Comedians Laurel and Hardy, A Revolutionary War Battleground and A Presidential Boyhood Home Drew Me to Augusta GA

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December 18th 2013
Published: August 2nd 2014
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“Tommy” Wilson’s Bedroom“Tommy” Wilson’s Bedroom“Tommy” Wilson’s Bedroom

Boyhood Home of President Woodrow Wilson - Augusta GA
I had determined the trip from Charlotte NC to Sanford FL, home of my 90 year old aunt, was over 500 miles and about 7-1/2 hours. A day like that is too long for this retired wimp! Sometimes I have to remind myself, “If it’s not fun, why do it?” The weather was still nice, although quite crisp in the morning, and a stop in Augusta GA would shorten the leg to Sanford by about one-third. Soooo… The trip to Heritage Mobile Home & RV Park in Augusta GA on Wednesday, December 11, 2013 on Interstates 77 and 20 was about 150 miles, took about 2-1/2 hours and, save reconstruction of the road where the RV park is located, was totally uneventful – just as I like ‘em!

Thomas Woodrow Wilson (December 28, 1856 – February 3, 1924) was the 28th President of the United States from 1913 to 1921. I had visited the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Museum & Birthplace in Staunton VA in the fall of 2010, but Thursday found me heading for his boyhood home in Augusta. "Tommy" Wilson lived in Augusta from 1860 to 1870 while his father served as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church. While
There Was Plenty Of Room For EntertainingThere Was Plenty Of Room For EntertainingThere Was Plenty Of Room For Entertaining

Boyhood Home of President Woodrow Wilson - Augusta GA
living in Augusta, Wilson experienced the hardships of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Those formative “Augusta years” would affect him for the rest of his life.

Interestingly, a childhood next-door neighbor was Joseph Rucker Lamar whose father, James, also was a minister and served as pastor of the First Christian Church. Joe and Tommy became friends, attended school, played baseball and held meetings in the attics of their homes. The Lamar family resided in Augusta until 1875, when James Lamar accepted a new position in Louisville KY. As an adult, Joe Lamar became a prominent political and legal leader in Georgia where he codified the laws of Georgia and served on the Georgia Supreme Court. In 1911, President William Howard Taft appointed him to the U.S. Supreme Court. Joseph Rucker Lamar served on the U.S. Supreme Court from 1911 until his death in 1916 at the age of 58. Completing a full circle, the careers of Joe and Tommy brought the boyhood friends to Washington DC during part of President Wilson’s first term of office (1913-1917).

Today, Historic Augusta uses the Lamar home as its headquarters and as the visitor center for the Boyhood Home of President Woodrow Wilson. The Wilson home, having been owned by the church, is expectedly austere and represents the era when our 28th President was a child. Many of the artifacts are commonplace but several are interesting and the décor is well done. Fortunately, non-flash photography is allowed, and the docent provided an interesting historical narrative. Recommended for anyone while in Augusta or for Presidential history buffs who are in the area.

I next headed for Harlem GA and the Laurel and Hardy Museum. Norvell (his mother’s maiden name) Hardy was born in Harlem on January 18, 1892. The youngest of five children, Hardy’s father died less than a year after his birth. Hardy had little interest in formal education, although he acquired an early interest in music and theater, joined a theatrical group and later ran away from a boarding school to sing with the group. His mother recognized his talent for singing, and sent him to Atlanta to study music and voice. Hardy skipped some of his lessons to sing in the Alcazar Theater for $3.50 a week. Sometime prior to 1910, Hardy began calling himself "Oliver Norvell Hardy" – adding the first name “Oliver” as a tribute to his father who had died when Hardy was less than a year old.

In 1910, when a movie theater opened in Hardy’s home town, he became the projectionist, ticket taker, janitor and manager. He soon became obsessed with the new motion picture industry and was convinced that he could do a better job than the actors he saw on the big screen. A friend suggested he move to Jacksonville FL where some films were being made. In 1913, Hardy did just that – paying the bills during the day and working as a cabaret and vaudeville singer at night. The next year, billed as O. N. Hardy, he made his first movie, “Outwitting Dad” (1914), for the Lubin studio.

