A few Sunday mornings ago, my Times-Union automatically opened to the books page and up popped Richard Klinzman with a review of John Connolly’s new Charlie Parker P.I. adventures. I’m a fan and included one of Connolly’s stories in last June’s column about favorite Irish crime and mystery authors and their novels. Connolly and Alan Glynn (whose first novel was the basis for the film “Limitless” with Bradley Cooper) and a Belfast bookstore, No Alibis, shared my column on their Facebook pages.
Several days later, came an announcement: Connolly has written a biography of Stan Laurel.
“John hasn’t said much about this because he didn’t want to upstage the US publication of ‘A Game of Ghosts’ on July 4.” the release read. “But John’s next book, ‘He,’ is now available for pre-order. It’s a literary novel about the life of Stan Laurel and goes on sale in the UK and Ireland on August 24. John will be doing a short UK tour for this book, including an appearance at the legendary Britannia Panopticon Music Hall. Watch for more information in a future email.”
Road trip, anyone? It’s a perfect little trip up through the middle of Georgia. Where are we going? The Laurel & Hardy Museum in downtown Harlem, Ga. Harlem is a small town in Columbia County in northern Georgia; it is part of metropolitan Augusta, a river city on the banks of the Savannah River that establishes the border between Georgia and South Carolina. I lived in the area, in Aiken, S.C., for nearly 10 years in the 1960s.
In November 2013, my niece in South Carolina invited me up to visit a few days. I’ve traveled from Jacksonville to the middle of South Carolina a few times when I first lived here from 1971-1995. This time, I wanted to take a new route and linger in a few new places, so I pulled out my big map of Georgia from the car’s glove compartment.
Sit back in your lounge chair: we are ready to leave. We’ll head north up Interstate 95 toward Savannah and then west on Interstate 16 toward Macon. Let’s pass by Highway 25 heading north and take the exit to Swainsboro. There we’ll pick up U.S. Highway 1, often a three- or four-lane road, that joins U.S. Highway 121 every now and then. It’s called the Woodpecker Trail, and is the oldest tourist route from Jacksonville to Charlotte, N.C., and vice versa.
On my map, I had found a two-lane road that passes Augusta on the west side and heads into South Carolina toward Clark’s Dam. We’ll stop in Wrens, Ga., for an early lunch and pick up Highway 221 off Highway 1 right after we leave. It’s a beautiful drive any time of the year but especially nice in the fall. Pine trees and hardwood trees with leaves turning red and yellow litter the roadside: little commercial or civilian property appears for miles. Most of the land is federally owned: the Army base of Fort Gordon, the current home of the U.S. Army Signal Corps and Cyber Center of Excellence, and a reservation sprawling over four North Georgia counties.
We’ll stop at the only red light in Harlem, Ga., and see the Laurel & Hardy mural on the building to our right by a parking lot. An Art Deco black-and-white marquee juts out the front of the building, the Columbia Theatre currently under restoration.
Harlem is the birthplace of Oliver Hardy. Every first Saturday of October, the entire town of just under 3,000 friendly folks, along with about 30,000 international fans of the famous comedic duo Laurel & Hardy come out to play. They watch silent movies at the museum across from the Columbia Theatre. They buy souvenirs — Laurel and Hardy coffee mugs, arts and crafty things, programs and photos in the museum’s gift shop. There’s live entertainment all day, children’s rides and games, and costume parades. All proceeds benefit the Laurel & Hardy Museum.
I invited John Connolly to Harlem for the Oct. 7 festival, its 29th celebration. I told him to bring the whole first run of the Hodder & Stoughton “He,” his new and “dizzying” fictional account of the real Stan Laurel, to autograph. That is, all the first run that’s left after his signing at Trongate, Glasgow, at The Britannia Panopticon Music Hall on Sept. 12. Connolly’s PR head Clair answered my invitation on Facebook. Seems his book tour this year has already been set; he will not be touring in the U.S.
Invite him again for the October 2018 festival, she says — he’s hunting for an American publisher.
Mark your calendars! The first Saturday in October 2018.
A real road trip!
Jane Crooks Britt is an octogenarian who has lived in Jacksonville off and on for over 30 years. She writes a monthly column in Tuesday’s Life section of the Times-Union.