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Walking Tour of Fairmount
The 1997 James Dean Festival Night Walk Sketch by Robert W. Richards of New York City.
It was a dark and balmy night, the evening of September 30, 1997, as the Gallery Gang set out on shank's mare to explore Fairmount, Indiana, once the home of James Byron Dean. This is what happened, or almost happened. Or did it?
In the velvet darkness of the blackest night, burning bright, there's a shining star, no matter who or where you are....There's a light in the darkness of everybody's life. RHPS credit
Once upon a time, maybe yesterday, in a land called Fairmount, Indiana a band of decorous adventurers, a.k.a. The Gallery Gang, set out on a walking tour.
Stop One: On North Main Street, an historic house, full of secret passages, used to hide escaping slaves during the 1800s. James Dean used to see this house.
Stop Two: Crossing Main Street, we approached an historic farmhouse whose family was expecting us for a guided tour. Although all the lights were on, no one answered the door. Feeling rejected and baffled, we scuffled off through the leaves. James Dean used to see this house too.
Stop Three: Across Main Street we saw the former Hunt Furniture Store and casket selection display room. This is where James Dean posed in a casket, the last time he visited Fairmount.
Stop Four: Across Main Street to the west side, we paused at a well-made brick wall. It was once a store window against which James Dean leaned in another famous photo from that visit home. We posed here for a formal commemorative portrait.(Photo to follow. I hope. Anyone?)
Stop Five: Captain Maxine Rowland sent Navigator Brenda Graham ahead to scout out likely stops. Against the advice of co-captain Heidi Goodpaster, we marched twenty strong into the Palace Movie Theatre. Jimmy viewed 50s films right here.
The Palace has been oddly transformed into a dark establishment with many seats, a pool table and brightly colored bottles of liquid behind a very long wooden counter. Cleverly interviewing the resident natives, we ascertained that Jimmy had not enjoyed the hospitality of this wayside rest stop, despite his likeness adorning every wall. (Even more photos to follow!)
Maxine gives a Gallery Gang hand signal to the crew, as Scott Imfelt scouts the premises. Mark Kinnaman's hand-painted Dean shirt eclipses Tom Fagen who i$ $howing an hi$toric picture of a dead pre$ident to the innkeeper. James Dean viewed this $ame picture. Many time$.
A Mr. Tom Lee related how he sold his Fairmount High School yearbooks (with James Dean in them) for a modest sum. He then used this money in building his new dwelling. Thus, Tom Lee has a home which Jimmy Dean helped build. Mr. Lee had been in that same booth after the James Dean birthday dance. Stop in and see if you can find him too. After Greg and I asked everyone if they knew how to do the Madison, which no one did, we marched forth toward new adventures.
We passed the library on Main Street. I don't know if Jimmy used this exact building, but I'll bet he saw it.
Stop Six: Not really a stop, we were transfixed by a beautiful home with a lighted cupola. A little face kept appearing in a window, then vanishing, then reappearing. It was a cute little face, and someone thought to take a photo of it. James Dean saw this home, though not the little face.
"Out of the night that covers me, black as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be, I have not stumbled in a hole...." Note to self: Bring flashlights next year.
Stop Seven: Mystery and Controversy. We stopped outside a private home that was once the Hunt Funeral Home. One of the walkers had been told that James Dean was buried from here. This came from the mouth of one of the pallbearers himself. However, the walker may have misinterpreted that man's words, as there is still controversy about which building Jimmy was in before he was taken to the church. Time is flying by, and I must nail down the absolute facts. There was much excited speculation outside this building. As we continued our James Dean Fairmount Walking Tour, a contingent of the local gendarmes in a black and white rolled along beside us.
Deciding that taking photos of people's homes in the dark might not have been a great idea, we sheathed our cameras and strolled innocently along. We strolled, they rolled. They rightly assumed we were harmless, though decibel-challenged, and departed. We were nonplussed but relieved. We tried to picture each other in mugshots, charged with disturbing the peace. That would have made for a lively page here.
Stop Eight: Rounding a corner, we paid tribute to the lonely forest of Johnnies-On-The-Spot left over from the weekend Festival. A great comfort they were, indeed. A tip o' the hat to this year's comfort station company.
Stop Nine: Kansas Kathy led us back toward Main Street as we paused to sing a few nostalgic songs in commemoration of our shared musical past. It was a Time Warp feeling, with just a jump to the left, and then a step to the right. Curt Whirl showed terpsichorian talent. Important announcement: under no circumstances should anyone believe there was anyone named Joe on this excursion. We never heard of any Joe. Nope, not a hair on his head did we spy.
Stop Ten: The flower shop downtown, which James Dean's aunts once owned, is still a cute flower shop! James Dean was surely inside it from time to time. We admired it on our way to
Stop Eleven: Fairmount Friends Meeting. This is the actual church from which James Dean was buried. (Back Creek Friends Meeting was too small. My website has been wrong. I apologize.) It's red brick and quite lovely. Maxine Rowland sent me a good photo. As soon as I relocate it, it will be here.
Stop Twelve: The James Dean Memorial Park is beautiful at night. David Loehr had earlier placed a beautiful floral tribute beside the monument. This would be a good tradition to start. It was a memorable moment for everyone.
Stop Thirteen: We forgot to go to Stop Thirteen. I shall wonder forever, or until next year, what it would have been. Instead, we stopped at the Gallery to test the plumbing and sign each other's souvenirs, (gifts from David Loehr, and sewn by Brenda Graham.) No one wanted to leave, although we were keeping Kenneth Kendall awake. No one wanted him to leave either. It was a glorious evening to end a week of laughter, tragedy, tears, nostalgia, grief, comedy, pizza, new friends and old ones, sunshine and roses. May we all have many more James Dean Memorial Service weeks to remember, together.
For those on the walk, Heath said that Brenda's son (that was the tragedy I mentioned above) had recovered somewhat. It will be a full year before they can tell how much permanent damage has been done. When I find out more I will add it here.
Thank you, once again, our host David Loehr. Your friends love you.
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A Light in the Darkness is from the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Likewise the Time Warp.
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