Oliver Hardy Festival means big business for Harlem

News 12 at 11 o'clock / Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012

HARLEM, Ga. -- "Now Channel 12, is that in color? I wonder if they're in high definition. Hi definition? Oh, hi definition," Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel impersonators joked.

It's a festival honoring two iconic names of comedy who began in the silent film era, but it's not all fun and games.

"We draw people from all over and it seems to get bigger and bigger each year," said Harlem City Manager Jason Rizner.

That means big money for little Harlem, Ga.

On a normal day, the population of this town is around 2,700 people, but for one day a year, that number swells tenfold.

"We estimate the crowd to be anywhere from 30 to 40,000 every year. For a little ole town like Harlem, that's a real big benefit," said Festival Committee Chairman and City Councilman John Thigpen.

The festival is all to honor Hardy and Laurel.

Harlem is the birthplace of Hardy and home to the only museum in the United States.

"It draws a lot of people here that wouldn't normally come to Harlem, and we think we have something special here. It's a good chance to show the town off," Rizner said.

There are a few familiar faces, however, like the two guys who travel from Canton, Ohio, to walk the festival streets of Harlem dressed up like Hardy and Oliver.

It's their 19th year playing the duo. Dale E. Walter Sr. plays Hardy and Dennis Moriarty plays Laurel.

"We can drive down here, but to go to the other museums we have to swim a lot," they said.

Another couple traveled 1,100 miles from Canada to be here.

"They have a museum in Overston, where he was born, but they just unfortunately don't have a parade like this," said big fans Bryan and Shirley Johnston.

All the festival's profits go to the town's main attractio-- the Laurel & Hardy Museum.

Between the vendors and the visitors, the money is coming in.

"Probably anywhere from $18,000 to 20,000. It funds the museum. Our museum runs by volunteers, and there are a lot of people in this city devoted to making this museum work," Thigpen said.

While this annual festival is nice, city leaders hope it may bring people to Harlem for a more permanent stay.

"Hopefully people will want to move here and live here," Thigpen said.

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