A cool fall breeze and sunny skies greeted thousands of spectators Saturday during Harlem's 18th annual Oliver Hardy Festival.
The city's normally quiet streets were bustling with people in time for the 10 a.m. main parade through town. The crowd didn't dwindle until after 4 p.m., Harlem Mayor Scott Dean said.
City officials estimated the crowd at between 35,000 and 40,000 people, with a peak immediately after the parade.
The festival began in 1989 as a way for Harlem to honor Hardy, its most famous son, and his comic sidekick Stan Laurel. Hardy moved from the city with his mother about six months after his birth in 1892.
Laurel impersonator Dennis Moriarty, who is a grand marshal of the festival with Dale Walter Sr., a Hardy double, credited the city of Harlem for preserving the memory of the real Laurel and Hardy.
"We believe in the people of Harlem, Ga., because they are serious about keeping Laurel and Hardy alive in America," Moriarty said.
Moriarty, a grand marshal with Walter for the 13th time, said the comic duo's moral character and traits of teamwork and selflessness in show business by helping each other to attain fame were as endearing as their comedy.
"When you want to pick an idol, someone to emulate, who better as a performer to emulate," he said of Laurel and Hardy.
As the parade wound through the city's streets, children scurried along picking up candy tossed by automobile clubs, Scout troops and political candidates. Organizers switched the parade route back to its original course from Harlem Middle School, turning east on Gordon Highway and north on North Louisville Street, before returning to the school.
Grovetown resident Genesis Rodgers brought her 9-year-old daughter Genoa to their second Oliver Hardy Festival.
"We like to see the different cars, the floats, and (Genoa) likes the candy and the clowns," she said.
The festival featured three stages with live music, screenings of classic Laurel and Hardy films and about 350 arts, crafts and food vendors.
Dean said the festival was a good day for vendors.
"People were spending money today; everyone was successful. We've really had a big day," he said.
Harold Easley, co-owner of The Mary Beth Collection antiques on North Louisville Street, said business was strong Saturday.
"Some people came in yesterday because they knew it was going to be busy," he said.
While Laurel and Hardy might have been known as hams on the big screen, Walter and Moriarty were HAMs during the festival. For the second time in as many years, the grand marshals broadcast live via a handheld amateur radio during the parade and festival.
Moriarty said he got the idea to broadcast via shortwave radio from the 1930 Laurel and Hardy short film Hog Wild, in which Stan and Ollie encounter one mishap after another while installing a radio antenna atop a roof.
Dean Maples, the secretary of the Columbia County Amateur Radio Club, said his group obtained a special broadcast permit from the Federal Communications Commission and made contact with operators as far away as Ottawa, Canada.
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