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 Miami County, 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 his cousin lives to this day.
The staff at the James Dean Gallery provide guests with free maps to these points of interest - and many others. They'll also give you helpful tips, such as, while 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 an example of the vibe in Fairmount; it's a very friendly, very rural farming community filled with one-of-a-kind attractions and a charm that's hard to match. And visitors are more than welcome here.
The community 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.
At Fairmount's community park, Playacres Park, is a pavilion where an old wooden stage from Dean's high school is being restored. It should be ready in time for the James Dean Festival on Sept. 22-24, 2018. This is an annual event that draws thousands of visitors to the community and includes The World Famous James Dean Look-Alike Contest and a host of other entertainment.
Dean's high school, and the old stage 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 cleanup of the demolished school is still underway, so, for now, it is possible to visit the remains of the building. And people do.
Dean's gravesite is very accessible. In fact, in step with the friendly and welcoming nature of the community, there is a handmade sign at the entrance of Park Cemetery that points visitors to the exact location of his 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 city worth a visit on its own) a memorial stands at the location where Dean was born. Another memorial to Dean is back 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 features thousands of items, including personal effects, original photographs and movie posters, paintings, sculptures, books and novelty items from the 1950s and beyond, and much more. The gallery is free to visit (as is almost everything else mentioned here), although you can make a donation if you wish. There's also a great gift shop in the gallery filled 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 in the historic downtown, 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. If you feel like staying around for a few days, there are several bed and breakfasts and cottages in the area as well.
Finally, part of the fun of visiting Fairmount from Miami County is the drive there. It's all back roads and travels through Greenville, Union City, Ridgeville and a quaint little town called Albany, which has great ice cream!
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 won't find 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
James Dean Gallery
James Dean Festival - Sept. 22-24, 2017
(A cell phone tour is available by calling 765-997-7034)
Visit Grant County
Murals in Marion