In his personal life, he was known as “Babe” Hardy, a nickname he was given by an Italian barber who would apply talcum powder to Oliver’s cheeks and say, “Nice-a-bab-y.” In many of his later films at Lubin, he was billed as “Babe Hardy.” A big man in the day at 6'1" and weighing up to 300 pounds, Hardy’s size placed limitations on the roles he could play. He was most often cast as “a heavy” or a villain. He
Early Photos Of Norvell HardyEarly Photos Of Norvell HardyEarly Photos Of Norvell Hardy

Laurel and Hardy Museum - Harlem GA
frequently had roles in comedy shorts where his size complemented the character.

In 1917, Oliver Hardy moved to Los Angeles, working freelance for several Hollywood studios. Later that year, Hardy and a young British comedian named Stan Laurel appeared for the first time together in “The Lucky Dog” (1921). Oliver Hardy played the part of a robber, trying to stick up Laurel’s character. They did not work together again for several years. In 1924, at Hal Roach Studios, Hardy began working with the “Our Gang” films, and in 1925 he starred as the Tin Man in the “Wizard of Oz.” Also that year he was in the film, “Yes, Yes, Nanette!” directed by Stan Laurel. Interestingly in 1926, when Hardy was scheduled to appear in “Get ’Em Young” but was unexpectedly hospitalized, Laurel, who had been working as a gag man and director at Roach Studios, was recruited to fill in. Laurel continued to act and, later that year, appeared in the same movie as Hardy, “45 Minutes from Hollywood,” although they did not share any scenes together.

In 1927, Laurel and Hardy began sharing screen time together in several films. Roach Studios’ supervising director Leo McCarey, noticed
Memorabilia And Collectibles AboundMemorabilia And Collectibles AboundMemorabilia And Collectibles Abound

Laurel and Hardy Museum - Harlem GA
the audience reaction to the two and began intentionally teaming them together. Thus, the genesis of Laurel and Hardy. With this pairing, McCarey created arguably the most famous double act in movie history. Together, they produced a huge body of short movies. In 1929, they appeared in their first feature, and the following year they appeared in their first all-color feature. They continued to make features and shorts until 1935. “The Music Box,” a 1932 short, won them an Academy Award for best short film — their only such award.

They began performing for the USO during World War II, and teamed up to make films for 20th Century Fox and later Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Although they made more money at the bigger studios, they had very little artistic control, and critics say that these films lack the very qualities that had made Laurel and Hardy worldwide names. Their last Fox feature was “The Bullfighters” (1945), after which they declined to extend their contract with the studio. In 1947, Laurel and Hardy went on a six-week tour of the United Kingdom – Stan Laurel’s motherland. Initially unsure of how they would be received, they were pleasingly mobbed wherever they went. During
The Rear Room Also Serves As A TheaterThe Rear Room Also Serves As A TheaterThe Rear Room Also Serves As A Theater

Laurel and Hardy Museum - Harlem GA
1950–51, Laurel and Hardy made their final film, and both suffered serious physical illness during the filming.

In 1955, Laurel suffered a stroke and required a lengthy convalescence. Hardy had a heart attack and stroke later that year, from which he never physically recovered. During 1956, Hardy began looking after his health for the first time in his life. He lost more than 150 pounds in a few months, which completely changed his appearance. Hardy suffered a major stroke on September 14, 1956, which left him confined to bed and unable to speak for several months. He suffered two more strokes in early August 1957, and slipped into a coma from which he never recovered. Oliver Hardy died from cerebral thrombosis on August 7, 1957, at the age of 65. Stan Laurel was too ill to go to the funeral of his friend and film partner. He stated, "Babe would understand."

People who knew Laurel said he was devastated by Hardy's death and never fully recovered from it. He refused to perform on stage, or act in another film without his good friend; but he continued to socialize with his fans. In 1961, Laurel was given a Lifetime
Ready To Celebrate The HolidaysReady To Celebrate The HolidaysReady To Celebrate The Holidays

Laurel and Hardy Museum - Harlem GA
Achievement Academy Award for his pioneering work in comedy. He had achieved his lifelong dream as a comedian and had been involved in nearly 190 films. Stan Laurel died on February 23, 1965 at age 74, four days after suffering a heart attack. Just minutes away from death, Laurel told his nurse he would not mind going skiing at that very moment. Somewhat taken aback, the nurse replied that she was not aware that he was a skier. "I'm not," said Laurel, "I'd rather be doing that than this!" A few minutes later the nurse looked in on him again and found that he had died quietly in his armchair. At his funeral, silent screen comedian Buster Keaton was overheard talking about Laurel's talent: "Chaplin wasn't the funniest. I wasn't the funniest. This man was the funniest." Laurel was known to have jested: "If anyone at my funeral has a long face, I'll never speak to him again."

