Wednesday, December 11, 2013
By Keith Collins and Michael Rubinkam / The Associated Press
JIM THORPE, Pa. — The hand-lettered donation jar on Anne Marie Fitzpatrick's store counter says what many residents of this well-preserved Victorian-era town are thinking and feeling lately: "Keep Jim Thorpe in Jim Thorpe."
This is an undated photo of Jim Thorpe in a baseball uniform. Considered one of America's greatest athletes, he played professional baseball, 1913-1919, with the New York Giants, Cincinnati Reds, and Boston Braves. He played professional football between 1919 and 1926.
Residents and business owners in Jim Thorpe, Pa., are helping to raise money for the town's legal case, saying they have honored, appreciated and respected a man long considered one of the 20th century's best athletes.
AP file photo
The surviving sons of the famous American Indian athlete have long fought to get the remains of their father moved from Jim Thorpe, Pa., to tribal lands in Oklahoma, where he was born, and they recently won a crucial legal victory that put them close to their goal.
But Jim Thorpe isn't letting its Olympian namesake go without a fight. Residents and business owners are helping to raise money for the town's appeal — to be filed later this month — saying they have honored, appreciated and respected a man long considered one of the 20th century's best athletes.
Hence the donation jar on the counter of Fitzpatrick's gift shop, prominently displayed between the cash register and a rack of cat figurines.
"We have no intention of letting him go," said Fitzpatrick, an organizer of the town's annual Jim Thorpe birthday bash. "There is a pride, and many, many people that you speak to as you go through the town share that pride."
Thorpe was a football, baseball and track star who won the decathlon and pentathlon in the 1912 Olympics, then later starred as the Indian in B-movies and struggled financially toward the end of his life. He died without a will in 1953 at age 64.
After Oklahoma's governor balked at the cost of a planned monument to the athlete, third wife Patricia had Thorpe's body removed in the midst of his funeral service and sent it to northeastern Pennsylvania, where she struck a deal with two merging towns — Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk — to build a memorial and name the new town after him. His remains are kept in a mausoleum surrounded by statues and interpretive signage.
Thorpe's son, Bill Thorpe, of Arlington, Texas, said his father expressed a desire to be buried in Oklahoma.
"All this time we've wanted his body back because of the way that it was taken away from us," he said. "And we had no authority."
In April, U.S. District Judge Richard Caputo ruled in favor of Thorpe, his brother Richard, and the Sac and Fox tribe to which their father belonged, saying the town amounts to a museum under the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
The borough council voted to appeal the ruling to the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and written arguments are due Sept. 23. The town has found support from Jim Thorpe's grandsons, who say it has done right by him.
"The town has done nothing but honor and respect and love my grandpa," said John Thorpe, of Lake Tahoe, Calif. "The state of Oklahoma did not want to erect a mausoleum or do anything to honor him. They weren't willing to do what the town of Jim Thorpe did."
Thorpe said he was taking part in a sweat lodge ceremony in Texas three years ago when, unbidden, a medicine man told him his grandfather had made contact and said, "I am at peace, and I want no more pain created in my name."
He said that helped confirm his belief that his grandfather's tomb should remain where it is.
So what will happen if Thorpe's body is no longer there?
(Continued on page 2)
click image to enlarge
The tomb of Jim Thorpe is shown in Jim Thorpe, Pa., in this January 2010 photo.