It's been 100 years since King Gustav V of Sweden presented gold medals to Native American Indian Jim Thorpe for the athlete's performance in both the pentathlon and decathlon in the 1912 Olympics.
The king proclaimed, "Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world."
In his usual modest way, the quiet athlete responded, "Thanks, King."
This weekend, the community that bears his name will celebrate the life and legacy of Thorpe. The 16th annual Jim Thorpe Birthday Celebration will take place Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Festivities will kick off with a Native American Indian tribute at the Jim Thorpe Mausoleum on Saturday at 10 a.m. The ceremony will commemorate the 100th anniversary of Thorpe winning the 1912 Olympic gold medals.
At 11 a.m., the Jim Thorpe High School Olympian cross country and track teams will carry a lighted torch from the mausoleum to Jim Thorpe High School Stadium. After lighting the torch for the Carbon County Special Olympics track and field competition there, the runners will proceed through town to Josiah White Park at the train station, where they will light the Olympic torch.
Upon arrival at the park at noon, special medals will be awarded to the cross country, track, and cheerleading teams as well as to their coaches. In addition, state Rep. Doyle Heffley of the 122nd Legislative District will read a proclamation from the Pennsylvania House declaring Saturday, May 19, 2012 "James Francis Thorpe Day" throughout the commonwealth. A large birthday cake compliments of La Mia Torta Custom Cake Studio will be presented, cut, and available throughout the weekend.
Special guests scheduled to participate in festivities this weekend include Jim Thorpe's grandson, John Thorpe, of Lake Tahoe, Calif.; and United States Army War College Chief of Staff Colonel John Laganelli and sports director Chuck Gentile of Carlisle.
Throughout the weekend there will be free musical performances; Native American Indian folklore, dancing, and drumming; craft and food vendors; a clown; and more.
"I feel that it's especially important this year to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Jim Thorpe winning the 1912 Olympic gold medals in both the pentathlon and decathlon," said Jim Thorpe Birthday Celebration event coordinator Anne Marie Fitzpatrick.
Ray Brader, co-event coordinator, was quick to add, "In addition to winning those two gold medals, Jim Thorpe took fourth place in the high jump and seventh place in the long jump, all during the 1912 Olympic Games."
Thorpe and his twin brother, Charles, were born in a one-room cabin in the Plains country of Oklahoma Territory on May 28, 1888. A member of the Sac and Fox tribe, his mother named him "Wa-Tha-Huck," which means "Bright Path." That is certainly what lay ahead of him for his athletic career.
Following the devastating loss of his twin brother to small pox and pneumonia at the age of 8, Thorpe went on to attend Carlisle Indian Academy near Harrisburg. While there, he excelled at football, track, and basketball. In 1912, he became the star of the Olympics which were held in Stockholm, Sweden, breaking record after record as he earned his two gold medals.
Soon after the Olympics, however, it was discovered that Thorpe had played two seasons of professional minor league baseball in North Carolina for about $2 a game, prior to the Olympic Games. Because of this, he was no longer considered an amateur athlete and the International Olympic Committee stripped him of his gold medals.
Thorpe went on to play professional football and became the first president of the American Football League what is today known as the N.F.L. or National Football League. He also played professional baseball for both the New York Giants and the Boston Braves.
Stricken with cancer and financially ruined, Thorpe died of a heart attack at his home in Lomita, Calif. on March 28, 1953. He received a Roman Catholic funeral Mass and was buried in Shawnee, Okla. After discovering that his home state refused to erect a suitable monument to this athletic hero, Thorpe's widow, Patricia, began looking for a place that would.
She came across the towns of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk. Mauch Chunk is a Native American Indian term meaning "Mountain of the Sleeping Bear." The area came into prominence when "coal was king" and helped to fuel the American Industrial Revolution. However, the area was in a period of economic decline.
At the time, Joe Boyle, editor of The Mauch Chunk Times News, had organized an effort to revitalize the towns. This campaign was known as the "Nickel a Week Fund." Thorpe's widow approached Boyle with the suggestion that uniting the two towns, bringing her husband's body there, and renaming the two towns "Jim Thorpe, Pa." would be a drawing card to attract guests to the area. The two towns united in 1954.
On Memorial Day of 1957, Thorpe was finally laid to rest in a 20,000-pound, red granite mausoleum, paid for by the special nickel fund.
In October of 1982, Thorpe's amateur status was reinstated posthumously. Thorpe's family was presented with replicas of his gold medals in January of 1983. In 2000, ABC's Wide World of Sports named him "Athlete of the Century."
Today, Jim Thorpe annually welcomes thousands of guests while continuing to honor the great athlete's name and legacy.
For more information about the Birthday Celebration, sponsored by Jim Thorpe Chamber of Commerce, contact Brader and Fitzpatrick at Nature's Trail at (570) 325-9281 or at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.JimThorpe.org.