GARRETT — A historical marker honoring the life and achievements of actor John Bowersox will be placed in Garrett, making it the fifth Indiana historical marker in DeKalb County.
DeKalb County Historian John Bry said he received word about the marker Friday from the Indiana Historical Bureau, which administers the marker program.
Bry submitted the application for consideration earlier this year. It was one of 38 applications received from across the state, which was a record number for the bureau, Bry said.
The marker honoring Bowersox will be the third marker Bry has procured for the county in the past three years. Prior to that, DeKalb County had ranked as one of the most under-represented in terms of the number of markers, compared to the state’s other 92 counties, Bry said.
“To be eligible to be considered for an official state historic marker, topics may be of a place such as building, person or event that was significant in the broader context of the state’s history, or whose activities or contributions, brought or had, a significant notoriety to the state, nation or world. Subjects must be truly unique and not significant to local history alone,” Bry said.
“Aside from the application, primary sources research must provide documentation backing the claims as to why the subject fits the criteria. A suitable location for the marker is identified, and funds raised if the application is successful, as the state does not pay for the bronze plaques. Each costs $3,000, and (they) are made at a foundry in southern Indiana. Indiana Historical Bureau staff works with the county historian on the installation process and the final wording of the marker before it is cast.”
John Bowersox, who went by the stage name of John Bowers, was born and raised in Garrett. He was the son of George and Ida Bowersox. His father was an engineer on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. The family resided at 117 S. Cowen St., and the home is the last surviving residence along that portion of the block, Bry said.
Bowersox attended Garrett schools and Huntington Business College. He began acting while in college and had a successful stage career before transitioning to silent films. During his career, he made more than 90 movies and would become one of the best-known leading men of early Hollywood, Bry said. He made an appearance in his hometown of Garrett in 1925 to a rousing crowd of fans and local dignitaries while he was traveling to New York City to work on several films there.
Bowersox’s wife, Maurgerite de la Motte, was also a screen legend and paired with icons such as Douglas Fairbanks. She also would become one of the founding members of the Screen Actors Guild. The couple were separated by the time of Bowersox’s death in 1936.
“His career had stalled by that time, as the advent of sound in motion pictures had become the norm. Bowersox’s tragic death and life is believed to be one of the inspirations for the main character in the original ‘A Star is Born’ film that debuted in 1937. The movie was remade again recently starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. Bowersox was also one of the initial 1,500 stars installed on the Hollywood Walk of Fame when it opened in 1960. His star appears under his stage name of John Bowers,” Bry said.
The Garrett State Bank has pledged $1,500 toward the Bowersox marker. An additional $1,500 needs to be raised. A dedication and installation of the marker will take place in 2020.
Bry said he has at least a dozen other potential worthy marker topics, including Sechler’s Pickles in St. Joe, Meese Chapel in Jackson Township, Jane Hine from Sedan, the Butler Company in Butler and the Auburn Rubber Co.
“It’s important to tell these stories of the county’s rich and diverse heritage, and the marker program is one way to do that so we don’t forget the significant contributions that have come from DeKalb County towards the state’s heritage. It reminds us of the pride that can be found in our own communities through our history. If we keep erasing it or forgetting that history, we run the risk of losing a part of our own local identity and sense of place,” Bry said.
Other markers in DeKalb County include:
• the Spencerville Covered Bridge, installed in 1996;
• the Auburn Automobile Co., installed in 1992;
• the Creek Chub Bait Co., Garrett, installed in 2017; and
• author Will Cuppy of Auburn, to be installed in September.