Sunday, October 23, 2011
In my little town: Jim Thorpe (my hometown) battles members of athlete's family for his corpus
In 1954, when I was all of 7 years old, Mauch CHunk and East Mauch Chunk combined to become Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. The coal mines of eastern Pennsylvania were closing, there was enormous out-migration, and the times were tough. Enter Bert Bell, commissioner of the NFL, and Thorpe's widow. Change the name and inter the body of the great Indian athlete and we'll put the football hall of fame in your little town. The towns complied. But Bell died of cancer and the hall of fame went to Canton, Ohio.
In the early sixties, when I was in high school, a movement grew legs, aimed at changing the name back to Mauch Chunk. What anyone saw in that name is beyond me. But the vote was set to go, when a reporter for SPorts Illustrated interviewed some of the ring leaders. One was quoted in the national magazine, commenting, "All we ever got was a dead Indian." The town was so embarrassed that it overwhelmingly rejected the change back to Mauch Chunk.
In the summer of '68, Paramount Pictures filmed a movie called "The Molly Maguires" in Jim Thorpe and environs. The film starred Sean Connery, RIchard Harris and a few lesser lights. Though the film wasn't a big hit, its release marked the start of Jim Thorpe's rise to its prominence today as a tourist and recreational destination on the fringes of the Pocono Mountains.
Enter Jack Thorpe in 2010. A son of the famous Olympian, he sued in federal court to get dad's body back to the reservation in Oklahoma. I've been to Oklahoma CIty and can attest that Jim Thorpe is well remembered there. The state capital of Oklahoma City has a state office building named after him. Nonetheless, Jack lost and subsequently died. Now other members of the Thorpe family, as well as members of the Sac and FOx tribes have rekindled the legal action. They rely on a relatively new federal statute called the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. Motions are pending before federal Judge A. Richard Caputo of the US District COurt for the Western District of PA.
--- Biography of Jim Thorpe
--- Visit Jim Thorpe, PA
--- Jack Thorpe obituary
--- The lawsuit