Jim Thorpe, once a controversial track and field star whose World's Greatest Athlete medals from the 1912 Olympics were repatriated, and whose remains are under suit for repatriation to his ancestral home, was a legend whose life was first documented by author Robert W. Wheeler.
Robert "Bob" W. Wheeler and his son, Rob Wheeler, will be talking about Jim Thorpe in an illustrated presentation at the Mauch Chunk Museum this weekend. There will be two presentations: Saturday, May 26, from 7-9 p.m., and Sunday, May 27, from 2 -4 p.m.
Wheeler will be talking about the life of Jim Thorpe, and how from the age of 10, he dedicated himself to researching and telling Thorpe's story. Rob Wheeler, who grew up under the wings of Thorpe's sons Bill and Jack Thorpe, will explain why Jim Thorpe's sons, his tribe, and hundreds of others want his remains returned to Oklahoma.
At the age of 10, Robert W. Wheeler read a book about the 100 greatest athletes in America, where he learned about Jim Thorpe.
"It's said that he excelled in 22 sports," Roberts said. "My immediate thought was that he was a fictitious character like Paul Bunyan. There were no books in our library about him."
In the eighth grade, Wheeler won a contest with an essay he wrote about Thorpe. In 1962, as a high school graduation present, his parents took him to Yankee Stadium. On the way home to Rochester, they passed through Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, and visited his gravesite.
Wheeler went to Syracuse University, and for a history project proposed a Jim Thorpe biography. For the project, he traveled 12,000 miles and interviewed over 200 people on a reel-to-reel tape recorder.
"I'm the only person that interviewed Patsy Thorpe," he said. "I hitchhiked to the door of her trailer in Banning, California in 1967. It was 114°F, and I was wearing a jacket and tie." She felt sorry for Bob, invited the college student in for a drink of water, asked him to help out, and allowed him to stay the night. The next day, she invited Wheeler to look through Jim Thorpe's memorabilia.
Wheeler's research culminated in the publication of Jim Thorpe: World's Greatest Athlete in 1981. He feels that this biography dispels a number of myths.
"He lived in a trailer that, according to Mrs. Thorpe, was for the mobility that it afforded him," he said. "Whereas other writers wrote that he lived in a trailer because he was down and out. The myths are long-and that's part of my presentation."
Wheeler and his wife formed the Jim Thorpe Foundation. Because of their research and activism, they are credited with primary responsibility for the restoration of Jim Thorpe's Olympic awards in 1982.
Rob Wheeler will be presenting the feelings of Jim Thorpe's sons and discussing why they are suing to have their father's remains repatriated to Oklahoma. Rob Wheeler hosts a website advocating this position, www.jimthorperestinpeace.com.
"The belief of the Sauk and Fox tribe is that Jim Thorpe's spirit will wander the earth until his remains are buried in his tribal land," Rob Wheeler said. "Bill Thorpe, who is a close family friend, told me his father wanted to be buried there."
The Mauch Chunk Museum is located at 41 W. Broadway in Jim Thorpe. Phone number (570) 325-9190. The event is free and will be held in the second-floor ballroom.