(I wrote the James Dean Trail a month after Rooster and I went on the adventure. A element of serendipity added unexpected pleasure to our ride.)
What do you do if you have an unseasonable warm Saturday in November? We didn’t need to think very hard about how we wanted to spend the day. Rooster and I climbed on our Indian motorcycle and headed toward Fairmount, Indiana, searching for the spirit of James Dean.
In September, Rooster and I traveled to several small communities in central Indiana to experience James Dean weekend. We didn’t visit the gallery during the festival due to COVID-19. A return to Fairmount to visit the places we didn’t get to experience during the festival topped the list of possibilities for the day. The James Dean Gallery topped the list. Therefore, take a few minutes to join us on our James Dean Trail adventure.
First Stop on the James Dean Trail
We attempted to make our first stop at the Fairmount Historical Museum, but it was closed due to COVID-19. Rooster and I experienced a few moments of disappointment, but we decided to continue with our quest.
The James Dean Gallery was the next place on our adventure agenda. We rounded the corner and traveled a few blocks up the road. Rooster pulled the motorcycle to the curb beside the house where the James Dean Gallery is located. We climbed off the Indian, put on our face masks, and headed for the front door. A sign informed us of its closure due to COVID-19. A gentleman doing yardwork told us Dave would probably let us have a look around.
Rooster and I walked through the door and David Loehr greeted us. David explained because of the increase in COVID cases in Grant County the gallery was closed, but we could have a look around. His unexpected offer made for an enjoyable turn to our adventure.
What we found at the James Dean Gallery
The front two rooms of the stately old house, filled with James Dean memorabilia, told the story of his life. We viewed countless pictures, newspaper articles, what looked like a Soap Box Derby car, a diorama of the automobile accident that claimed Dean’s life, and a case filled with magazine covers adorned with his smiling face. The rear room of the gallery held a collection of local antiques and unique artwork created with a James Dean theme. The coolest item I saw during our visit was a display case, which included James Dean’s leather jacket.
There is a saying that good gifts come in small packages. The collection in the James Dean Gallery is one of those unexpected treasures. I highly recommend visiting this amazing place to any true James Dean fan. There is a lot of history and interesting artwork packed into this small gallery. The people who operate the establishment are friendly and know how to greet everyone with Hoosier hospitality. I recommend planning your visit for next year when we all figure out how we will live in the New Normal.
The second stop on the James Dean Trail
Dave Loehr gave us a map that included all the important stops along the James Dean trail. The information included in the handout provided a pleasant surprise to our adventure. Rooster and I decided Park Cemetery should be the next location we went to on the James Dean trail. The famous actor’s gravesite appears to be a favorite with his fans and local teenage vandals. The tombstone over his grave has a bad habit of coming up missing from time to time.
We pulled the motorcycle into the cemetery and found the Veteran’s Memorial. A problem occurred when we attempted to locate the gravesite. The map made it appear Dean we’d find the grave close to the Veteran’s Memorial. We searched for his name on every tombstone, wandering up and down the gravel-covered lanes. Rooster came up with a great idea. He asked his phone to take us to the gravesite in walking distance mode.
There are people in the Fairmount area who still honor the famous actor. Colorful mums and a pumpkin placed around the tombstone added a festive touch to the bare landscape. We’d heard rumors people who visited often left packs of cigarettes and bottles of booze to pay honor to Dean. Rooster and I found no evidence of any of those items.
Third, fourth, and fifth stop on the James Dean Trail
The next three stops are grouped very close together. Rooster and I didn’t stay long at any of these locations, but they are essential if you are on a mission to capture the spirit of James Dean.
Stop number three included Carter’s Motorcycle Shop, where Dean purchased his first Indian motorcycle. The establishment is no longer a motorcycle shop but is home to a car club. The original sign still hangs on the building.
Back Creek Friends Church, where Dean attended services as a kid.
The Winslow Farm, where Dean came to live with his uncle and aunt after his mother’s death, became stop number five. We hear his seventy-year-old cousin still lives on the farm.
Last stop on the James Dean Trail
The sun started to sink low in the west, so we decided to make the James Dean Birthsite Memorial our last stop. We knew once the sun went down, the temperatures would drop, and frisky deer would run through the now open cornfields looking for a date. Rooster put 410 S. McClure Street into his phone’s GPS, and we headed for Marion, Indiana.
Dean’s mother gave birth to him in an apartment house known as the House of the Seven Gables, located near downtown Marion. The structure was torn down years ago, but a nice memorial stands in its place. David Loehr played a large role in the placement of the memorial. He said he wished the apartment house still existed because it would have been nice to have the James Dean Gallery located there.
I found the six-foot-tall black granite memorial to be truly impressive. Included on the face of the memorial is Dean as a child in front of the house where he was born, with an adult Dean hovering in the background. He is wearing a t-shirt and a leather jacket. The black granite reflects the scenery and the person standing in front of the shiny surface, almost as if it were making them a part of the story. Flowers left at the foot of the memorial by a previous visitor still looked fresh, as if the person had left right before we arrived.
If you are a big James Dean fan, you need to experience the James Dean Trail. Rooster and I had a fantastic time, gliding down country roads, searching for “One-Speed Dean.” The people we met at the James Dean gallery made our adventure a wonderful experience. David Loehr is a James Dean authority. He can answer any question you have about the deceased actor. Rooster and I made it home before the temperatures dropped. We didn’t see one rutting deer. I think it’s about time for Rooster and me to have a James Dean movie marathon. It’s on our to-do list now that we have experienced the actor’s spirit while traveling the James Dean Trail.
Fun artwork from the James Dean Gallery
Plus a basketball photo
Who is Molly Shea?
Molly Shea is an accomplished fictional short story writer from Indiana who writes short stories and novels about a fictional town called Tecumseh. To read more of her short stories and adventures, click here.
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