Harlem celebrates Oliver Hardy

Guests came from 30 states, Britain

Posted: Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The city of Harlem laid out the welcome mat Saturday for tens of thousands of guests during the city's 19th annual Oliver Hardy Festival.

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The hamlet of about 2,000 people swelled to more than 37,000, city officials said, with many coming from more than 30 states and Great Britain.

The festival pays tribute to Hardy, Harlem's famous native son, and his comic sidekick, Stan Laurel. Hardy was born in the city in 1892, and together the pair made more than 100 films.

The festival featured a parade, screenings of classic Laurel and Hardy films and about 350 arts, crafts and food vendors. Marching bands from area high schools played during the parade, and Boy Scouts and little beauty queens on floats threw candy to the crowd.

Mayor Scott Dean said the crowd stayed long after the morning parade and well into the late afternoon. Dean said the festival shows the world how the community works together.

"It's just amazing that something we've found, where we have our niche in the world, (has given us) a reason to showcase the town, basically, globally," he said.

Birmingham, England residents Martin and Julie Higgins returned to Harlem Saturday for their second festival, after attending their first 17 years ago.

"We've watched their films dozens of times and it still makes us laugh," Mrs. Higgins said, adding they brought their three children to experience the festival.

Parade Grand Marshals and Laurel and Hardy impersonators Dennis Moriarty and Dale Walter, Sr., said they were pleased to be "home" for their 14th festival.

"(The people of Harlem) are sitting on a treasure chest of information, and they open the lid (each festival) so you can peek in," Moriarty said.

Saturday's festival was a special one for Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Greg Preast, and not just because it was his first. Three weeks ago, while stationed in Iraq, Preast was elected Grand Sheik of Harlem's Berth Marks Tent of the Sons of the Desert, an international group devoted to Laurel and Hardy.

A lifelong fan, the Grovetown resident said he was unaware of Harlem's connection to Hardy until he stumbled across the city's Laurel and Hardy Museum.

"(I) always loved Laurel and Hardy but never saw a full feature until I moved here," he said.

As Grand Sheik, Preast said he will try to energize area fans of Laurel and Hardy and help continue efforts to keep interest in them alive.

"Good humor never goes out of style," he said.

Photo by J. Scott Trubey

Harlem High School students Shawn Newman (left) and Marshall Frank, get a surprise spray of water in the face Saturday from a Thomson Shriner's Club float.



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