The first Saturday of October in the small town of Harlem, GA outside of Augusta, people show up in droves to celebrate the work of Oliver Hardy, one half of the famous Laurel and Hardy comedy duo. To be more accurate, a handful of die hard Laurel and Hardy fans show up, and the rest of the drove is made up of locals that heard there would be funnel cake.
Harlem, GA is a typical small southern town of around 2500 people, except that they have Oliver Hardy on their water tower.
Oliver Hardy was born in Harlem in 1892 and it would seem not much else has happened since.
I sat on the steps of the Harlem Baptist Church waiting for the 10 o’clock parade to kick off the festival and attempting to give directions to my friend, Chelsea, when the woman next to me leaned over and said, “I don’t mean to eavesdrop, but tell her you’re at the red light. She can’t miss it.” That should give an indication of the size of this town.
The parade began at 10am appropriately enough with a couple of old cars filled with men dressed as Laurel and Hardy.
That’s where the parade stopped making sense. After this any mention of Laurel and Hardy was replaced by girl scout troops, volleyball teams, the high school band, local merchants, and what I assume to be everyone in a 20 mile radius with a car. A few vintage and collector cars, mostly from the wrong time period, but not something you’d be completely shocked to see in a parade.
This car was made the year Oliver Hardy died. I suppose it could be considered loose themeing.
This car however, seems to be an 80s or 90-something Oldsmobile.
This begs that age old question, when is it a parade and when is it just traffic? The only answer I could find was that during the former it’s appropriate to let children run in the street. The parade was however, a great chance for local merchants to advertise their businesses to a crowd. Including my personal favorite…
I’m not sure what they do, but if subject verb agreement is not your thing and you want at least 1/10 of the job done, you seen it here first.
This parade and a quick glance around the crowd made me realize that this was not a strictly Oliver Hardy Festival, but more akin to any small town’s fall festival, with occasional Laurel and Hardy undertones. This was a bit disappointing, but at the same time I was relieved that the concerns I had about the half-assedness of my costume were largely unfounded.
We took a tip from a local (the one red light lady from the church) and left for lunch after the parade. She was right, when we came back it was much less crowded. The street was packed with booths full of jewelry, baked goods, and all the camouflage handbags one could desire. There was a food court full of stands selling funnel cakes and roasted nuts, but there was still surprisingly little mention of Oliver Hardy. There were, of course, nods to him about town, his face is on the water tower and several murals, but to the causal observer, this could easily have been any street festival anywhere in the country.
Then we found the museum.
This is what separated the true fans from the funnel cake hungry masses. Inside there was every manner of Laurel and Hardy memorabilia imaginable, from the adorable to the grotesque.
This was the place to be for Laurel and Hardy photo-ops
They even had professional Laurel and Hardy impersonators (yes, apparently that’s a real thing) standing by to answer questions and pose for pictures
There was even a theatre in the back of the museum continuously showing Laurel and Hardy films, and not just dvds, there was a seat in the back reserved for the projectionist.
While the festival itself was not as colorful as I had hoped, the museum more than made of for it. And the good news it the museum is open year round, not just during the festival. So, if your ever near Harlem that is definitely worth a stop.
Whether the towns people know it or not, the spirit of Laurel and Hardy is alive and well in Harlem, GA.