Fairmount bids farewell to Dean
James Byron Dean: Bad boy of the '50s. He slouched. And there was that studied, sometimes sullen smile. And the backswept hair that foretold a young man moveing fast - too fast. And the gentle voice that shouted defiance during those days when Ike was in the White House. It has been 37(now 39) years since his name was etched in the granite of his Indiana gravestone - and his image etched in the album of American popular culture. The icon remains untarnished: The trio of movies in which he starred (East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause, Giant) continues to draw audiences - particularly in Europe. His photograph is used today to sell shoes in so prestigious a marketplace as The New Yorker magazine. His legions of fans, many born after his death, continue to make pilgrimages to the place on the Indiana landscape from which he came. The placeis along Sand Pike, a two-lane blacktop road that splits the otherwise-unbroken horizon of corn and soybean fields north of Fairmount in Grant County in north-central Indiana. Along the road, spread over two miles, are the shrines central to the short life of James Dean, places to which the faithful flock, particularly in late September near the anniversary of his death on the 30th - "9/30/55" in the cryptic code of his fans. To the west of Sand Pike rises a typically Midwestern farmstead: Two-story, white frame home resting on a fieldstone foundation. It has an expansive front porch shaded by ancient oaks and sycamores, a porch swing suspended from chains anchored in the roof. There is a normal complement of outbuildings, and a stream meanders through the swales and knolls in the land between the lawn and the tillable acreage. It was here, on the farm of his aunt and uncle, Marcus and Ortense Winslow, that James Dean grew from childhood to adolescence to maturity. Dean's cousin, Marcus Winslow, and his family now live here. A mile to the south of the Winslow farm is a church, a Quaker church. The Back Creek Friends Meeting. A circular drive approaches the red brick building. True to Quaker and Midwestern values, the church is unadorned. A mural of Christ as shepherd is the focal point of the sanctuary, bathed in white light filtered through sharply vertical and colorless windows. And yet another mile to the south, is a cemetery. Park Cemetery. As old as the Quaker community it was created to serve back before the Civil War, it is the place where Fairmount, a community of 3,286, buries its dead. Fairmount, wrote Stewart Stern in his movie script for The James Dean Story, is "not just a quaint little town, but a useful town, used well and long by its people." Joseph Winslow, an ancestor of James Dean, established the first farm in Fairmount Township of Grant County in 1830 - on the site that is now the Marcus Winslow farm. In 1850, a community was formed, which chose to call itself Pucker. Pucker it was, and Pucker it remained, until 1870, when community dissatisfaction with the moniker led to a renameing: Fairmount, suggested by Joseph W. Balwin, who was attracted by the name of a park in Philadelphia. Fairmount was incorporated on Dec. 10, 1870. While James Dean may be the most widely celebrated son of Fairmount, he is not alone. Among others: Jim Davis, creator of the Garfield cartoon strip. Phil Jones, former White House correspondent for CBS News. Mary Jane Ward, author of the novel Snake Pit, an indictment of mental health facilities in the late 1940's. Alvin Seal, an ichthyologist credited with major contributions to the classification of Asiatic fish. Robert Sheets, current director of the National Hurricane Center. David Payne, a principal player in the creation of Oklahoma Territory. He was the original Sooner. In Park Cemetery, surrounded by the past generations of Fairmount, is a granite gravestone, made remarkable only by the perpetual presence of flowers, real and artificial. The stone is a reddish pink, pock-marked by the work of pilgrims who would take a fragment of the stone as a relic. It is the final resting place of James B. Dean 1931-1955 The stone is the second on the grave. The original was stolen in 1983 and was replaced before it was recovered in Fort Wayne in 1987. It is to this place more than any other that the Dean faithful come. They arrive in all seasons, at all times, in all vehicles. Most conduct themselves with dignity; others, so eager for souvenirs, will strip an ear of corn from a stalk in the field across the road and take it away. Among those who come to this place, especially in late September, are those who knew him. On the afternoon of each September 30 since 1956 the family, friends and followers of the actor who brooded his way into national character have assembled at Back Creek Friends Church and at Park Cemetery to play out a small drama of tribute. The roles have been set by tradition. There was the late Ortense Winslow, a reluctant participant for whom the role became more burdensome each year. She and her late husband, Marcus, reared the young man who blazed across the screen and crashed in flames at 5:45 PM on Sept. 30, 1955, at a rural intersection in San Luis Obispo County, Calif.