The Laurel and Hardy Museum opened in 2002 and, understandably, heralds the early life of native son Oliver Hardy more intensely than that of his comedic partner – more vintage photographs and anecdotal accounts are available; however, the museum truly is a monument to the careers of the iconic twosome than to any individual. It is the first museum in the United States dedicated to the comedic duo. Admission is free and photography is encouraged. Visitors can see a wide variety of Laurel and Hardy collectables, have their photo taken with a cutout, view a favorite Laurel and Hardy film or two and purchase souvenirs. I put on my ten-year-old face, watched a couple of the shorts and laughed hysterically. The Laurel and Hardy Museum is highly recommended for the nostalgic baby boomer or for fans of classic comedy.

Friday, December 13, 2013 – oops, better stay home today. Nah, superstition doesn’t stymie a professional tourist! Well, I headed for the Edgefield County Peach Museum in Johnston SC. Augusta, like all cities straddling a state boundary, found me bouncing back and forth between Georgia and South Carolina like a fuzzy yellow ball on a clay court. This “museum” was housed in a conference room in the rear of the Edgefield County Chamber Of Commerce; consisted of numerous interesting, well-done placards adorning the walls; and was quite a disappointment. The placards chronicle pioneers of the peach industry in Edgefield County, the
The Visitor Center Offers Artifacts Recovered From The SiteThe Visitor Center Offers Artifacts Recovered From The SiteThe Visitor Center Offers Artifacts Recovered From The Site

Ninety Six National Historic Site - Ninety Six SC
varieties of peaches grown in South Carolina, the introduction of peaches to North America and the history of the industry in the Americas. It takes only takes seven paragraphs to summarize Packing and Shipping – “… the most interesting evolution in the peach industry.” If you happen to have a meeting of some sort in the conference room, arrive five minutes early and read the placards. They are well done and interesting! Museum??? Quite a stretch!

My next stop was a bit further north near Ninety Six SC at the Ninety Six National Historic Site. Although the genesis of the town’s moniker is unclear, Ninety Six had become a prosperous village of about 100 settlers by the time the American Revolutionary War impacted the area. The first South Carolina land battle of the Revolution took place at Ninety Six in 1775. Then major Andrew Williamson tried to recapture ammunition and gunpowder that had been taken by the Loyalists, but, outnumbered, he finally had to settle for a truce. The village became a Loyalist stronghold early in the war – as was much of the backcountry that had been settled by Scots and Scots-Irish. Later, Ninety Six was fortified by
The One Mile Paved Trail Is EasyThe One Mile Paved Trail Is EasyThe One Mile Paved Trail Is Easy

Ninety Six National Historic Site - Ninety Six SC
the British as they considered this a strategic location. Ninety Six again was contested between May 22 and June 18, 1781 when Continental Army Major General Nathanael Greene led 1,000 troops in a siege against the 550 Loyalists defending the fort in the village. The 28-day siege, the longest of the entire war, centered on the earthen star fort. Despite having more troops, Greene's patriots did not succeed in taking the town. One month later, the British abandoned Ninety Six.

The National Park Service visitor center offers a twenty-two minute video about the battle, "Crossroads of a Revolution," several oil paintings of the battle and local leaders of the American Revolution and a gift shop where visitors can rent a self-guided audio tour of the park. I set out sans the audio tour on the paved one mile interpretive trail that leads visitors to the nearby Logan Log House as well as to the reconstructed Star Fort and the original town site of Ninety Six.

Since it was a beautiful day and since most will agree I could use some more exercise, I added the Cherokee Path and Gouedy Trail (well-marked yet unpaved trails) that led me to
The Plantation HouseThe Plantation HouseThe Plantation House

Redcliffe Plantation SHS - Beech Island SC
Star Fort Pond, an old unidentified cemetery (believed to be a slave cemetery from post-colonial times) and to the marked graves of Major James Gouedy (a trader influential in the founding of Ninety Six) and Major James Mayson (who captured a significant gunpowder cache to be used by the Americans). The visitor center, as is the case with most National Park Service facilities, has a limited collection of interesting artifacts found on site and several informative placards. I found the attraction interesting, the drive to the facility relaxing and the walk splendid; however, I cannot call the Ninety Six National Historic Site a “must see.”

