the historic old Coca Cola sign on the side of a building in Mt. Airy. Inspired by her brother Mike’s love of all things Coca Cola, the Darden siblings had traveled to see other restored Coca Cola signs around the country. This led to Darden’s strong belief the Mt. Airy Coca Cola sign should be restored before it faded into obscurity.
“These old ‘ghost signs’ as they are sometimes called are a colorful and fun part of our nation’s history,” Darden states. “They are free attractions families can enjoy together as they visit new places.”
Darden began mentioning the sign as she visited businesses in the community around 2001, trying to raise awareness in Mt. Airy about the historic sign. The next year, she brought the sign to the attention of several of the small town’s tourism organizations as well as local business including the Coca Cola bottling plant, asking what could be done to save the historic old sign. Many business owners in the Mt. Airy community told her they had never noticed the sign before she pointed it out to them.
In 2003 and 2004 Darden sent out emails to many of the Mt. Airy tourism organizations and businesses asking them to consider helping getting the word out about the historic sign that was slowly disappearing as time and the elements took their toll. She included photos of restored signs that had become local tourist attractions in other cities. Several town leaders replied positively.
“I really love this idea! I like the idea that you are already promoting the antique Coca Cola sign on Main Street in Mount Airy,” said Jessica M. Icenhour, Director of Tourism Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce. “It really is an authentic tourist attraction, and I would love to put it on my website at visitmayberry.com.”
Author of “Memories of Mayberry” Jewell Kutzer agreed saying, “Nothing quite so ‘home-town’ as Mayberry and Coke.”
“The Coca Cola mural on Main Street in Mount Airy is something that we have talked about but doesn’t seem to get much traction because no one has really taken the reins on the project,” commented David Bradley of the Mt. Airy Chamber.
To help give the project traction, a Yahoo Group was set up by Darden in 2004 to discuss the sign in hopes of generating enough interest to get the old sign restored some day at Mt. Airy’s Antique Coca Cola Sign and a MySpace page for the sign was created by Darden in 2006.
In 2005 Darden wrote the article Mt. Airy’s Antique Coca Cola Sign right before the annual Mayberry Days celebration to drum up interest in the sign for those planning to visit the town for the fall festival. By 2008 she had penned a poem about the sign which appeared in the “A Tribute to Mayberry” poetry compilation and she continued to talk to anyone who would listen about the old Coca Cola sign.
Finally in July 2014, nbcwashington.com reported in the article Coca-Cola Restoring “Ghost Murals” in Va., W. Va. that the Mt. Airy sign as scheduled for restoration along with several other old Coca Cola signs across the country.
“I spoke with the Coca Cola artist this week,” Mt. Airy area resident Barbara McMillian reported to the Mt. Airy’s Antique Coca Cola Sign group. “The are almost ready to begin work on the Coca Cola sign in Mt. Airy on the side of the Mayberry Country-Hair World building.”
“I could not be more happy about this,” says an enthusiastic Kathryn Darden. “My brother and I will have to make another trip to Mt. Airy to see the sign once it is restored. This will be a proud moment for Mt. Airy and for us.”