Grand Opening Day

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"I'm Mr. Hardy, and this is my good friend, Mr. Laurel."

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    July 15, 200, was a very special day for the City of Harlem, Georgia, and in many ways, a special day too for people all over the world.   The City officially held the Grand Opening of their new Laurel and Hardy Museum of Harlem, Georgia.  The museum honors the memory of the greatest comedy pair in history - Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.  Harlem is a fitting place for the Museum since it is the birthplace of Oliver Hardy.  This is also the first museum in the United States ever dedicated to Laurel and Hardy.

    The week before the Grand Opening was a crazy time, trying to put the finishing touches on the Museum.  Scott Dean, Harlem City Mayor Pro-Tem, and I (Robin Root, Harlem City Counsel) drove to Atlanta to pick up a computer donated to the Museum by Gary Evans.  Outdoor party tents were set up, which were kindly loaned to us by our neighbor city, Grovetown.  Landscaping was finally finished.  Laurel and Hardy (L&H) memorabilia displays were finally set up, handouts printed, the caterer briefed, and the Grand Opening agenda set.  We were finally ready for (and excited about) the day we all had anticipated for many, many months.

    At 8:00 a.m., we began to welcome to Harlem the "Sons of the Desert", the international fan club of L&H, who were coming from a convention in Nashville.  We held a warm reception and continental breakfast.   Everyone was asked to sign a poster board, which will be placed in the Museum, and were given hand-outs of the day's activities.  After everyone had a chance to stretch and fill themselves with delicious food, we gave a big welcome to all, and a huge thank you to all of the members of the Harlem Museum Committee for all of their hard work.   By the time we finished, it was about 9:30 a.m..  Then, everyone was free to walk through town and see the L&H key points of interest, utilizing a map we provided.   There were guests from at least six countries present, such as The Netherlands, England, Ireland, Canada, etc.

    At 10:00 a.m., the Ribbon Cutting ceremony was underway.  There were three television stations present along with the local newspaper to record the festivities and this historic moment.  Some of the local residents came out too to enjoy the event.  Everyone then found their way to the Museum where Scott Dean started with welcoming words.  The organization Woodmen of the World gave the Museum an American flag, which the Boy Scouts placed on the flagpole, and as the flag was raised, Mona Morris sang the National Anthem as the whole crowd joined in.  We also recited the Pledge of Allegiance.  It was WONDERFUL.  From there, the Museum building was officially dedicated to Eugene Clary by Bette Sargent.   Mr. Clary is the Museum's largest benefactor, having donated $25,ooo to assist the Museum.  State Senator Joey Brush read a letter of greetings from Georgia Governor Roy Barnes.  Then it was my turn:  I gave a brief history of how we got to this point with the Museum and thanked everyone for the hard work it took to get us here.   There were no relatives of "the Boys" present, so we asked the celebrity guests that came to please cut the ceremonial ribbon, as the L&H look-a-likes (Dale Walter and Dennis Moriarty) held it at both ends.  As the ribbon was cut, all applauded.  The celebrities were Jean Darling, Jerry Tucker Shantz, and Dorothy deBorba.  These celebrities appeared as child actors in L&H films, and also starred in the Our Gang comedies.  As Stan and Oliver (the look-a-likes) fumbled with the entrance door to the Museum, the cameras watched.  Oliver had to open the door because Stan couldn't figure out how to, and they both welcomed one and all into the Museum.  L&H movies were playing in the Museum theater, "Babe's Bijou".   Donations of L&H collectibles were offered in front of the cameras and placed on a donation table.

    The feed back and reception we received from everyone was absolutely fantastic, more than we could have ever  hoped for.  We received only glowing comments about the day's events and the Museum itself.  This made all of the months of hard work worth every minute.  We had many local volunteers who offered that famous "Southern Hospitality", helping to make sure everyone stayed comfortable, and handling any of the needs of the attendees.  In the rear of the Museum building on the lawn, we offered cookies, popcorn, soft drinks, and lemonade.   Also, we offered a chance for anyone to become a member of the Berth Marks Tent of Harlem, as part of the Sons of the Desert.

Regretfully, I was unable to speak with everyone.   I felt as though I was being pulled from one conversation to another to another, and I thorough ENJOYED it.  Every minute of the Grand Opening celebration was wonderful for me - I just wish I could have found time to talk to everyone in length.

    This is only the beginning.  We now are on a "journey", and I know it is going to be a great trip!  Several of the next steps we plan on taking are:

    These and other things will come in time.  We still are always accepting monetary donations and L&H memorabilia for the Museum.   Improvements will continue -- the Museum will always be "a work in progress".  Any suggestions you have always are welcomed.  And we always look forward to you visiting Harlem.

~Robin Root

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