On our way back to Berne after a busy weekend, we came up to the exit for the James Dean Museum Gallery. Jason mentioned it and I told him to hurry up and take the exit. He looked at me like I was crazy but happily followed my instructions. We slowed as we came into to Fairmount, Indiana and took a left onto Main Street. We knew we were in the right place once we saw the big beautiful white and gray house with a statue of James Dean out front, wearing his famous red jacket. The sign out front said they were open so we walked up and viewed the plaque indicating it was on the National Register of Historic Places while we gathered up the courage to go in.
When we entered, we were greeted upon arrival by Cleo, the house puppy. Lenny, who was running the gallery, gave us his introductory speech and offered up his willingness to answer any questions. The old house was filled ceiling to floor with memorabilia! Actual photos, to signed yearbooks, to the actual fence used in his movie, “Rebel Without A Cause”. There was numerous drawings, paintings, murals, and even a sculpture of the guy! The gift shop in the back was filled with vintage items from the correct era and a video that showed clips of Dean in some of his most famous roles. As we headed back to the front of the gallery, we saw tons of photos and miniature replicas of the Porsche that he was killed in. The most chilling picture was the one taken after the accident showing the the crumpled up metal beside a fence.
After viewing the entire gallery, Lenny told us more about the James Dean festival that happens every September. He reeled Jason in with a car show, old bikes, and talk of a look-alike contest. Jason and I spent the rest of the afternoon talking about what we would wear and how much fun it would be. Lenny was a great resource. He gave us a map for the James Dean trail; a self-guided tour of landmarks in Fairmount including the motorcycle shop where he used to hang out, his childhood home, and the high school he attended.
After we left the gallery, we drove past the James Dean Memorial Park, the street where the famous photo of Dean was taken in front of the bank, and circled past the high school and out to the cemetery where James Dean is buried. After viewing his tombstone, (actually his fourth headstone… people have been known to chip of pieces as sick souvenirs) we drove out to Carter’s Motorcycle Shop. The shop is empty now and but it was most recently an Indian Motorcycle repair and service shop. We passed the Back Creek Friends Church which James Dean attended and stopped at the Winslow farmhouse where Dean was raised. They had a big, beautiful farm house with a lot of land and horses. After snapping a quick picture of the horses, we headed back home.
I can’t wait to go back for the festival in September (Thursday the 21st through Sunday the 24th) and see the 20,000 people who still idolize this hometown hero. Know for his unique taste, he is still a role model even today.