Sunday, December 15, 2013 found me off to the Redcliffe Plantation State Historic Site in Beech Island SC. Redcliffe was built for James Henry Hammond and was completed in 1859. Hammond was a US Congressman (1835-1836), Governor of South Carolina (1842-1844), and US Senator (1857-1860). Redcliffe was home to three generations of Hammond’s descendants before his great-grandson John Shaw Billings; editor of Time, Life, and Fortune magazines; donated the estate and its collections to the people of South Carolina in 1973 – the same year it was added to the National Register of Historic
Dinner Anyone?Dinner Anyone?Dinner Anyone?

Redcliffe Plantation SHS - Beech Island SC

Again, my post-Thanksgiving excursion into the Augusta area found me the sole patron on the guided tour of the plantation house – the tour of the outbuildings and the grounds is self-guided. The visitor center houses several interesting placards; however, the material rightfully is focused on the Hammond family and the slaves who worked the land. I found an 1864 map depicting the Hammond properties interesting and some of the biographical accounts entertaining. The tour started right on time, the park ranger was knowledgeable and refreshing and a few of the artifacts are unique; however, I cannot recommend this attraction for non-South Carolinians who have seen similar properties. For those acutely interested in South Carolina history or those interested in a detailed study of plantation life, Redcliffe Plantation is a treasure-trove.

On my way to the Augusta Museum of History for a Sunday visit (no school tours today), I happened upon the Korean War Memorial in Olde Town Augusta. Apparently, the memorial was erected by the Korean-American community to express its gratitude. Very nice!

The Augusta Museum of History begins a la many city museums, but BE PATIENT! The Colonial Era, cotton plantations and river steamers
One Of Two Vintage Fire HelmetsOne Of Two Vintage Fire HelmetsOne Of Two Vintage Fire Helmets

Augusta Museum of History - Augusta GA
greet the visitor but are soon followed by a nice collection of unique and interesting police and fire department artifacts before spotlighting her native sons and her claim to fame – golf. For the fire buff, there are two leather helmets and several “bugles” or speaking trumpets as well as a horse-drawn steamer and an early open-cab motorized pumper. For the law enforcement buff, there is a sheriff department motorcycle and the rope and mask used to conduct the last execution by hanging in the State of Georgia. Actually, that artifact is sorta macabre.

Sufficient placards to constitute a magazine article outline the life and accomplishments of native son James Brown – the “Godfather of Soul.” Numerous artifacts contribute to the story of adopted son Ty Cobb as a baseball Hall of Famer as well as a championship hunting dog breeder. Several displays chronicle the evolution of the medical prowess in the area. A large exhibit bolsters Augusta’s assertion as “The Golf Capital of the Nation” and briefly chronicles the history of the sport. The Transportation Corridor holds various forms of, duh, vintage transportation. Additional artifacts such as a horse-drawn hearse, a replica early twentieth century gas station, a

Winchester Museum At The Wild Turkey Center - Edgefield SC
tobacco cutter and a 1900 concert roller organ as well as numerous Civil War relics make the museum interesting. Although somewhat disjointed, the museum is a great way to learn of the history of Augusta.

Crossing the state border on Monday, December 16, 2013, I took a different route through the countryside and made my way back to Edgefield SC to visit the Winchester Museum. Edgefield, located along the South Carolina National Heritage Corridor, is a quaint town that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Historic Edgefield County consists of only three small towns – Edgefield, Johnston, and Trenton – but has produced ten South Carolina governors, five lieutenant governors and U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond. I stopped at a park, filled a gallon jug with water and drank ravenously! Ya think it’ll help? LOL

The Winchester Museum is located on the outskirts of Edgefield in the Wild Turkey Center and therefore is open only during regular business hours. The exhibits include an animatronic display, educational placards, paintings, ornately carved and decorated turkey calls and numerous species of mounted trophy turkeys in surprisingly naturalistic settings as well as several of nature’s misfits such as albino turkeys.
Some Turkey Calls Are Over The TopSome Turkey Calls Are Over The TopSome Turkey Calls Are Over The Top

Winchester Museum At The Wild Turkey Center - Edgefield SC
Although I would not consider myself an AVID hunter and have never hunted turkey, I found the extremely well done museum very interesting. Even for the non-hunter, an appreciation for the craftsmanship of the artisans should be engendered. Although I cannot call the museum a “must see,” it surely is worthy of a 1-2 hour stop when travelling through peach country.

