Harlem and Augusta will soon be teeming with derby hats as fans of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy gather for the 15th biannual Sons of the Desert convention this week.
The Berth Marks Tent, Harlem's Laurel and Hardy appreciation society, was tapped to play host to the convention during the 2004 convention in Columbus, Ohio.
"It's been almost three years in the making," said Denise Carter, the grand sheik of the Berth Marks Tent, adding that it is great to finally see the convention coming to Hardy's birthplace.
Carter said she has already received more than 250 reservations from Laurel and Hardy enthusiasts worldwide for the convention, slated for July 12-16.
The convention, named after the 1933 Laurel and Hardy film Sons of the Desert, is the largest worldwide to honor the early 1900s comedic duo. The Sons of the Desert Group is named and modeled after the lodge that the comedic pair joined in the movie.
Carter said Hardy's 1892 birthplace won the bid to hold the convention against Bridgeport, Conn., by an overwhelming vote by those in attendance in Columbus.
Those attending this year's convention have a week of Laurel and Hardy-theme events on their itineraries.
Events will begin before the convention, with two pre-convention trips Monday and Tuesday. The "Darn Tootin" Train Trip will take visitors to the Georgia Veterans State Park in Cordele, where they will board a train to Americus, then to Plains. The trip includes a Laurel and Hardy film festival and a tour of historic Plains, including a trip to former President Carter's home.
Tuesday's "A Haunting We Will Go" River Trip is to Savannah, Ga., and will include a historic tour of the city, exploring River Street shops, a river boat cruise and "ghost tour" of the city.
"We're really showing what Georgia is known for," Denise Carter said. "We're showcasing Georgia for them."
The daily events, based at the Augusta Marriott Hotel and Suites in downtown Augusta, will begin Wednesday with a cocktail mixer and opening ceremonies at the Modjeska theater.
Participants also may visit the dealers room and film room at the Marriott. The dealers room is for selling or trading Laurel and Hardy collectibles. The film room, which is open until midnight each night, is for viewing the pair's movies.
"That's really their passion, watching these Laurel and Hardy movies," Carter said. "Believe me, they will be in the film room until midnight."
Thursday brings a "Perfect Day" outing to the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame Botanical Gardens, a classic car roll-in, a putting contest and the "Battle of the Century" tribute - a pie fight.
"The whole grand lawn of the gardens will be roped off," Carter said, adding that the "battle" is open to the public. "If you are inside those ropes, you are fair game."
The Laurel and Hardy Murder Mystery Dinner Theater allows participation from audience members, who are encouraged to dress up as their favorite Laurel and Hardy character.
"They do dress up," Carter said. "They dress up normally during the banquets."
Attendees will be led to Harlem on Friday for a "Homecoming'' event to include a welcome by Mayor Scott Dean, a tour of the city's Laurel and Hardy museum, a parade to the former site of Hardy's childhood home, a banquet and luau.
"We hope that the publicity that Harlem will receive from the convention is going to make a great impact as far as bringing recognition to Harlem (as the birthplace of Oliver Hardy)," said Jean Dove, Harlem's city manager.
Saturday will see convention goers heading off on a "Way Out West" trip to Stone Mountain State Park.
At an awards ceremony and farewell brunch Sunday, a cut crystal pineapple - signifying the host of the next convention - will be passed to the city selected to hold the 2008 convention.
"It's sad to see it leaving," Carter said of the pineapple, which has been housed in the museum for the past two years.
The convention began in 1978. Carter said Detroit; Sacramento, Calif.; and Amsterdam, Holland, are bidding to hold the 2008 convention. All attendees will vote for the next convention host.
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