Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Jim Thorpe, Finally Going Home

Jim competing in the discus. Note the ring and the foot wear.

The story of Jim Thorpe is an amazing but sad episode in the history of American athletics. Born and raised on a reservation in Oklahoma, he won the Olympic decathlon, played pro baseball, and is a member of the NFL Hall of Fame. In fact, his statue is the first thing you see when you enter the building. He is pretty much responsible for the survival of the NFL in it's earliest days. His story and list of accomplishments are too great to recount fully here, but Google his name if you want more information. There are tons of stories about his exploits as a competitor and his amazing life. 
He was stripped of his Olympic medals after it was discovered that he played baseball for money during the summer while attending the Carlisle Indian boarding school. After his death this was corrected and his medals were restored. He was a simple and unsophisticated man who was generous with his means and died penniless living in a trailer while working as a laborer. His 3rd wife sold his name and remains to a small town in Pennsylvania near Carlisle where he was sent to school so they could use it as a tourist attraction. It is really symbolic of the way so many exploited his unique talents and benefited from his innocence and good nature while he was alive. It seems that this too, is finally being corrected and his family will finally be able to return his body to his home land which is important to Native Americans.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The two surviving children of sports great Jim Thorpe won a critical ruling Friday in federal court that could clear the way for his remains to be removed from a mausoleum in the Pennsylvania town that bears his name and reinterred on American Indian land in Oklahoma.
U.S. District Judge Richard Caputo ruled in favor of sons Bill and Richard Thorpe and against Jim Thorpe borough in northeastern Pennsylvania, saying the town itself amounts to a museum under the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

The men’s lawyer, Stephen R. Ward of Tulsa, Okla., said they will now pursue the legal process to have their father, who won the decathlon and pentathlon in the 1912 Olympics, returned to Sac and Fox land in central Oklahoma.
Messages seeking comment from lawyers for the borough, and top borough officials, were not immediately returned. They could appeal Caputo’s decision.
Ward said the brothers were pleased with the decision.
“They and their brothers and other members of the family have wanted this and have worked for this for a long time,” he said. “They well remember how the wishes of the Indian members of the family were not respected concerning their father’s burial.”
After Jim Thorpe died without a will in 1953 at age 64, third wife Patricia Thorpe made a deal with two merging towns in the Poconos, Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk, to have the new town named for him. His remains have been kept for the past six decades in a borough-owned roadside memorial along the Lehigh River.
Caputo wrote that the result may seem at odds with notions of commercial or contract law.
“Congress, however, recognized larger and different concerns in such circumstances, namely, the sanctity of the Native American culture’s treatment of the remains of those of Native American ancestry,” the judge said. “It did so against a history of exploitation of Native American artifacts and remains for commercial purposes.”
Ward said Bill Thorpe, who lives in Oklahoma, and Richard, a resident of the Dallas area, have not decided whether to bury their father alongside their paternal grandfather in a cemetery in Shawnee, Okla., or at another spot in the area.
Ward said the brothers are not seeking to have the town change its name, and the judge said any concerns about the borough’s identity were misplaced.
Thorpe was born in Oklahoma and became a professional football and baseball player, as well as a Hollywood actor. The town that bears his name — which he likely never visited — has become a popular tourist destination, replete with trendy shops, historic architecture and outdoor activities connected to the mountainous region.
Ward said any tourist benefit that Thorpe’s remains may have once provided has long become nonexistent.

Competing in the Shotput.

The first NFL superstar.

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