Harlem's 16th annual Oliver Hardy Festival this year will have just a little more sparkle than the rest.
Dr. Bob Wilson, a history professor at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, admires the cut crystal pineapple signifying the local chapter will be host of the Sons of the Desert Convention in 2006.
Photo by Valerie Rowell
The added shine will be from a cut crystal pineapple - a symbol that now joins small-town Harlem with a long list of big cities worldwide as the next host of the Sons of the Desert Convention in 2006, which attracts Laurel and Hardy fans from all over the world.
Linda Caldwell, Grand Vizier of Harlem's Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy appreciation society, called the Berth Marks Tent, said landing the convention is the icing on the cake for the city's annual Oliver Hardy festival in October.
"It's going to be just a blast," she said. "I think we are going to have more people, the people from out of town who are with the tents."
Past cities to land the Sons of the Desert convention have included Las Vegas, Nev., Nashville, Tenn. and New York City. Columbus, Ohio, hosted the convention this summer. As part of a tradition taken from the 1933 Laurel and Hardy movie Sons of the Desert, Columbus passed on a crystal pineapple to Harlem, where Hardy was born in 1892.
The pineapple is now being housed at the city's Laurel and Hardy museum.
"I think ... we are really going to push it and put up a big sign and show off the pineapple," said Caldwell.
The Sons of the Desert group is named and modeled after the lodge that the early 1900s comedic duo joined and the Sons of the Desert movie.
Caldwell, who also serves on a board at the Laurel and Hardy Museum of Harlem, and Denise Carter, tent grand shiek for the Berth Marks, presented their bid to host the next convention at this year's event in Columbus.
The Berth Marks won the bid against Bridgeport, Conn., by an overwhelming vote by those at the July 14-16 convention.
"It is definitely a huge accomplishment for the Berth Marks tent, no doubt about it," said Harlem Mayor Scott Dean, who also is a member of Harlem's appreciation tent.
Landing the convention was like winning the lottery for some.
"I wish you could have heard us scream when they announced our name," Caldwell said.
And it was the presentation of a five-day itinerary of Laurel and Hardy movie-themed activities that convention officials said earned Harlem's tent the bid to host the first convention in Georgia.
"I think the presentation that the ladies made showed that we were welcome in Georgia and they were looking forward to having us there," said Bob Satterfield, chairman of the convention's governing Grand Council. "It's about time to have one in Oliver Hardy's hometown."
Kathy Ham, the vice shiek of Harlem's appreciation tent and coordinator of the city's Oct. 2 festival, said she expects more tent members will attend a festival welcome party on Oct. 1 and a Berth Marks meeting on Oct. 2 following the festival.
The convention pineapple is expected to be a main attraction at the annual festival, which attracts as many as 35,000 people to the rural town of nearly 2,200 people.
"Once the news really gets out, I am really expecting in 2006, expecting quite a crowd (to the convention)," Caldwell said.
Carter estimates the convention will bring in as many as 700 people, most of whom will stay at the Radisson Riverfront hotel - the convention hub. Carter and Ham have already put together a detailed itinerary of activities and trips themed after Laurel and Hardy movies.
"It's a good thing we have two years to get the organization down," Carter said. "Planning is the hard part. I think it will be worth the work."
The Berth Marks Tent is one of the nation's smaller tents, having 26 members compared to hundreds of members in larger ones around the country and in Europe. But with a track record of hosting its Oliver Hardy festival since 1989, Ham is confident the convention will bring even more notoriety to Harlem.
"It's a big undertaking," Ham said. "We are really looking forward to it. It's going to be an adventure."
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