Dispute Over Jim Thorpe's Body Brewing
Once forgotten under a large pink marble mausoleum, the body of Jim Thorpe is now the subject of an Olympian tug-of-war. Perhaps spurred by recent publicity associated with various "100 Greatest Athletes of the 20th Century" programs, Oklahoma, his home state, is lobbying to get Thorpe's body back from Pennsylvania.
Son Jack Thorpe, who is for the move to a family cemetery at Shawnee, OK, has said that "The bones of our father will not make or break [their] town." The town in PA is named Jim Thorpe, however, and others are not so sanguine.
Grace Thorpe, Thorpe's daughter, said the town of Jim Thorpe has acted in good faith. "They've done what they said they would," she said. "They've gone out of their way to honor Dad."
Jim Thorpe's remains, then, have joined those of fellow native American, Sitting Bull, as the subject of interstate rivalry.
Oklahoma actually had first crack at the bones. Thorpe's body was originally shipped to Shawnee after his death. The OK Legislature OK'ed $25,000 for a tomb, but the governor vetoed it. Thorpe's wife then found a little town with the right spirit, Mauch Chunk, PA, 80 miles from Philadelphia, then known as the "Switzerland of America." Thorpe had never been to Mauch Chunk.
But in 1954, they got the body by building a tomb and changing their name to Jim Thorpe, PA. Thorpe's tomb rests on a mound of dirt from Prague, OK, his hometown; New York's Polo Grounds baseball diamond; and the Stockholm Olympic Stadium.
At a press conference on Thursday, Jack Thorpe explained why five of six living Thorpe children want to give a proper Indian burial to their father, who was a Catholic. "In Indian culture, when someone is not buried with his family, the soul wanders -- and that troubles me."
But daughter Grace says, "I've always been happy with the way the town has cared for Dad's grave site. The town has scholarships in Dad's name, and there's a 'Jim Thorpe Day' parade every year with 1,500 people in it. They have a Jim Thorpe association that honors local athletes every year. The grave site is well maintained."
And Jack Kmetz, director of the Jim Thorpe Sports Hall of Fame, says, "Legally, there's nothing Thorpe's children can do," though we wonder if, like the real Switzerland, Jim Thorpe, PA may end up being forced to give back long appropriated treasures.[02/18/2001]
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