A blink-and-you'll-miss-it town in rural east Georgia is the last place you'd expect to find the country's only museum dedicated to the classic comedy duo Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.
But anyone driving along Interstate 20 near the S.C. line can't miss the big brown sign pointing to the museum in Harlem, a sleepy hamlet of 1,800 founded 140 years ago along the now-defunct Georgia Railroad line.
Hardy's mustachioed face is everywhere, from the water tower overhead to the sign welcoming visitors on the outskirts of town. Ollie's Laundry stands in place of the two-story house where the rotund comedian was born in 1892 just off the town's main drag.
On Saturday, Harlem will balloon to more than 20 times its size when 40,000 people arrive for the annual Oliver Hardy Festival, created two decades ago to raise money for the community. When it began in 1988, just a handful of booths were set up in Harlem's small downtown. Now the event draws 350 vendors and turns away dozens of others because there just isn't room.
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The festival – with its Laurel and Hardy look-alike contests, hourlong parade and rows of country fair-style tents – brings in about $20,000 annually. Most of that goes back to help the museum operate, said city councilwoman Robin Root.
The headquarters is the two-room museum in the town's old post office, which opened in 2002. The museum has quickly outgrown its small space, packed with hundreds of dolls, comic books, socks and posters donated by fans worldwide.
On one wall hangs a framed menu donated by a fan who had it signed by Laurel and Hardy during a 1942 train trip. On another is a collection of Laurel and Hardy movie posters in several languages.
The silent film actors were paired up in 1927, beginning a career that spanned three decades. They are considered one of the greatest comedy teams in film history and were one of just a few acts that made the transition from silent films to “talkies.”