My final stop in Augusta was on Tuesday at the Augusta Canal Interpretive Center. Native Augustan Henry H. Cumming believed that a canal could make Augusta an industrial powerhouse and spearheaded the effort. Built in 1845 as a source of power, water and transportation, the Augusta Canal was one of the few successful industrial canals in the American South. By 1847, the first of many factories that would eventually line the Canal were built. By the time of the American Civil War, Augusta had become one of the South’s few manufacturing centers. The power afforded by the Canal led to the construction of 28 powder works facilities that stretched along the Canal for two miles – making Augusta a critical supplier of ammunition and other war materiel.

The Canal’s Chief Engineer suggested enlarging the Canal and other
The Visitor Center Is Chockfull Of Interesting Facts And ArtifactsThe Visitor Center Is Chockfull Of Interesting Facts And ArtifactsThe Visitor Center Is Chockfull Of Interesting Facts And Artifacts

Augusta Canal Interpretive Center - Augusta GA
improvements to help control recurring flooding. Boom years in Augusta followed as massive factories including textile mills, ironworks and many others either opened or expanded. Farm families migrated to the city for factory jobs. Largely employing women and children, some as young as seven or eight, the factories led to the rise of several “mill villages” in their precincts. By the 1890’s working conditions in the mills created a climate ripe for labor unrest – 11-1/2 hour days, work speed-ups, pay reductions and deteriorating living conditions in the mill villages. Workers who took part in labor strikes and stoppages in the late 19th Century sometimes found themselves put out of their company-owned dwellings.

In the 1890s the city replaced its old water pumping station with one that is still in use today. At the dawn of the electric age, the city turned to the falling water power of the canal to drive the first electrical generation equipment. By 1892, the city boasted both electric streetcars and street lighting – the first Southern city to have these amenities. Gradually the factories converted from hydro-mechanical power to electrical power. Although the city devised a number of schemes to build a hydro-electric plant on the canal, none were carried through to completion. During the recovery from the Great Depression, the Federal Works Progress Administration deployed hundreds of workers to make repairs and improvements to help control periodic flooding.

By the mid-twentieth century, textile factories began to close and the center of Augusta’s industrial activity shifted south of the city. The Canal entered a period of neglect. At one point in the 1960s, city officials considered draining the Canal and using the dry bed as the course for a superhighway. Flickers of interest in reviving the Canal for recreational use began to appear by the mid-1970s. Public interest in the Canal’s historic and scenic potential led to several important developments. The Canal and mills were listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Georgia State Legislature created the Augusta Canal Authority (the body that has jurisdiction over the canal today) and the U.S. Congress designated the Augusta Canal one of 18 National Heritage Areas. After years of neglect, the Enterprise Mill was revived as an office and residential complex and now houses the Augusta Canal National Heritage Discovery Center.

The Visitor Center houses interesting placards and artifacts, the exterior grounds
One Of The Factory Shells Remind Us Of The Former SplendorOne Of The Factory Shells Remind Us Of The Former SplendorOne Of The Factory Shells Remind Us Of The Former Splendor

Augusta Canal Interpretive Center - Augusta GA
are home to some vintage equipment and the optional ride on the canal boat provides an additional perspective to the information housed in the Visitor Center. The canal boat guide was knowledgeable and interesting in spite of the fact that I had some difficulty hearing her over the din of downtown Augusta. I would say the Augusta Canal Interpretive Center is recommended if in town but not a must see if coming from afar.

I enjoyed my week in the Augusta area. Although not a hotbed of top-shelf tourist attractions, there are several worthwhile sites to keep the visitor occupied. Regrets, not really; however, if I were to rewind the week I would have come when the fragrance of peach blossoms permeates the countryside or during the harvest season when luscious peach goodies are vended from roadside stands along the byways.

Additional photos below
Photos: 51, Displayed: 36


Wilson Home In The Foreground With The Lamar Home Next DoorWilson Home In The Foreground With The Lamar Home Next Door
Wilson Home In The Foreground With The Lamar Home Next Door

Boyhood Home of President Woodrow Wilson - Augusta GA
The Fireplace Is Quite OrnateThe Fireplace Is Quite Ornate
The Fireplace Is Quite Ornate

Boyhood Home of President Woodrow Wilson - Augusta GA

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