After 60 years, a name may be all that the borough of Jim Thorpe will have left to remember of its namesake, so perhaps it should make absolutely certain that it got it right.
Three months into this new year of 2013 will be the 60th anniversary of the passing of Wa-Tho-Huk, the World's Greatest Athlete. Wa-Tho-Huk died on March 28, 1953.
So who was Wa-Tho-Huk, and why should we care? Well, the folks in the towns of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk cared cared enough that the following year, they united, took his popularized name, Jim Thorpe, and built a mausoleum to bury him there.
Now, 59 years later, there's a lawsuit that threatens to disinter him from the sacred ground where he now lies, and relocate his remains to Oklahoma.
The only record of his birth was his baptismal certificate at the Sacred Heart Mission in Pottawatomie County, OK, and for many years, it had been assumed to have been destroyed in a fire.
But in 1980, the pastor found the record and presented it to Grace Thorpe.
The hand-written baptismal certificate copy certified that James Thorp, the son of Hiram and Charlotte Vieux Thorp. Probably, when he went to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, Jim's last name was transcribed as "Thorpe."
With either spelling, "Thorp," from Middle English may be translated as "town", and there are over a dozen ways it can be spelled.
Some references claim that he was baptized as "James Francis," others as "Jacobus Franciscus." There seems to be no record of when he started using the nickname "Jim," in lieu of James or Francis. Jim or James is a derivation from the name Jacob. In the Biblical story, Isaac and Rebekah had twin sons, the second born was named Jacob, which meant "to be behind."
Although the choice of a borough to name itself "Jim Thorpe," may at first seem unusual, would it have seemed even more unusual to name the borough "Jacobus Franciscus Thorpe?"
There is a borough of Jacobus (population 1,841) in York County, Pa. Founded in 1837, Jacobus was originally called New Paradise. The name was later changed because of misdelivered mail between New Paradise and the town of Paradise, Pa. in neighboring Lancaster County.
To correct the problem, the Post Office then forwarded mail to Geiselman labeled as, "Jacob-US Mail;" which was later shortened to "Jacob-US." The post office was then renamed Jacobus, and the town was renamed accordingly.
If the body of Jim Thorpe is disinterred, and the borough of Jim Thorpe is left with just his name, then how might it explain the meaning of its name? Since his last name derives from town, and his first name derives from "to be behind", the name "Jim Thorpe" may be translated as "the town that's behind."
Ironically, before becoming the borough of Jim Thorpe, the towns of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk each felt they were "the town that's behind," having not recovered from the decline of the coal and railroad industries, and the Great Depression.
Although the borough became Jim Thorpe, for another 25 years, it remained "the town that's behind. " Then, in the 1980s, people began noticing that this "town that's behind" was not simply "old," it was historic-and worth saving and restoring, and perhaps, it's the town that's coming up from behind.
So, even if the borough repatriates his remains, the name "Jim Thorpe" still makes sense – not necessarily in praise of the Olympic athlete, although he deserves the praise, but because of its name which describes it as "the town that's behind"– and in today's hectic world, that's a good thing.