Road Trip Without A Cause
Fairmount, Indiana: Hometown and Resting Place of James Dean
Story & Photos by Matt Bayman
The James Dean Gallery is a great place to start when visiting Fairmount, Indiana. Located less than two hours from most of the Miami Valley, Fairmount is the hometown and resting place of actor James Dean. Visitors can stop by his graveside to pay their respects; stand next to Carter's Motorcycle Shop, where he hung out; and even pull into the driveway of his childhood home and farm, where, amazingly, his cousin still lives to this day.
The staff at the James Dean Gallery, located in a beautiful 1903 Victorian home in the heart of Fairmount, provide guests with free maps to these points of interest, and many others. They'll also give you helpful tips, such as, while James Dean's cousin doesn't mind people pulling into his driveway, he does mind them knocking on his door. Oh, but you can look at his horses all you want.
This is the vibe you'll get in Fairmount; it's a very friendly, very rural farming community filled one-of-a-kind attractions and a charm that's hard to match. It's also a great day trip that can be taken any time of year. Fairmount takes great pride not only in being Dean's hometown, but also Garfield creator, Jim Davis. The town's water tower has the two icons painted on its side, and travelers can drive the famous Garfield Trail to see numerous sculptures of the cartoon cat.
Inside of Playacres Park is a pavilion that contains a restored wooden stage from Dean's high school. Dean's high school, where he got his start as a thespian, stood until 2014 when it had to be demolished. The townspeople got together to save the stage and moved it to the park.
The park and pavilion also play a major role in the annual Remembering James Dean Festival, which takes place during the last full weekend of September each year. It coincides with the James Dean Run Car Show and draws thousands of visitors to the community for The World Famous James Dean Look- Alike Contest, the Parade of Neon, the 50's Dance Contest and many other unique activities. Learn more about the festival HERE.
Dean's gravesite is very accessible. In fact, in line with the friendly and welcoming-nature of the community, there is a little handmade sign at the entrance of Park Cemetery that points visitors to the exact location of the grave. It's visited by thousands of people each year and it's surrounded by flowers, coins, un-smoked cigarettes and Porshe toy cars and key chains; all evidence of the thought-out pilgrimages people have taken here.
Dean's father and step-mother are buried next to him, while his mother, Mildred, is buried in nearby Marion, Indiana, where Dean was born in 1931.
In Marion, a memorial stands at the spot where the apartment house that Dean was born in once stood. Another memorial to Dean is in downtown Fairmount at James Dean Memorial Park. It features a bust of Dean, only two of which were ever made and one of which was stolen shortly after being installed on top of a memorial at Park Cemetery in 1955.
The story of the stolen bust, and many other exhibits and memorabilia, can be found at The James Dean Gallery and Fairmount Historical Society.
The gallery features the private collection of James Dean archivist David Loehr, who began collecting in 1974. The exhibit has thousands of items, including personal items related to James Dean, original photographs and movie posters, paintings, sculptures, books and novelty items from the 1950s and beyond, among others. The is free to visit, although you can make a donation if you wish. There's also a great gift shop with unique items, including clothing, decorations, records, books and vintage items.
While in Fairmount, don't forget to check out the various antique shops and thrift stores, as well as a record store and some great restaurants, including Grains & Grill, which tags itself as "Comfort Food with an Upscale Twist," and The Outpost, a ma and pa restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. There are several bed and breakfasts and cottages in the area.
Also, part of the fun of this road trip is the drive. It's all back roads and, in Indiana, travels through Union City, Ridgeville and a quaint little town called Albany, which has a popular ice cream stand and a baseball diamond in the middle of its downtown. For lunch or dinner try Milton’s Family Restaurant.
Even if you're not a huge fan of James Dean, or Garfield, a visit to Fairmount and Grant County, Indiana is an experience you can't have anywhere else. Ultimately, it's a rare chance to step inside a colorful slice of Americana, and to experience small town life at its finest.
Plan Your Visit Visit Grant County www.showmegrantcounty.com
James Dean Gallery www.jamesdeangallery.com
Garfield Trail www.FollowTheFatCat.com for A cell phone tour, call (765) 997-7034
Murals in Marion www.downtownmarion.com