When Jim Thorpe, the athlete, died on March 28, 1953, on his 65th birthday, he initially was to be buried in California. Funds were raised to transport his body to Oklahoma, but the governor of Oklahoma vetoed a bill for a memorial for him.
Fast-forwarding, a nationwide appeal was made by his third wife, Patricia, to find what she considered to be a fitting memorial.
The towns of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk rose to the request. The local people impressed Patricia Thorpe so much, it was she who suggested the name of the town should be changed to Jim Thorpe.
The athlete's body was brought to Carbon County where a memorial was erected and residents in the two communities took a vote in 1954 during which it was agreed to merge into one and call themselves "Jim Thorpe."
Over a half century later, the family of Thorpe is threatening a federal suit to have Thorpe's remains returned to Oklahoma. Their main argument is that Thorpe's spirit isn't at rest because he isn't buried with his own tribe.
When the people of Mauch Chunk accepted the body of Thorpe, he was an Olympic hero but not with the same stature he has today. His stripped Olympic medals have since been returned to him.
Jack Thorpe, a son who is behind the drive to retrieve the Olympian's body, was quoted in Sports Illustrated some years ago as saying, "Look, I don't have anything against the people of Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. They did what they thought was right. But I don't see where it would hurt them if they didn't have the body. No matter what the motives of anybody, it comes down to the same thing – Dad's body was sold as a tourist attraction."
While this might have a formula of truth, the town of Jim Thorpe gave the athlete a burial that someone of his stance deserves; a memorial nobody else would produce.
The local town has perpetuated his legacy and has kept his grave site commercial free. It is well maintained and is a fitting tribute to one of the greatest athletes who ever lived.
Hopefully, the family of Thorpe will realize what has all been done for the athlete by Pennsylvanians who didn't know him personally, but recognized him for his accomplishments. We're hoping the suit is not filed in federal court, as the family has threatened, to have the athlete's body sent to Oklahoma.
However, even if a court fight does ensue, and the town of Jim Thorpe would lose out, there's no need for anyone to feel guilt. In 1954, the people of the Mauch Chunks gave Jim Thorpe the athlete the greatest honor an individual could ever have – it's identity with him.
For that, the town will always be proudly remembered.
It's a shame that such a gifted athlete was forced to struggle during most of his life in strife, but even sadder that strife might follow him beyond the grave.
By Ron Gower