James Dean and Garfield Walk into a British Pub…
Seems like an odd combination, right?
All along Highway 69 through northern rural Indiana, cornfields surround you in every direction except for the occasional exits to tiny farm towns situated a few miles down the spur road. The only other thing around to capture the attention, are the many billboards displaying the loveable lasagna-loving orange cat and the crooning actor in his white t-shirt and black jacket with upturned collar. Throw in an authentic British Pub, smack dab in the middle of one of those cornfields, and you are in Fairmount, Indiana.
Exit now for the Fairmount Historical Museum, 8 miles. Hmm…8 miles in the wrong direction in rural Indiana but this is just so bizarre and random. James Dean, Garfield, and a well-advertised museum in the middle of nowhere? We reasoned this was just intriguing enough to exit the highway and drive in the wrong direction from our return to Indianapolis from the Chain O’Lakes State Park where Wes participated in the Indiana Trail 100 Mile race.
Fairmount Historical Museum in Rural Indiana
As it turns out, the legendary 1950’s actor and the creator of Garfield, Jim Davis, both grew up in Fairmount and the town is very proud of their two iconic sons. The Fairmount Historical Museum pays tribute to both and is staffed by very enthusiastic volunteers.
The Fairmount Historical Museum houses memorabilia from James Dean’s childhood and an extensive collection of items from his rise to stardom in Hollywood.
The Oscar he won for Rebel Without a Cause, scripts with hand-written notes from legendary producers, and his movie costumes, even the famous black jacket, white t-shirt, and blue jeans, are all on display. The quantity of items is very impressive and unexpected.
A small room houses Garfield memorabilia and tells the story of Jim Davis’ upbringing in Fairmount. The Garfield tribute is meaningful, but James Dean is clearly the crowd pleaser here.
Annual James Dean Festival in Rural Indiana
In September 2018, the museum hosted the 43rd annual James Dean Festival over 4 days. Tens of thousands of people from across the world descend upon this one stoplight, main street American town every year for the festival.
With live bands, dance contests, over 1,500 custom and classic cars on display, Old Hollywood movie presentations, and the “world famous” James Dean look-alike contest, the festival is Americana at its best.
The festival ends with a memorial service at Dean’s gravesite on the outskirts of town. His extended family still live in the farmhouse where he grew up and participate in the festivities.
Payne’s British Pub
On our drive into town, we noticed what appeared to be an English pub. A half-timbered building flying the British flag and advertising fish and chips with a pint of ale.
Garfield in a British Redcoat uniform greets you at the entrance to Payne’s. Again, nothing but cornfields surrounding a little bit of Britain in rural northern Indiana.
As it turns out, 12 years prior the pub proprietor boarded a plane from London to Indianapolis with a plan to attend the James Dean Festival. As a lifelong James Dean fan, he finally had the opportunity to attend the festival and see the place where his idol was still revered.
From that point forward, he too became a resident of Fairmount, Indiana bringing a bit of Britain with him. The menu and selection of beers and ciders were very British and very good.
This unplanned side excursion was definitely worth the extra miles and time.