Hit the road to visit sites related to famous Indiana Celebrities

Madam-Walker-Legacy-Center-Indianapolis
Madam Walker Legacy Center in Indianapolis Photo: Indiana Historical Society

Story by Julie Campbell

From Hollywood stars and best-selling authors to pop icons and past presidents, Indiana has been called “home” by a plethora of famous names. This summer is the perfect time to hop in the car for a spontaneous road trip to visit sites related to your favorite celebrities from the past or present.

Last summer, HGTV’s “Good Bones” star Mina Starsiak Hawk opened
a new store—Two Chicks District Co.—on the south side of Indianapolis. The home décor store and bistro has been a wildly popular destination for fans of the show, which is filmed in the Fountain Square area of Indy. If you’re a super fan, you might even want to do your own self-guided drive-by tour of some of the homes that were renovated on the show. You can find locations and photos at this link: www.hgtv.com/ shows/good-bones/photos

While you’re in Indy, be sure to stop by the Madam Walker Legacy Center, which was once the headquarters of Madam C.J. Walker Hair Care and Beauty Products. Walker, a daughter of former slaves, was the first woman in America to become a self-made millionaire.

Madam-C.J.-Walker
Madam C.J. Walker

Another driving tour will take you on a trip through Seymour, the hometown of rock star John Mellencamp. Stop by the Jackson County Visitor Center to purchase a CD for an audio tour called “The Roots of an American Rocker,” which features stops at many of the stomping grounds of this Grammy award-winning artist.

The tragic death of 1950s movie star James Dean catapulted him
even further into the hearts of his fans, and an entire museum is dedicated to Dean memorabilia in his hometown of Fairmount. Established in 1988, The James Dean Gallery is the private collection of Dean archivist David Loehr, who began collecting in 1974. The collection is housed in a beautifully restored 1903 Victorian home, just about a mile away from Dean’s final resting place.

“We have the original gate from the fence in Rebel Alley from Rebel Without a Cause. Visitors like getting their pictures taken with it,” said Loehr. “On average we estimate that we get approximately 10,000 visitors per year. Since The Gallery first opened in 1988, over 400,000 people from all over the world have toured the exhibit.”

James-Dean-Museum
James Dean Museum

If you’re looking for an immersive historical experience, home tours of famous Hoosier abodes offer a unique way to walk in their past footsteps. Seeing what life was like for famous writers like Gene Stratton-Porter (Cabin at Wildflower Woods in Rome City and Limberlost near Geneva) and James Whitcomb Riley (Riley Museum Home, Indianapolis and Riley Birthplace and Museum, Greenfield), aviation pioneer Wilbur Wright (Hagerstown), and even past presidents like Abraham Lincoln (boyhood home in Lincoln City), Benjamin Harrison (Indianapolis), and William Henry Harrison (Vincennes) will make history come alive before your eyes. In the quiet town of Peru, you can even stay in the actual birthplace of Cole Porter, which has been renovated into an inn containing four suites named after Porter and his famous songs.

James-Dean
James Dean

Hungry for a snack after all your adventures? Mark your calendar for Sept. 11 for a visit to the Valparaiso Popcorn Festival, named for the city’s “popcorn king” Orville Redenbacher.

“Orville Redenbacher attended the festival nearly every year prior to his death in 1995,” said Kaye Frataccia, interim director of Valparaiso Events.

While you’re in the area, visit the Red Skelton Museum of American Comedy, which honors the legacy of one of America’s greatest comedians.

The 16th Annual Red Skelton Festival is also set for July 16 and 17 on the grounds of the museum in Vincennes.

Up in northwest Indiana, you can drive past another funny man’s childhood home. Jean Shepherd, who wrote the iconic holiday tale-turned-movie, “A Christmas Story,” grew up at 2907 Cleveland Street in Hammond. Shepherd changed the name of his hometown to the fictional setting of “Hohman, Indiana,” and many sites around town bear a striking resemblance to landmarks in the movie.

John-Mellencamp
John Mellencamp signing one of his murals. Photo: Jackson County Visitor Center

Like Mina Starsiak Hawk, many celebrities have roots in the Hoosier state.

Also Famous

Tomato juice was first served as a beverage in 1917 by Louis Perrin at the French Lick Springs Hotel in southern Indiana, when he ran out of orange juice and needed a quick substitute. His combination of squeezed tomatoes, sugar and his special sauce became an instant success as Chicago businessmen spread the word about the tomato juice cocktail.

Five years before Wilbur and Orville Wright began their aeronautical experiments, Parisian-born civil engineer Octave Shanute spent the summer of 1896 in Miller Beach, Indiana, conducting tests with gliders in the Indiana Dunes that ultimately served as the model for the first successful motorized airplanes.

Two famous Hoosiers were from Jay County, including Lawrence “Jack” Imel who was an American musician, dancer, singer, and television producer who is best known for his work on the Lawrence Welk Show. From Portland, legendary NFL player and coach Darrel Brewster accumulated two NFL championships, 210 receptions, 21 touchdowns, and around 3,758 yards while playing with the Cleveland Browns. He continued in the NFL coaching for multiple teams and earning yet another Super Bowl ring with the Chiefs in Super Bowl IV.