OCTOBER 6, 2012

By: Gino Dercola
Any Old Port Tent – Oasis 212
Baltimore, Maryland

The 24th annual Oliver Hardy Festival was held on Saturday, October 6, 2012, in Harlem, Georgia, the birthplace of [Oliver] Norvell Hardy. This yearly event, which is always held on the first Saturday of October, is sponsored by the City of Harlem and the local Oliver Hardy Festival Committee, and continues to be one of the most successful festival events in the state of Georgia, drawing an estimated 35,000 people throughout the day. The theme for this year’s festival was “The Midnight Patrol” which was used (along with some artwork of Laurel and Hardy) on the festival T-shirts, program booklets, etc. Funds raised during the festival are used to support the running of the non-profit Laurel and Hardy Museum of Harlem, Georgia, the only L&H museum in the United States. The weekend festivities started with a reception held on the Friday evening before the festival, and this year it was held at the Glenn S. Phillips Memorial Park on South Hicks Street in Harlem. (South Hicks Street is the street on which the house once stood where Oliver Hardy was born.) The reception is held in honor of Sons of the Desert who are there to attend the festival. The outside setting was wonderful, and the weather just perfect. There were over 100 people at the reception, including about 17 Sons, local dignitaries and special guests (including a state senator). There was a brief ceremony, where it was announced that this year’s festival was being dedicated to look-a-like’s Dennis “Stan” Moriarty and Dale “Ollie” Walter, who have attended the past 19 festivals and are the Grand Marshalls in the festival parade. I’ve attended 18 festivals. Not many people have done more to promote Harlem, the museum and the festival than Dennis and Dale, and they clearly deserved this recognition. After that, we enjoyed a wonderful buffet prepared and served by local volunteers (we thank them for all that they did). Background music was also being played by a local artist. After enjoying the remainder of the reception, Sons walked over to the museum. Gary Russeth, Grand Sheik of the local Berth Marks Tent, hosted a tent meeting, including the usual toasts, singing “We are the Sons of the Desert” followed by some funny skits by Dennis and Dale, story-telling (funny stuff) by other Sons, viewing Pack Up Your Troubles, spending time just browsing through the museum to see the collectibles, and just enjoying the camaraderie that Sons feel together. It was a wonderful start to that weekend’s activities. All Sons thank the City of Harlem for their wonderful hospitality at this reception and the focus and sincerity they place on the Sons every year.

Saturday morning, the day of the festival, started off with bright sunshine, and a bustling downtown Harlem was lined with over 200 arts and crafts vendors and supporting activities. It remained sunny and warm all day, reaching into the mid-80’s by mid-afternoon. All of the downtown streets were blocked off to vehicular traffic (about six blocks on main street—Louisville Road--and one block on about six side streets) making the downtown a pedestrian mall. There were many people walking around by 8:30 a.m., with enormous crowds as the day went by. Two stages were set up in different locations downtown where continuous entertainment was provided—and there were many excellent musical acts to enjoy (country bands, rock bands, specialty acts, gospel groups, dancers, etc.). This included the featured, well-known band called Sol Junkie, from Atlanta, Georgia. This year, the festival committee tried a new way of providing food by centralizing the food vendors in two large food courts, one of each end of the festival area, and putting most of the arts and crafts vendors on just one side of the street, making more room for visitors to walk along the streets. The opening and welcoming ceremony for the festival was held at 9:30 a.m., hosted by the Harlem City Mayor, Bobbie Culpepper. One of the highlights of the festival is the parade which comes right down main street. It started at 10:00 a.m. and is one of my favorite parts of the festival. It’s really wonderful, and included marching bands, floats, majorettes, precision military groups, tons of classic cars in pristine condition (lots of Corvettes, old Chevy’s, Mustangs, Cadillac’s), many old and funny modified cars and trucks, mini cars, local groups on flatbed trucks, Model T’s, antique fire engine truck, modern fire trucks with their emergency horns occasionally blaring, many motorcycles of various shapes and sizes, and men in Confederate uniforms with rifles that they would stop and shoot off into the air occasionally. It lasted about 40 minutes and was really so much fun to see. There was a L&H look-a-like contest on one of the stages in the afternoon. There was a piece of paper with a b&w line drawing of L&H that kids could pick up and color and submit to be judged to win prizes. For kids, there was much to keep them entertained, including a small carnival with rides and slides, pony rides, wall-climbing adventure, face painting, etc. Of course, one of the main attractions all day was the people visiting the L&H museum—there were many, many people coming and going all day. They genuinely seemed to enjoy looking around at the items in the museum, taking photos, asking questions about the Boys, and visiting Babe’s Bijou in the back room to view L&H movies. The movies were shown continuously from 11:00 a.m. until about 4:30 p.m., handled by Dan Lail using his own, original L&H films. This was Dan’s 4th year of doing this, and he does an excellent job. Before many of the movies began, I gave the visitors a quick overview of L&H’s background and their work together. The visitors just LOVED watching the films…the laughter was LOUD and often, and the film room was mostly packed all day—a very rewarding experience to see. Finally, after a truly wonderful day, the festival was over at 5:00 p.m.

At 6:00 p.m., about 17 Sons met at Gary and Jean Russeth’s home to have a wonderful dinner prepared by Jean Russeth and Sheran Rioux (of Florida). It was time to relax, wind down and enjoy being with fellow Sons. The meal and gathering took place in Gary and Jean’s Ollie Also and Stanie Too Fine Mess Car Museum building, just behind their home. The Sons stayed until late that evening and, boy, did we have a lot of fun, teasing, recalling stories and jokes, and Dale and Dennis doing some of their routines and getting some of us involved (that was hilarious). All-in-all, it was the final touch to a really wonderful weekend for Sons. Next year is a big event for Harlem: the 25th anniversary festival. The city has already begun to think about doing a lot of special things to commemorate this during the festival weekend. I know that a number of Sons are already contemplating attending this event. The City of Harlem is fun to visit and its people are friendly and very supportive of the museum and visiting Sons.