AUGUSTA, GA.- Busloads of European fans are pulling out of Atlanta’s huge airport this week heading near here to marvel at one of the world’s most famous golfers.
But it’s not Tiger Woods they’re coming to see. These tourists are bound for Harlem, a small town just outside Augusta, to see and touch the golf clubs swung by Oliver Hardy.
The rotund half of the comedy duo Laurel & Hardy was born in Harlem and this town of 2,057 people, 28 kilometres east of the Augusta National Golf Club, is today home to the world’s only Laurel & Hardy Museum.
Nancy Mulheron, curator of the small museum, doesn’t think Oliver Hardy ever attended The Masters, but he was one of Hollywood’s most prolific golfers up until his death in the summer of 1957 at age 65.
Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, W.C. Fields and Oliver Hardy were a regular foursome at the Lakeside Golf Course in Las Angeles.
His clubs are in the museum, but it’s not his love of golf that attracts thousands of visitors to the museum each year. Laurel & Hardy movies are still hugely popular in Europe and South America.
“There are organized tours in here from Europe each spring,” said Mulheron. “Cosmos Tours of Colorado sells escorted tours to Europeans and our museum is one of the attractions. The buses then go onto to Jekyll Island, Savannah, Charleston, Myrtle Beach and back to Atlanta.”
Oliver’s second cousin, James Lewis, was mayor of Harlem in 1989 when he decided his town should hold an annual festival saluting its famous son by showing many of the 105 movies made by Laurel & Hardy.
That weekend festival now attracts 40,000 visitors each fall to shop at the more than 250 arts & crafts booths lining the town’s main street. Hundreds attend dressed as Laurel Hardy look-a-likes.
“Fans and collectors started sending Laurel & Hardy memorabilia and artifacts to our town hall and over the years the stuff eventually filled the basement,” said Mulheron. “In 2002 the town bought the local post office and we created the Laurel & Hardy Museum. It’s been a huge boost to our town.”
You’ll know when you have arrived in Harlem on Highway 47, a few kilometers south off Interstate 20. A huge smiling Oliver Hardy will be looking down at you from atop the town’s 65-metre-high water tower. It’s the most dominant structure in town.
In the museum you can watch various Laurel & Hardy movies. Together they made 105 movies, but Hardy appeared in more than 400 movies. He appeared in Our Gang movies and was the Tin Man in a 1924 version of the Wizard of Oz.
He was a supporting actor until producer Hal Roach teamed him with British actor Stan Laurel for a comedy skit in 1924. The two actors made separate movies until Roach re-united them in 1926 as leads in a comedy.
There was no stopping them after that. Laurel wrote many of their comedy routines.
In the museum you can see the Laurel & Hardy Memorial Stamp, issued by the U.S. Post Office in 1991.
You can also have your photo taken with the comedy duo in a mock 1927 model A car. If you attend the 22nd annual Laurel & Hardy Festival on Oct. 2 in Harlem, you can be photographed with what appears to be the real thing. Dale Walter and Dennis Moriarity, both of Canton, Ohio are professional Laurel & Hardy look-a-likes who work for Disney Corp. They are in Harlem for a week during the festival.
More information is available at www.harlemga.org. ( This article was published by the Toronto Star in