Thursday, February 19, 2015

Jim Thorpe Remembered

The sons of Jim Thorpe have advanced a court fight the last few years to exhume Thorpe's body from a town in Pennsylvania and bring it back for burial on American Indian land in Oklahoma.  One ruling sided with the sons, but has been reversed by the U.S. Court of Appeals.  The original ruling had applied the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, a law that requires museums and federal agencies possessing American Indian remains to return them when requested by a deceased's family or tribe.  The appeal said that the Judge had misapplied the act. 

Thorpe died at his trailer home in Lomita, California at 64 years old.  Thorpe's third wife did not bury him in Oklahoma after the governor there would not pay for a monument to the athlete.  Two Pennsylvania towns agreed to merge, Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk, and built a memorial and named the new town Jim Thorpe. He has been buried in a beautiful roadside mausoleum there since his death in 1953.  Thorpe's grandsons are on record as agreeing that the town has done right with the body and have sided with the Poconos town.  While the Thorpe's disagree on the burial site, this dispute does not seem money related as other high profile burial disputes can often be.

Many consider Thorpe to be the best athlete of the 20th Century.  Thorpe was a football, baseball, and track star who won the decathlon and pentathlon in the 1912 Olympics.

 At the Olympic Games of 1912 in  Stockholm King Gustaf V of Sweden called Thorpe the greatest athlete in the world and no one disagreed. A short time later, the  Amateur Athletic Union accused him of receiving pay for playing summer baseball and sent back the gifts and medals.  It was common for young athletes particularly college students to play a little ball on the side to help with expenses.  Evidence from 1912 showed that Thorpe's disqualification had occurred after the 30-day time period allowed by Olympics rules, in October 1982, the IOC Executive Committee approved Thorpe's reinstatement.

From 1913-1919, Thorpe played major league baseball  He played mostly for the New York Giants.  He played outfield and had a lifetime batting average of .252.  The next decade, he went on to play professional football and moved around from team to team.  He started playing in Canton for the Bulldogs when it was still a semi pro team and was a player/coach. The Bulldogs were owned by Ralph E. Hay who owned a dealership in town that sold Jordan Hupmobiles and Pierce-Arrows.  Hay would be remembered for his work with George Halas and others to establish the NFL itself. 

Thorpe built his team around three leading offensive players in the backfield from the Carlisle Indian School: Joe Guyan, Pete Calac, and Thorpe himself.  In 1920, the Canton Bulldogs and several other teams started professional football. Next year, Thorpe played for the Cleveland Indians and then he moved on to a famous Indian professional football team, the Oorang Indians.  Jim Thorpe’s Oorang Indians team of Larue, Ohio, had a competent group of players, but owner Walter Lingo had many interests.  Lingo’s Oorang Kennels was the largest mail order dog breeding business in the country specializing in Airedales. Lingo had a love for his dogs as well as American Indian lore, and he concocted a show that he put on at games to promote his interests.  It is said that the show was so elaborate that the players felt like the game itself was of secondary importance.  Thorpe continued to move around and finished out his NFL career in 1928. 

Thorpe was married three time and had eight children.  He is remembered with great affection by his fans, including many who witnessed his athletic feats in film. 

Copyright 2015, Sporting Chance Press
Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Pillars of the NFL: Coaches Who Have Won Three or More Championships a book that examines the football lives of the top ten NFL coaches and much of the history of the NFL.