On the face of it, this seems quite simple: the aggrieved son of Jim Thorpe would like his father’s remains repatriated to Oklahoma from a little town in Pennsylvania that his father likely never visited. This part of the story is the only part that news articles (and even stories from outlets like NPR) have covered, in part because there is the easy irony that media outlets love..
Not to be a media basher, but it is almost never reported that it turns out there is another part of Jim Thorpe’s family that inconveniently doesn’t want him moved. It is as if they are waving and shouting from behind soundproof glass while the press looks the other way.
The notion that his body was being “shopped” around and ultimately came here is hard to believe. If he was simply going to the highest bidder, then how would this town have won the supposed sweepstakes? After all, the town of Mauch Chunk, PA was virtually penniless in the 1950’s (and 60’s, 70’s, 80’s,90’s …).
If it was all really that crass, then why wouldn’t he have been buried in the center of town, so that he could be exploited properly, and burgers and drinks could be named after him? After all, it was a decrepit town then, and people were desperately searching for ways to lift themselves up.
But instead, his memorial is on the east side of town, all the way up the hill on the way out of town, in a place where he is actually honored, where ceremonies take place on his birthday. The way the story is typically told, it is loaded with irony, but the real questions never see the light of day.
The other inconvenient fact, is that while Jim Thorpe’s daughters were alive, they were big supporters of their father being memorialized here. In fact, Grace and Charlotte Thorpe used to visit once a year when we would celebrate Jim Thorpe’s birthday.
We never heard from the brothers. Then the daughters died – the last, Grace, passed away in 2012.
Here is a note to me from John Thorpe, a grandson currently residing in Lake Tahoe, California:
..you (the town of Jim Thorpe, PA) are doing the right thing!… My friend’s name is Spirit Wolf of the Standing Buffalo Nation, Lakota Sioux. He holds the same position now as Crazy Horse did in his time with the tribe. He believes my Grandfather is at rest…
A more detailed look at how another family member feels is contained in this letter written to Carbon County Magazine by Mike Koehler, a grandson who was appointed by Grace Thorpe, Jim Thorpe’s daughter, to be the spokesman for the family after she passed away last year.
He explains his relationship to Jim Thorpe and the side of the family he comes from. He goes on to say that the legal arguments themselves don’t conform to the wishes of at least half the family and appear to stand on shaky legal ground at best.
John Thorpe explained to me that he would be attending The Sundance Native American Gathering in Texas towards the end of July and that various tribal elders would be weighing in on the matter with the goal of reaching a conclusion. In effect, he says, the issue has long since transcended the status of family matter to one that affects all Native Americans.
Quite simply, Mike Koehler has said that if Jack Thorpe had actually visited the town (as his sisters did) and met the people involved with keeping Thorpe’s memory alive, there would never have been a dispute in the first place.
I’ve made these seemingly relevant aspects of the story very much available to the press that has contacted me, but somehow it never seems to find its way into the narrative. In fact, one major newspaper lamely indicated to me that it was left out because of “space limitations.”
But it just isn’t as attention-getting or heart-rending a story when you tell all of it. None of that smirky irony.
I do understand that article real estate in major papers is expensive, but it’s hard to square that with the press’ supposed responsibility to at least give us an arm-wave attempt to tell the whole story. What I’m describing here isn’t just a wrinkle or a nuance, I think it’s fair to call it a glaring omission.
Personally, one of the few journalistically fair articles I’ve read is here, by the Associated Press.
At least that’s what at least half of the Jim Thorpe family would say, if that matters to anyone.